Review: The Last Cargo
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Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
I would rather see an interesting failure than a boring success, but in a perfect world interesting ideas would get solid games built around them. Obviously that doesn’t always happen, sometimes because the ideas are more unique than good, and sometimes because the execution is lacking. I honestly don’t know which it is in the case with The Last Cargo, because it’s built around ideas I wouldn’t use for a game, and they don’t seem all that fleshed out either. It’s a shame because elements of the presentation and atmosphere are good, just wasted on a game with no coherent core.
You awaken in a grimy elevator, wheelchair-bound and loaded with strange equipment. A voice explains that your avatar (the wheelchair guy) is helping a patient within their cargo management system, which I believe is fancy terminology for their memories. Like, in their head. You don’t know who the patient is or what their condition might be, but apparently all will be revealed if you can reach the last level of the system. That won’t be easy, as your crummy elevator deposits you onto every floor between you and your goal. These floors are occupied by particularly unfriendly automatons, so the sooner you complete your tasks and move on, the better.
The atmosphere is the first thing you’ll notice about the game, and right from the onset it leaves a pretty heavy impression. Beyond the elevator doors are mazes of darkened hallways and decrepit chambers, cloaked in shadow and teeming with evil. Those first few minutes wheeling yourself around in the gloom are tense, watching for hints of movement and glints of blessed light. The audio is wonderfully understated for this grim excursion, and the sharp pixel art gives even the top-down perspective an evocative feel.
Following those few opening minutes, though, you’re going to make two very important discoveries. The first will be when you finally find the main terminal and receive your mission for the floor. Said mission will be described to you in an impressively confusing mix of pseudoscience and mangled English, leaving you only the barest idea of what you need to do. Generally your task will be to find several features around the level, such as floor panels or corpses strung up on the walls, and use some plot item on them given by the main terminal. It’s usually not as simple as pressing E or whatever to do it either, so be prepared for a fair bit of trial-and-error to complete even the most obvious missions.
The second thing you’ll discover is how un-threatening your foes actually are. On the first couple floors your foes will consist of faceless automatons that self-destruct near you, and security orbs that zap you if you stray to close to their patrol path. The orbs are easy enough to avoid by giving them a wide berth, but the mannequins like to creep up next to you before they pop. They might be a pain until you discover the One Weird Trick to never getting hit by them, at which point any possible tension left in the game bleeds away. I won’t even tell you what the trick is, because it’s so obvious I can’t imagine anyone fearing these wandering firecrackers for long.
All this adds up to a game that isn’t scary in the least, and ends up being more frustrating than not. The controls only exacerbate the problem, as you’ll be grappling with literal tank controls the whole time. Prepare to get caught on every corner if you don’t turn wide enough, and also be prepared to stop dead every time you want to shoot at something. I’d love to spend more time talking about the elaborate inventory system, the survival elements, and the persistent progression systems rather than glaring issues, but it’s those issues that keep this game from being a good use of your time. You might get a few creeps out of the presentation up-front, but digging any further into this shallow offering is just going to break that illusion in half.