Cargo! The Quest For Gravity – Review

Title   Cargo! The Quest for Gravity
Developer  Ice-Pick Lodge Game Development
Publisher  bitComposer Games/Viva Media
Platform  Windows PC (Currently only available as digital download in Europe)
Genre  Puzzle, Adventure
Release Date  21st April 2011 (Steam)

It’s the end of the world as we know it! The Earth has ceased spinning on its axis, time and the seasons have halted, and floods have consumed all but a handful of tiny bare islands. The three demiurges, machine gods of all creation, have decided that mankind is too flawed and have started again from scratch.

Quick... hide daddy's T-Bird!

Unfortunately, the gods are pretty damned incompetent, and they’ve made rather a balls-up of trying to remake the world and its inhabitants in a more perfect image. Stopping the planet’s axial rotation has not only switched off time, but also gravity and, as a result, the laws of physics have gone somewhat wonky with various massive landmarks such as Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty escaping the flood waters to hover in the stratosphere. Mankind’s replacements, the Buddies, are… well… imagine if you were to take Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, strip him naked, remove his genitals and shrink what’s left in a hot spin cycle. You then make him sound like he spends all day breathing helium, force him to only speak in iambic pentameter, and fill his tiny shrunken heart with a desire only to have good clean altruistic fun. Nay, not mere fun, but FUN. I’ll give you a moment to get over your reaction to that image. Go on, take all the time you need.

Cargo! The Quest for Gravity is a bloody odd game on the face of things, to say the least. The story mode is split into four chapters, or seasons, and this is the state the world is in at the start of the first. The demiurges, realising that they’ve screwed things up in monumental fashion, enlist the help of the last two human beings left on the planet to deliver needed spare parts to try and fix things. As their airship arrives at the islands where the gods are developing the Buddies though, it’s decided that they should welcome them with an impromptu fireworks display… because that’d be FUN, right? These fireworks consist of working themselves up into a frenzy of excitement and FUN by dancing about and playing music, until they literally can’t stand it anymore and shoot up into the sky before exploding in a shower of purple sparks. In the process they blow the airship out of the sky, dropping it, its crew, and its flaming cargo into the flood waters.

The crew of that airship are almost as odd as the Buddies designed to succeed them as inheritors of the planet. The captain, Borkin, is a lumpen ogre-like man with a face akin to cold mashed potato and a fashion sense borrowed from a 17th century pirate, right down to the tricorner hat and telescope. The other human in the game is Flawkes, who pretty much does all the work while the captain spouts strange metaphors and absurd plans. Officially she’s the pilot and mechanic but she might as well just tip Borkin over the side and go it alone. Tall, skinny, with spiky red hair and an inexplicably deep growling voice as though she’s been smoking fifty Cuban cigars a day since the age of 6 months (if you ever saw John Goodman’s early 90s film ‘King Ralph’, think of the princess who sounds like a tuba and you’re very close), she doesn’t seem to be the sort to allow herself to be pushed around, but does just that, following the orders of Borkin, the gods and even the Buddies, despite acknowledging just how retarded they all are. She runs around in an orange pair of dungarees, goggles and a huge pair of yellow steel-toed boots, every pocket or orifice about her person stuffed with a bizarre collection of tools and spare parts. As initially resistant as I was to give in to the stereotype, there’s just no getting away from the thought that she’s been designed to look and sound like some sort of extreme feminist lesbian.

Players control Flawkes throughout the game, and it is a relatively simple affair of using the WASD keys to run forwards, backwards and strafe side to side, with the mouse being used to look around and turn more precisely when running. The spacebar gets her to pull off some fairly simple but surprisingly acrobatic jumps yet, incredibly, somersaulting through the air causes not a single item to dislodge from her pockets.

I'm not entirely sure you understand the gravity of this situation!

Tasked by the gods to restore gravity to the Earth, Flawkes must run around fixing broken machinery, recovering the cargo that went down with her airship, and showing the Buddies a good time by racing them, taking them for what would be hair-raisingly fast rides if they’d had any hair at all, organising impromptu discos, and booting them up the arse in order to send them spinning off twenty yards away from her. No really, the little masochistic weirdos enjoy it. The FUN generated by exciting the Buddies is the only way to get ahead in everything you do within the game, as the gods have decided that FUN is the only clean renewable energy worth bothering with, as well as being the new planetary currency. Harvested FUN is shot into the stratosphere in order to pull massive objects down to the surface, some of which trigger unlikely sets of events that alter the game environment, such as pulling a gigantic iceberg into the ocean and inadvertently freezing it and triggering winter.

As well as running around independently, Flawkes is capable of building, repairing and commandeering a wide assortment of vehicle types. Sail boats, rafts, powerboats, paddleboats, submarines, cars, tricycles, helicopters, dirigibles and aeroplanes are all available in a near infinite variety of forms thanks to the relatively simple to use creation system. Anyone who has ever played Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts will immediately feel at home with this aspect of the game, as it’s more or less identical. You start with a broken vehicle, a blueprint, or your own imagination, then select from a variety of rotatable parts including engines, panels, wheels and so on, connecting them up until you have the finished transportation required. Unfortunately some pieces occasionally refuse to connect for no apparent reason, but you can generally get around it with some quick redesigning, or by using pre-designed blueprints. Parts are collected in crates lying around the islands or bobbing on the sea, or can be traded for FUN from the demiurges. Apparently, whilst employing you to help them, they believe in your paying them rather than the other way around, which is cheekily explained away by the dichotomy of their being gods but also cold calculating machines who can’t do anything for free.

There are a number of glitches and design flaws to the game which, unfortunately, get in the way at times. As well as the aforementioned occasional problem with the vehicle creator, the major concerns are issues such as clipping problems, with Flawkes becoming stuck in mid-air or walking on water unable to dive, and sometimes whole vehicles getting stuck in the scenery. The Buddies, while they may look like a miniature version of Putin, have balance issues clearly inspired by Boris Yeltsin, toddling along fine when the ground is flat but falling over as if they were completely pissed any time they encounter an incline of more than about fifteen degrees. These are fairly minor complaints on the whole, but it’s a good idea to save often just before and after completing particularly difficult puzzles as, once you get stuck in a wall or the floor or lose too many Buddies to them falling over and rolling into enemies or the sea (they don’t swim and there’s much more water than land), you’re going to be unable to continue and have to reload from your previous save.

More egregiously, and purely down to bad design, is the vagueness at times of your objectives. There is no mini-map in the game, and some of what you’re supposed to be doing to progress is given to you in the form of riddle or absurd poetry, making it not at all clear what you’re meant to be doing in some cases. You’ll eventually figure it out, but it’s still very frustrating on occasion, especially when you’re meant to be defending the Buddies from enemy attacks that are killing them off.

To look at, Cargo! is extremely bright and colourful, and possessed of a cheery cartoon charm that works despite being, you’d think, at odds with the apocalyptic nature of the plot. It works because of the sheer bizarreness of the characters and many of the plot devices. Cargo! would be entirely safe to allow children to play as a relatively peaceful puzzle platformer, with the darker humour, more sinister undertones and surrealist metaphors covered over with a broad palette of primary colours. Adults, however, will still be able to pick up on these subtleties, and appreciate the juxtaposition. It’s the same sort of balancing act you see in some cartoons, like Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Laboratory, with aspects of the game that can be enjoyed by all ages with nothing too overtly disturbing or offensive. Kudos has to be given to Ice-Pick Lodge for managing to pull it off.

The sound of the game is just as weird as the rest of it. The voice acting is definitely odd, with characters which sound like their voices shouldn’t be coming from the kind of body they have, the most obvious contradiction being Flawkes but, in spite of that, again… it kind of works. The quality of the actual voice work is pretty damned good on the whole, especially for a Russian game translated into English. None of the voices are grating or especially painful to have to listen to, and this is helped by the dialogue they’re reading, which is consistently delightful in a twisted and poetic kind of way and a major source of the humour in the game.

Sound effects are generally very bright and cartoony in line with the visuals, and this too works rather well as part of the overall effect. What is a problem, in my opinion, though is the music. It’s not constant throughout the game, but it does play whenever you’re navigating menus, and you frequently have to trigger it yourself when getting a large group of Buddies to dance to harvest their FUN. And it’s just terrible. I can’t adequately describe just how irritating it is. Fortunately, Ice-Pick have included an editor tool to allow you to replace the music that plays during the Buddies’ discos with your own MP3s, and the menu music can be muted altogether.

  • The wonderfully twisted and surrealistic humour that runs throughout the game.
  • Dropping the Statue of Liberty out of the stratosphere is every bit as eye-poppingly stunning as you’d expect it to be, and most of the rest of the stuff you pull back down to Earth is similarly visually impressive.
  • The entire concept is an inspired bit of madness.
  • The vehicle creator is varied enough to please customisation freaks, but simple enough that a five year old could mostly manage.
  • The voice acting is pretty good, and the dialogue is at times inspired.
  • Can be appreciated on different levels by pretty much anyone.
  • It’s just a great deal of silly fun, whilst it lasts.
  • Clipping issues are a serious problem.
  • The Buddies are damned disturbing to anyone over the age of ten.
  • The music is extremely irritating.
  • It’s frequently unclear what you have to do next.
  • It’s much too short.

Cargo! is a series of surreal contradictions disguised as a garish puzzle game. At times it can be infuriating, and at others delightful. However, ultimately, it’s a lot of fun. Not many games can honestly say that these days, and Cargo! harkens back to a bygone era when bizarre concepts and unusual characters and quirky gameplay were king in games.

I can’t give the game an unqualified recommendation. It’s a little too broken in places, and more importantly, it’s far too short. The marketing blurb describes the game as having a campaign at least 8 hours long and infinite replay value courtesy of sandbox mode. That isn’t true. I finished the game in 7 and a half hours, and an hour of that was spent dicking about not doing what I was meant to be, and it would have been much shorter still if not for the numerous occasions I was sat in front of the monitor scratching myself unsure of what I should be doing. All in all, it’s more like 5 hours worth of game. And sandbox mode is overwhelmingly pointless, as there are no puzzles or progression, and messing about building vehicles and crashing them into stuff, or wandering around booting Buddies into the water to watch them drown isn’t my idea of infinite replay value.

That said, I do like the game, and it’s something you really have to experience for yourself. The pros outweigh the cons for me, and whilst I’d find it hard to part with the £15 currently being asked, if you see it on Steam in one of the sales then you could do much worse than to give Cargo! a chance.

Last five articles by Samuel



  1. Richie richie says:

    Typically unfuckwittable write up there, Preach.

    Let me know if this hits a deal on Steam and I’ll give it a shot.

    Iambic pentameter. Word is bond.

  2. Edward Edward says:

    Fantastic writing as always, Preach, but this game just doesn’t appeal to me. It all seems a bit too weird and potentially frustrating (who had the bright idea of creating a new race that can’t swim on a planet that’s mostly water?!) for me, sadly, but I’m glad that you managed to have more fun with it than you did any negativity :)

    Hope they do pretty well, though, and I might reconsider come times of Steam Sales :)

  3. Ste says:

    What the hell? Nice review mate but I think this game would send me west.

  4. Samuel Samuel says:

    @Rich If I see it on the sales, you’ll be the first to know. The dialogue in the game is fantastically well written despite being a translation. It’s really impressive in how lyrical and poetic it is. Also thanks man, for the compliments and for tweeting about this review. Appreciate it.

    @Ed @Ste It’s a shame if the oddity of it on face value puts you off. It’s a genuinely fun game. If I were going to take offence to something it would be the clipping problems, not the style of it, but that’s just me. Ste, put some south into being sent west and you’d wind up in Cornwall, and that’s not such a bad thing, heh. Thanks anyway though guys.

  5. Lorna Lorna says:

    I find those Buddies highly disturbing to look at – I wonder who came up with the concept and artwork for them because they are decidedly creepy. In all, it sounds like an bizarre title – inventive, original, and surreal, but also a little broken, which is a shame. Very mad looking, not perhaps one for me, but I enjoyed the review – always good to hear more about some of the odder titles out there.

  6. Samuel Samuel says:

    Ice-Pick are a Russian developer, I’d not be at all surprised to find my Putin theory is accurate. The resemblance is uncanny. Thanks Lorna.

  7. MoltenRog says:

    Anyway to play as those naked little dwarves :>

  8. Samuel Samuel says:


  9. Adam Adam says:

    The little guys freak me out but I think I like that :)

    Smashing stuff Doctor :)

  10. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Vladimir Putin babies kick ass… in a seriously twisted way. I’m all up for weird and quirky in my gaming these days and, although the preview video I watched left me a little cold, this review has kinda sparked my interest in it so I may give this one a shot. At the very least, it’ll give me a load of “WTF” moments!!

  11. Samuel Samuel says:

    @Adam – That would explain your taste in women! And I was a bit smashed, yes, who told you?

    @Mark – You’d need to be sitting on the floor for them to kick your arse though, as they only have little legs.

    Boom boom! I’m here all week, ladies and gentlemen, try the fish! In all seriousness though thanks for the comments guys. Heh.

  12. [...] Ice-Pick Lodge have a brief but kooky history, having previously developed the very bizarre Cargo! The Quest for Gravity, which we reviewed several years ago.  This offbeat creativity and passionate vision, coupled with the gorgeous Tim Burton-esque [...]

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