When it was first announced, everyone assumed Cargo! would be a skewering indictment of modern game design. After all, Ice-Pick Lodge are the creators of challenging, artsy games like The Void and Pathologic, and Cargo! is a colourful world where you, as protagonist Phlox, must gather 'Fun' to entertain gibbering, naked simpletons.
Yet I'm not convinced.(opens in new tab)
From the presentation I saw, it looks like a genuine attempt to create a game that doesn't take slippers and a glass of port to enjoy. Maybe Ice-Pick just want to have fun?
Cargo! starts on a beautiful tropical archipelago, where Phlox, a short-haired woman in orange overalls and suspenders, meets a god who looks like a giant floating tiki statue. He explains how boredom has prompted him and the others to turn off gravity. Most of Earth's inhabitants and landmarks have hurtled off into space, and you're one of the last remaining humans.
In humanity's place are creatures called Brats. They look like elderly babies, bald and squat, but when you entertain them an element called 'Fun' is generated. It's how you buy back objects from the sky.(opens in new tab)
The Brats enjoy simple pleasures. You begin by punting them around: booting them over long distances to their great delight. You can place music boxes and inspire them to dance. You do anything you can think of to entertain the rascals.
In the small demo I was shown, that meant rescuing a few Brats whose boat had sunk, leaving them splashing and stranded. Phlox gathered boat parts from the beach, used a small amount of Fun to purchase a sail, and entered the in-game editor. Here, you can slot pre-defined pieces together to create your desired vehicle. At this early stage of the game it was very simple, with no room for variation, but screenshots show elaborate flying contraptions and wacky racers. Hopefully those aren't all prescribed, and players can fiddle to create their own.(opens in new tab)
Phlox uses her new boat to sail out and rescue the Brats, and they have a great time hanging off the back. More Fun is generated, and soon it's time to go shopping for some of those lost items.
Phlox selects the only object she can afford: a giant iceberg. It plummets from the sky, penguins clinging onto it for dear life. With more Fun, Phlox could have brought back down the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben. For now, the iceberg crashes into the sea, and new activities become available. Eventually, perhaps by helping some penguins, she'll unlock new areas and get to build different types of vehicle, but the basics will remain the same: Fun saves everything. It remains to be seen if there's any deeper story here, but I'm willing to settle for hoofing short, bald men into the ocean.