Play
Please use a flash video capable browser to watch videos.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Review

Cart Life Review

  • Game release: July 29, 2010
  • Reviewed: January 14, 2013
  • PC

If you have the patience to endure its myriad technical problems, you'll find a captivating portrait of urban existence in Cart Life.

by

A young mom trying to provide for her daughter. A Ukrainian immigrant hoping to make a new life. A well-traveled bagel chef who can't bring himself to walk away from the white-knuckle intensity of the food service industry. The heroes of Cart Life are anything but your typical video game protagonists. They are ordinary people, doing their best to get by in a world that doesn't make it easy. By putting you in the shoes of these three individuals and letting you share in their struggles, Cart Life becomes a moving ode to the trials and tribulations of regular people who work themselves to the bone day in and day out just to get by. Unfortunately, the beauty and nobility of Cart Life are frequently undercut by severe bugs that yank you out of the experience. It's a real shame, because when it's working properly, Cart Life is something special.

Cart Life can be downloaded from the developer's website. If you download the free version, you can choose between coffee cart proprietor Melanie and newsstand owner Andrus. The five-dollar "everything" edition includes a third playable character, Vinny the bagel vendor. When it comes to running each character's business, they all play pretty much the same. The mechanics of operating the coffee cart, newsstand, and bagel cart all emphasize the repetitive nature of the work the characters are doing, while also encouraging you to act with urgency to keep your customers happy.

Typical customer interactions involve quickly choosing the item the customer ordered from a list, accurately typing a phrase about the product ("Rinse is Pipeline's diet brand"), and then doing a bit of math to make change for the customer. It's not exactly fun, but much like when you're doing actual repetitive retail work, it's possible to get into a state of focus and flow, where you stop thinking about what you're doing and start simply doing it. In this state, it feels good to work quickly, and the game rewards you for doing so. The faster you work, the more customers you can serve and the more money you can make, and you're more likely to get tips for speedy service, too.

Vinny is kind of a quirky dude.

There are enough differences in the ways the businesses operate to make each character's operation feel distinct, though. As Andrus, for instance, you must start the day by cutting the bindings on the stack of newspapers that's been delivered, and then fold the newspapers and put them on the racks at the newsstand. As Melanie, you need to complete quick-time events that take you through the steps of making espresso drinks; making a mistake means starting over, and customers don't have unlimited patience, so you'll want to quickly learn the difference between an Americano, a latte, and a cappuccino. And as Vinny, you need to bake your own bagels. You start out with a recipe for plain bagels, but you can experiment and learn to make other types of bagels, as well.

What really sets the characters apart, however, are the things that surround their working days. Andrus has a touching relationship with his cat, Mr. Glembovski; nobody else in the world relies on Andrus, so taking care of the cat is just about the only source of meaning in Andrus' life. Bad dreams give us a glimpse of Andrus' painful past, and his tender interactions with a married woman make his mostly solitary existence more bittersweet. Melanie's relationship with her sister and her need to prove that she can provide for her daughter are thoroughly convincing. Cart Life doesn't artificially heighten the drama of her predicament; the game understands that her situation is inherently dramatic and presents it in a refreshingly straightforward manner. Vinny's existence is the most breezy and unfettered; his grandiose talk about his calling as a bagel chef and his exaggerated reactions to the caffeinated beverages he needs in order to function properly make him the most lighthearted and comical of Cart Life's characters.

In addition to running each character's business, you have to keep them fed and get them to sleep. You also want to manage their addictions; Andrus needs to smoke cigarettes periodically or he becomes racked with coughing fits, and, like so many people, Vinny gets sluggish without caffeine. Melanie wants to spend time with her daughter, which she can do by walking her home from school each day. The characters also have responsibilities to deal with outside of running their businesses: rents to pay, contracts to maintain, hearings to attend. Fittingly, there is no quest log or other automated in-game reminder about these responsibilities; it's up to you to remember that you have to go to that hearing on Wednesday morning or swing by the newspaper office to keep your deliveries coming. Forget, and face the consequences.

Managing your time effectively in Cart Life is very difficult, but that's the point; these characters need to spend practically every spare moment working if they're going to meet their obligations. The fictional city of Georgetown has attractions--bars, pizzerias, swanky coffee houses--but every minute you spend at establishments like these is a minute you could be spending making the money you desperately need. These characters don't have much time to spend enjoying themselves, and can't afford to spend their money frivolously. Decisions like whether to take the bus or a taxi can weigh heavily on you. Is it better to spend a lot more money to get where you're going faster, or to spend just 75 cents and waste an hour on your trip? It's a difficult and worrisome existence in Cart Life, and that is to the game's credit.

Regardless of which character you play, Georgetown is a great backdrop for your story. Its various neighborhoods, ranging from a grungy industrial district to a high-end shopping area, are all believable. And the people you meet make engaging in small talk at your stand a pleasure. Yes, you see the same relatively few customers over and over again, but they each have a name, a personality, and stories to share. One of the game's sweetest pleasures is looking at the short profiles for your customers that become available once you complete the story. Click on the trio of men who call themselves The Three, for instance, and you learn this: "They came in on different trains for the noises, sounds and sweet airs of city life. They're spending the hours in the night kitchen, in the summer house. They will return again."

There's a poetry not only to City Life's language, but to its visuals as well. The pixelated characters are wonderfully expressive; if you're cooking bagels as Vinny and screw up the recipe, a slight movement of his eyebrows conveys volumes about his disappointment in the results of his work. And the wide view of the camera as your character walks home late at night conveys something of the sense of loneliness that can come from strolling on your own down desolate city streets.

You rarely see parent-child relationships in games that are as believable as this one.

It's easy to get caught up in the struggles of Cart Life's characters. Unfortunately, technical problems often pull you out of the experience. You might be playing as Melanie and walking your daughter Laura home from school, only to arrive home and be informed by your sister that you never picked Laura up. As Vinny, you might be in the machine shop to pick up your cart, only to have the shop close for the night and give you no option to take the cart with you as you leave. Or, playing as Andrus, you might find that scripting errors frequently cause the game to crash, giving you no option but to restart the day you were playing and hope that the same problem doesn't occur again.

Issues like these are all too common and severely compromise Cart Life's impact. There's a beauty to Cart Life's depiction of contemporary urban existence that's utterly unlike anything most games offer. It's in the way it celebrates the hard work of ordinary people. It's in the downtrodden gaze of its characters as they wait for the bus, knowing that the next day won't be any easier than this one. Underneath its bugs, Cart Life is absolutely a game worthy of being played. Unfortunately, in its current state, it's harder than it should be to experience the qualities that make Cart Life extraordinary.

The Good
Wonderful characters you can't help but care about
Mechanics effectively capture the nature of the characters' jobs
Forces you to carefully consider how you spend every dime and every moment
Georgetown is a great urban setting
Stylish black and white visuals support the game's mood
The Bad
Riddled with bugs and oddities
7.5
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Discussion

53 comments
Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

I heard the game got 3 igf prizes and I thought I try it, since I like economical simulations. But.

PEOPLE IT'S UNFUN. The game is not an economical management strategy, it's boring and slow like a quest. There is no fun in playing it, it's controls are soooo sluggish and weird.

If you are like me - don't buy it, the game is THANKFULLY free, so try it if you'd like, but I had enough after 4-5 minutes. The game is total and utter shit as a game. Dear Esther is better artistically and FTL is better gameplaywise and both are 10000 times better than this.

ernelson1976
ernelson1976

"It's not exactly fun..." Which pretty much says everything there is to say about this game. It's not at all fun, it's all about a mood. A depressing, foul mood. Why anyone would spend more than a few minutes with it is beyond me. Yet another game that misses the point of games, and yet it's getting a 7.5? Despite the massive, glaring (and unlikely to be fixed) technical problems?  What is Gamespot smoking these days?

britflik
britflik

This looks really depressing

PetJel
PetJel

This looks fun. Shame about the technical issues, I'll check back in a few weeks to see if patches have improved the game.

brxricano
brxricano

Half Life is way more....pchew pchew!! Seriously, a 'miserable dead end job' simulator. No thanks? People can do this in RL why would i want to PLAY this? Its like mockery even.

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

Wow, this looks so tedious! Some people have way too much time on their hands.

LeoLex_
LeoLex_

different, but i will miss this

tgwolf
tgwolf

...And blah blah innovative (as if) and... ...blah blah...Alright my turn! If you find yourself playing games like this, it's because you DON'T HAVE A LIFE and you need to GET ONE! Bad!

vyse_1986
vyse_1986

I tried the free version and would describe it as a horrible experience. I had to restart the game because I wasted too much time exploring the town on my first run, which is fine. 

After the restart, first thing I do Monday morning is walk Laura to school, take the bus to the city hall, draw a number, stare at the screen for three minutes and when my number is finally up, the character is apparently too hungry to even talk to the secretary. Ragequit, try again, get permit. Then I ran into a bug which made it impossible to buy a coffee stand because the entrance to Alice's workshop suddenly took me to a different building. By the time I was finally able to serve some coffee (which, admittedly, was actually fun) the credits rolled because this game is less than an hour long. It ended right in the middle of an important cutscene, too. I had to confirm with the website that the free version isn't actually a demo.

Arbalon
Arbalon

Its a good review, I just don't get why they said it had Mature Content.. Smoking? hah

da_nibbler
da_nibbler

outstanding visual design? seriously? you guys are giving this to anything that's monochrome and/or 8 bit graphic-y lately..... that does NOT define outstanding visual design in my book. I love me a visual design that's different from the masses, but this is getting ridiculous!

jflkdjs
jflkdjs

Carolyn Petite and Tom McShea are two of my favorite reviewers!

lazarus_ledd
lazarus_ledd

I'm sorry but I have to say this. YOUR VOICE IS AWFUL! Please let someone else do your reading for you, because you seriously sound like you have very bad cold.

megakick
megakick

Riddled with bugs it gets a 7.5 come on... Read a book if you want a good story.

RogerioFM
RogerioFM

Good review, you didn't talk too much about Vinny though.

Bexorcist
Bexorcist

Why would I play a game with the same tragic setting as my own life?

Arsyad00
Arsyad00

outstanding visual design :(

never-named
never-named

This looks like the game Heavy Rain tried to be...

jazmobile
jazmobile

I really like this game but the bugs are pretty bad. I won't be buying until its fixed. The experience is really brought down when you have to keep redoing days.

TimeFrame
TimeFrame

I tried the free version and it's a very interesting game..

riff_farmer
riff_farmer

Great game moment: while playing as Andrus, I recall having to get a permit at city hall, wait my for number to be called, wait some more, and then when it was finally my turn the f*#king janitor got in my way and I couldn't talk to the clerk!  City hall closed shortly afterwards and I couldn't get my permit!  I was so stressed out and pissed!  

CLOCKWORKIAN
CLOCKWORKIAN

This game looks great! Yet another example of the maturity of gaming as a medium for artistic expression and social commentary. I hope that they make a patch to correct the bugs that are stated in the review because I would love to give this game a try.

plasticreality
plasticreality

Glad you reviewed it (I also enjoyed the "Cart Life Stories" piece). I really do hope the developer takes the time to fix the bugs, especially considering how unique the experience is. Honestly, I could see this being a useful teaching tool - far better than my elementary school days playing Oregon Trail.

zneno
zneno

nice to see a video review on a small indie game like this one.

tagyhag
tagyhag

Good review. I love how GS is paying more attention to indie games. Keep it coming folks!

michaelsgreat
michaelsgreat

@ernelson1976 I think you're missing the point of this game. Games are becoming more and more like art, and just as art doesn't have to be "pretty," games these days don't have to be "fun." It's a life simulator more than anything and life isn't fun most of the time. You're right about the technical problems, though, they are inexcusable. A game doesn't have to be fun to play, but you should be able to play it without it bugging out on you.

picho86
picho86

@tgwolf Some people would say the same thing about visiting gaming sites.

brxricano
brxricano

@vyse_1986 you.......nah lol......hes joking! he has to be lol! he.....he has to be....O_O

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

@da_nibbler I'm a former pixel artist and I love pixel graphics, but I agree. This looks like crap and this art style is very pretentious.

drivinggod2005
drivinggod2005

@lazarus_ledd Wow. Dunno what to say. A disgusting comment in every sense of the word.

jflkdjs
jflkdjs

@lazarus_ledd If you don't like her voice then simply don't watch the video, read it instead!

Leboyo56
Leboyo56

I never usually care about the bugs or technical issues of a game as long as it is a good time or leaves a lasting impact on me. Lag and slowdown for example.

Coren_Larken
Coren_Larken

@megakick I think reviewers lately have been focused more on story telling methods and unique gameplay mechanics. As the push seems to be going away from more traditional games to indie, its seemed that games that wouldn't be quite as good by traditional methods are getting higher ratings because of innovation.
To each their own, but I've not been able to get into a lot of these games yet...just not my style of game.


never-named
never-named

@Bexorcist Because there are people out there actually living out the ridiculous power fantasies that games usually provide, who just want to see life through the eyes of a simple, struggling street vendor, like the ones they see below, soaring across the skies in their wingsuits, grapple-hooking from aircraft-to-aircraft, killing morally bankrupt badguys every three minutes?

scanevaro
scanevaro

@jazmobile thats what fucked up my fallout new vegas experience :( ... (over 20 hours of gameplay)

Bexorcist
Bexorcist

@riff_farmer Why would that be great? It is annoying as hell in real life, so why would you 'relive' it when you are gaming?

hystavito
hystavito

@tagyhag  I keep feeling like there's an Indie "bubble" coming though :).

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

@picho86 @tgwolf Visiting a gaming site takes a matter of minutes. I'm guessing this game requires a lot more time.

Bexorcist
Bexorcist

@never-named I'd rather do that then do the same thing I do for a living in a bloody computer game :'(

never-named
never-named

@SimonSiThornton I should probably clarify my rather clumsy statement. This looks like the experience Heavy Rain tried to provide, to a certain degree, specific story trappings aside. Showcasing the daily life of an everyman/woman, their vices and indulgences and observing them during the most intimate of moments.

Sorry if it sounded like I was trolling or baiting for fan-heat, that was not my intention.

michaelsgreat
michaelsgreat

@hystavito @tagyhag People have always been making games in their garages, figuratively speaking, but there was a time when those people found it really difficult to get their ideas out there. Now the industry is paying more attention to those people. I guess we'll see if everyone stops paying them attention, but there will still be indie developers after that.

Cart Life More Info

First Release on Jul 29, 2010
  • PC
Cart Life is a retail simulation for Windows that showcases the lives of street vendors in a small city located in the Western United States.
7.4
Average User RatingOut of 27 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Cart Life
Developed by:
Richard Hofmeier
Published by:
Richard Hofmeier
Genres:
Simulation