A cargo cult is, to put it most simply, a group of some description that seeks some result - say, the arrival of a cargo plane carrying food and valuables - through the mimicking of what first brought about the desired result. Of course, this almost never works, and the group's left looking silly, wondering why it didn't work out. This applies to a lot of things beyond south pacific islands: Richard Feynman famously denounced cargo cult science, which mimicked the trappings of successful scientific research but produced little of lasting value.
Macabre amounts to cargo cult game design.
Let's back up for a moment, though. This game is about a guy named Fred (whose distinguishing characteristic is his gigantic triangle-shaped red hair) who washes up on a beach after a giant earthquake ruins everything, and is taken in by a guy named Derf. After rescuing his friend and murdering some dudes in retribution, you go up a mountain, meet a poorly-dressed !scotsman and a womanizing pile of green goo, and then go into a generic final dungeon-looking place and fight the god of time. After this, you come back to the goo people's town (and later on Derf's house) to see it has been set on fire (evidently, setting !scottish people's homes on fire is off limits, as it's perfectly fine despite being right in between those two locations).
The main character then gets an ominous dream about her wife being in danger, which is apparently the trigger he needed to go through the cave that led back in the direction of home.
I got to the first town after the cave and called it quits.
Even just this part of the plot feels dumb. Why is the !scotsman (Alan) deciding that now is the best time to go looking for his brother, and not in the however many years he's had living on his own to do so? Why is Fred so willing to throw his life into peril for people he's just met for such paltry rewards? If the goo people know things are going to go to get killed while the main characters are off in final dungeon-looking place, why don't they move a second time, or seal their town up? What does that robot get from impaling some random guy on a piece of wood?
None of the characters seemed worth getting attached to; Fred's a blank slate that goes along with anything and everything, Alan's a scottish woodsman with a terrible past, and Chip's an attempt at comic relief that feels incredibly out of place.
Actually, most of the attempts at humor in this game feel out of place. What isn't outright scatological just falls flat (and yes, there's way too many jokes of that nature in this thing). The bits of text that isn't attempts at humor go on for way too long, the absolute worst offenders being the optional texts you can find; do you really expect people to read through a dozen text boxes, all of which are on a black background and deal with a race of goo monsters? The whole tone of the game is incredibly jarring; to give but one example, Chip goes off about wanting to meet up with some women while standing in front of Derf's impaled corpse. The scene fails to be funny and, more importantly, fails to be saddening when it does the tonal equivalent of slamming on the brakes while at highway speeds.
Enough on the plot, though. The game sells itself on several mechanics, all of which I had some fault with:
The vast majority of things you pick up in the game are either Mystery Meat or Scrap. With them, you can craft items that are actually useful - Mystery Meat creates curative items, while Scrap creates gear. The more you do this, the more your crafting level goes up, which lets you make better stuff.
I can vaguely see why you'd want to go the curative item crafting route (it lets you choose what you need, instead of hoping to come across decent stuff in the field), but the crafting of gear is obnoxious. Either you're crafting gear that you already have/is outdated, or you're betting lots of scrap on something that you have a 50% chance of getting nothing from (not even experience, which would at least be something). Betting 10 scrap just to lose it is lousy; losing it twice in a row (a 50% chance after the first loss, after all) removes all incentive to try crafting above your level for the rest of the game.
With both item types, you can disassemble them for their relevant junk type. For whatever reason, instead of the act being done from a custom menu, it's done through a shop window. Again, this falls flat far more for the gear side of things; enjoy scrolling through several dozen items so you can turn it back into a single piece of scrap.
This mechanic is taken from a good number of MMOs; unlike MMOs that include this sort of mechanic, however, there's no real outlet for duplicate items beyond scrapping them. I can get a crafting mechanic that includes failure in a game where resources aren't intended to be finite; here, though, it's just rude.
Another way to put it: if all the Mystery Meat was replaced with healing items of the relevant strength at the point in the game they were found, and the majority of Scrap was taken out and replaced with traditional gear to be found, would anything of value have been lost?
There's 16 optional quests strewn around this game. There's some variety in them - one involves getting a completely useless party member for all of 5 minutes while you ferry him back home, while another involves the main character being an idiot and coming out when someone clearly out to kill him asks him to - but what I have an issue with are the rewards. At the end of each, you get a loot crate, the unboxing of which involves a whole lot of standing around waiting for the game to say you've obtained generic crafting materials. There is a reason most games with these sorts of systems give out unique or otherwise useful items upon the completion of quests; it makes the effort feel worthwhile. If I'm getting the same reward from spending a not insignificant of time getting three items that drop from a monster as I do from wandering around a dungeon for 30 seconds, why bother?
Also: the actual quest text is displayed on a backdrop when you go to look at it, for whatever reason; this clashes with the rest of the menu (bad).
There's several achivements in here for doing things you're going to do anyway, and three that I see no point in pursuing (why bother with an achievement for not doing any curative item crafting in a game where that has that as a major component?). All this does is make pointless messages pop up every once in a while and spoil every major plot point the game offers for you. There's a reason a lot of games hide achievements that spoiler things until they're actually reached.
4. Skill learning:
Very similarly to the Romancing Saga series, each character learns skills through getting lucky at using their most recently-acquired skill. Luck's a bit of a misnomer, though; half of the skills I got whilst playing involved status effects, which is annoying when you really wanted to use a skill that was going to deal damage (or even damage of a different type than you were dealing at the time). Look at Romancing Saga 3's version of this system: not only do almost all the skills have the same general function (dealing damage), all but a handful can be learnt by using any skill on hand. Another indie game, StandStill Girl, has a similar system where you learn new attacks after using other ones a requisite amount of times - but there, the skills are learned after battle, and you're given all but explicit instructions on what skills need to be used however many times. Its system is a good bit more complicated than this one, but it's worth looking into if you want to see another example of how direct skill learning can work really well, unlike here.
These four mechanics are why I call this game an example of cargo cult game design. All the mechanics are there, yes, but the original reason for their existence are not. There's crafting, but none of the systems outside of it to justify its existence. There's quests, but very little reason to pursue them. There's achievements, but they act more as progress markers than things actively worth pursuing. And there's skill learning that makes you use skills you don't really want to use to learn skills that are again different from what you were using. Implemented well, they would have added a huge amount to the game's appeal: here... they'd be better off taken out and replaced with default systems.
Graphics are pretty lousy, and even if they were decent nothing I encountered was actually interesting design-wise. When your intended mascot-type/comic relief species (? I'm really not sure why they're there if this is not the case) are shambling piles of goo, something has gone horribly wrong somewhere along the line. From pictures I've seen of later parts of the game, it seems that the tone tries to head towards horror - but there isn't nearly the technical skill here to pull that off. Instead, it ends up looking stupid.
All the music in this is
Really, though, what did I expect from a remake of a remake of what, if I'm remembering correctly, was the author's first game? Sure, there's been some attempts to spruce things up, but was it really worth the half-decade spent on-and-off on this?
tldr; I wandered around trying to find wood for a bridge only to find it lying in the corner of the map and that's about the level of quality you can expect here