Also On: PC
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
The original Carrier Command, published in 1988 for a variety of platforms, was a pretty unique game for its use of 3D modeling, and featured strategy concepts that were really fresh and original for its time. Strangely enough, it hasn't seen much in the way of follow-ups, offering up one spin-off title with Battle Command, and a couple of games that have attempted to pay homage to the original. However, Bohemia Interactive, developer of the ARMA series of PC titles, looks to revisit this cult classic with Carrier Command: Gaea Mission.
Unfortunately, Gaea Mission fails miserably when attempting to recapture the fun and exciting strategy elements of the original game. It does a pretty great job of staying true to the formula of the original Carrier Command, but the actual playability of the title takes a massive nosedive just a few minutes in.
The concept revolves around you, the player, taking control of a large, naval command vessel. This vessel can hold a number of vehicles, consisting of two types labeled Mantas and Walruses. The Mantas are flying, drone like machines whereas the Walrus is an amphibious APC, able to run about in water and on land. The idea revolves around you doing battle with an enemy Carrier, and to do so you’ll need to take control of a number of islands, which allow you to produce materials, including additional Mantas and Walruses, along with weapons, in order to win the fight.
The game is structured in two different ways. One resembles a traditional, top down strategy style game, where you’ll take control of individual units and assign markers on an overhead map in order to move your vehicles around. The map zooms in and out, allowing for an all-encompassing view of the world and a number of individual islands at once, or allowing you to zoom in on a particular island, showcasing bases, supplies, and other options available to explore and use. To Gaea Missions credit, it offers up a lot of reasons to explore, often featuring multiple objectives to complete before being able to wrest control of an island from your opponent. Sometimes you’ll need to break down firewalls to open gates, or you’ll need to rebuild an entire Command Base in order to take it over after your enemy has caused it to self-destruct. Each individual island is fairly large, offering up a lot of space to explore and potentially find.
However, navigating the islands, and the world in general, is an absolute chore. The second part of Carrier Command: Gaea Mission resembles something more akin to a third person, or first person shooter. While in the RTS view of the world, you’ll have a small pop-up window that displays a detailed view of what a selected unit is doing. With the press of a button, you can cause that window to fill the screen, and take direct control of a unit, allowing you to move about the world freely, shoot down enemies, refill energy, weapons, and health, and explore the island. Concept wise this sounds pretty cool, and would be if the vehicles weren’t such a nightmare to control, and if you could rely on your other vehicles that you’re not directly controlling to do the tasks assigned them without any sort of hiccup. But neither of these things tends to be true, you’ll find yourself constantly needing to babysit units that should be operating autonomously, as they’ll get hung up or stuck on the smallest of environmental details. I’d often need to restart entire missions because the CPU manages to get a Walrus stuck on a small outcropping or building, and couldn’t get the vehicle unstuck even with direct control.
Mapping out waypoints for your vehicles to travel to ends up being a 50/50 crapshoot, often times leading to vehicles taking long, obnoxious paths to get to a location that should literally be a straight line in front of them. You can alleviate this a bit by creating a series of small waypoints one after another, but it’s hardly ideal to constantly do this. Taking direct control over a vehicle also helps, but when you’re running a map with eight different vehicles, you’re pretty much forced to rely on the CPU to do something, and it often leads to needless frustration. Also, vehicles tend to be paper thin in durability, even with a few upgrades on top, so that if one of your units starts to stray off from the pack, which they often will, there is a good chance that vehicle will get destroyed without any sort of sufficient back-up.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission offers up two modes to play around in. One is the Campaign mode, which also serves as an extended tutorial and is pretty much required to play in order to full grasp everything you can do in Gaea Mission. The Campaign, however, is a boring mess. It begins with a lackluster, awful FPS segment that does a horrible job of giving players an initial understanding of what Carrier Command is. And when it does get to the RTS segment of the game, giving you actual control of the Carrier itself, it manages to drag out the tutorial element for far too long. Why some of the objectives and lessons couldn’t be contained to a single island, and instead needed to be spread apart from one island to the next, is sort of beyond me. Condensing this experience, and allowing the player a bit more freedom to tackle objectives from the onset, would have made for a better experience apart from the issues I had with the path finding, controls, and A.I.
The other mode is a more traditional strategy mode, giving you access to a Carrier from the start, generating a world with a number of islands, and allowing you to do battle with an enemy Carrier from the onset. This is certainly a more enjoyable experience, but again, you’ll pretty much need to play through the campaign in order to accurately understand how this mode works. You can attempt to dive in, and can probably figure out a number of systems, but the UI isn’t particularly friendly when it comes to trying to learn how to play without an assistance to back you up. The UI in general isn’t all that friendly for console players, and I’ve got to believe that this is a far better experience on PC than I found it to be on the 360.
Overall, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission manages to get the concept part of the original 1988 release right, but everything else about the game manages to feel horribly wrong. Gaea Missions poor controls, awful path finding, and ridiculous A.I. keeps this from being any sort of enjoyable experience. I would unfortunately suggest that you avoid this particular title at all costs, as I find little redeemable about the entire experience.