At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Bohemia Interactive Bohemia Interactive 1
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
PC-only. Minimum: Windows XP/Vista/7, Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz/AMD Dual-Core Athlon 2.5GHz, 2GB RAM, 4GB Hard Disk Drive space, NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT and 512MB Video RAM, DirectX 9.0c Xbox 360 Click here to buy Carrier Command: Gaea Mission.

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission review

Does anyone remember the 1980s game Carrier Command? I certainly didn't, which is why it was a surprise when I first saw a video to Bohemia Interactive's modern remake earlier this year. I was drawn in by the concept of the game (as was Andrew when he saw it at Gamescom this year) and so when it was released last month, I was eager to learn more.

The basic overview of a game of Carrier Command is a simple one. You control a single ship (the titular "Carrier") which is manned by your squad. You get to construct a number of vehicles, outfit them with weapons, then you and your squad remotely operate them to send them onto the battlefield. The battlefield in this case being a series of islands that are divided up between you and the opposing team. Across this archipelago you fight skirmish after skirmish in order to rip control of each island from the AI to your team. Taking control of their main island will result in you being crowned the winner.

You can get a close-up of the action from the overview screen

You can get a close-up of the action from the overview screen

Beyond this basic concept, a number of different mechanics are thrown into this mix to make things more challenging. The two basic unit types, a land vehicles and an air unit, don’t come for free and must be built. Ammo also needs to be built and can come in a few types, such as the machine gun and rocket launcher, which are then placed into slots in your vehicles (there’s only three). These slots can also be used for utilities you may have constructed, such as changing the capabilities of a particular island. The management of this construction queue is key, ensuring that you have a ready supply of vehicles to replace the ones you have lost as well as the necessary ammunition and fuel to power them. The carrier itself has its own fuel supply which you’ll need to keep topped up to avoid being left stranded waiting for the supply boat. You are also able to equip it with drones to help in its defence or command range.

As I hinted at earlier, each island has a basic type which indicates how it will help you in the game. There's the defensive island that helps act as a buffer to the enemy attacks, a production island that will produce your units and a mining island that will generate the resources you need to manufacture items. These are linked up by supply chains and a strategic attack by the enemy may see your supply chain cut off, losing you available resources further along the chain. There is a surprising amount of variety in the island design and it's difficult to find an identically shaped island in a single game. Each has its own terrain type including deserts, snowy peaks and rain filled swamp which makes them visually interesting too. That said, aside from these basic properties, you won’t be exploring every nook and cranny as beyond the large structures (which are usually marked on your map) there’s little to offer when you go off the beaten track, apart from trees, rocks, hills and water. The only advantage in doing so is to get around the back of a hunkered down turret or enemy vehicle.

You can then jump right into a first-person view

You can then jump right into a first-person view

As Andrew mentioned in his preview, management of your available resources is key and you need to manage all three parts to be successful, namely the islands you currently have under your banner, your production queue and the direct control of your vehicles. The game can handle in two ways depending on your style of playing. Firstly you can order your units over a real-time strategy top down map, setting waypoints, enemy units to attack and locations to capture. Hitting execute will see your units carry out those orders, taking shots at any AI that you encounter. Whilst this is handy if you are busy managing your production queue or scoping out what to do next, the real enjoyment comes from taking over your units. Ditching the map allows you to see exactly what each vehicle sees, and by tapping the movements keys they ditch their programmed route and allow for direct control. You can quickly flick between units, issuing minute changes over their programmed orders or you can chose to simply control a single vehicle and issue commands to the remainder using a radial menu. It's great that the option is there for either of these choices.

The "strategy mode" (essentially skirmish) generates a random map and island set for you and allows you to quickly get into a game. There are a number of customisable options such as the starting resources, number of islands and victory conditions (island control or enemy carrier destruction). All games are a 1-vs-1 affairs against an AI opponent, and whilst it would have been nice to be able to challenge a friend to a match, there would be a number of technical constraints that prevent this, such as the timewarp when moving between islands, so I can see why they didn't.

Not quite a sightseeing tour

Not quite a sightseeing tour

This lack of multiplayer does mean the game needs to have a polished single player and whilst the gameplay mechanics work really well in the context of a game, it's Carrier Command's single player mode that drags the game crashing down. For those like me in the days of old, who skip the campaign and immediately click skirmish to get the full open experience from the get-go, they should stop reading here. If you're not interested in hearing about the campaign then your experience will be better if you skip ahead to the last chapter. For those of you who are left, I've got some bad news, the campaign in Carrier Command is simply awful.

The first thing you'll notice are the cut-scenes, which are badly lip-synced; sometimes the animation matches the models but it is out of sync, and other times it just never matches what is said. The game tries to tell the story of a mission gone wrong. Deployed from a space ship orbiting the planet Taurus, your dropshop crash lands after being shot down by an island's air defence. Unfortunately the game fails to evoke much emotion, partly due to the often wooden acting of the voice artist, but mainly due to the shoddy direction of the camera work. "Look out" cries one officer, a few seconds short of the action that should have caused him to duck. The enemies you encounter are faceless drones controlled by the AI installations on each island. With no sense of character for the enemy, the game doesn't really give you a sense of why you are fighting, nor does it set the scene of where you stand in the overall conflict. These issues in 'direction' are also reflected in the level design, which doesn't really give a clear indication of where you need to go. Again, this is a result of a combination of factors including bad checkpointing and dead ends in the level. For example, I choose at one point to head down a mountain when I should have gone up, only to end up at the same spot a few minutes later after the necessary cut-scene had played out. The biggest gripe I have with the campaign is the inclusion of first person shooter elements. Completely separated from the rest of the game (the strategy mode doesn't feature first person elements), you take direct control of the squad of troops that crashed landed. Whilst this succeeds in making the campaign distinct from strategy play, it fails completely in being enjoyable, and it feels like the lessons that have been learned by the latest first person shooters of recent years have been lost. Vertical aiming which is capped below a certain threshold (forcing you to step back to retrieve ammo from replenishable crates), lack of a jump button, and bad mouse sensitivity (which I could never configure to a point that I was comfortable) are just the beginning of these.

Let's pretend this never happened

Let's pretend this never happened

The campaign's saving grace is that when it begins to teach you the RTS/carrier mechanics, it does become much more engaging with some interesting scenarios later on that require some thinking instead of just rushing in blindly with your units. These sections aren't perfect either, with a few inconsistencies in some places; one sub-mission asked me to go around a heavily fortified area, which ignored one unit but then blasted the other within seconds. Bad level design also cropped up such as a situation where one part of the island I was forced to go over slowed down vehicle movement. Perfectly sensible in the context of a strategic game when I have seven other units to tinker with, but annoying when it is my only vehicle in campaign.

In summation, you millage will certainly vary with this game, and it all depends on what draws you in. The game’s strategy mode is great in and off itself, with its randomly generated maps offering plenty of replayability. It's such a shame that the game’s campaign is such a letdown in its initial couple of hours, which is probably enough to put many off. It should have been the crowning jewel of this single player-only package, teaching you the basics and then encouraging you to move onto the strategy mode. For those on the fence, I would encourage you to give the game the benefit of the doubt, because once you get past its early stumbles, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission will finally get round to showing you a really interesting blend of strategy and action.

Ratings

Overall Carrier Command has an interesting fusion of third person action and strategy to offer players. It's a shame that its campaign is such a let down. 7/10

Click here to buy Carrier Command: Gaea Mission from Amazon.co.uk.

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