Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a remake the 1988 classic, Carrier Command. It was a game way ahead of its time, offering complete military freedom in a sandbox-style world. But computer games have advanced a tremendous amount since 1988, and turning Carrier Command into a game suited to this current era of HD consoles was always going to be a big task.
Similar to the original’s (just somewhat beefed up), the story takes place on the planetoid of Taurus, a pivotal battleground in the war between two factions: the United Earth Coalition (UEC), and the Asian Pacific Alliance (APA). With Earth currently a wasteland, the UEC want to use the resources of Taurus to bring Earth back to its former glory and defeat the APA. This is where you come in, playing as Lieutenant Myrik who is tasked with taking over the Dead Zone, a 33-island archipelago that’s key to the survival of Earth.
Carrier Command splits itself between a real-time action and strategy game, where the overarching objective is to conquer and control islands. In this game you get two modes; the strategy game which is very similar in style and mechanics to the original game and you’ve got the campaign, which is story-driven and essentially a one long drawn out tutorial. And believe me, you will need to play the campaign first. With the huge amount of information to absorb, from customising your units, ways to fight the enemy and how to build up resources, production lines and defense, you’ll need to understand all of this if you’re to win.
Sadly they decided to start this mode with a horrid FPS section which gives off an incredibly bad first impression. The controls are very stilted and way off the smooth and tight controls that we’re used to. The soldiers’ AI is poor, the reticule doesn’t change colour to indicate enemy or friendly units, the interaction and direction prompts are pretty much non-existent and you can’t sprint or jump. Quite simply, any progress that’s been made over the past decade in the FPS genre has been ignored here. Thankfully this doesn’t last for long before you’re stepping into the aircraft carrier and start commanding units. This mode generally plays the same as the strategy mode but easing you in with the controls and you’re just directed more in what island to take over next, therefore I’ll skip onto the meat and bones of this game.
With a 33-island archipelago to battle over, the central point of this game is your carrier, from which you can deploy and dock up to four aerial units and four amphibious units. With full control over any vehicle at any time, you systematically work your way through each island’s mission to take them under your control. But you do need to plan what island you want to take as each has various perks and benefits that will help you build up your strength. These come in three forms: islands containing resources which in turn will help the islands with the factories build units. These production line islands will then be protected by the islands that offer defense. What you don’t want to do is take just take over factory islands, as with no resources you’re not going to be able to replenish your lost units and you’ll fail.
You also get to make decisions about your development priorities, for example, do you focus on improving your units weaponry or armour? What supplies do you give your units; something to the hack enemy command structure or perhaps a scanner to detect enemy forces? What will most effectively dispatch the enemy; rockets or lazers? You have a huge array of options available to you, almost overwhelming actually.
When taking over islands, you need to complete sub-missions to get the island under your control. These include knocking out power grids and taking down defenses to allow you to get in the enemy’s base and take over their command centre. But how you going to do it? That’s the beauty of Carrier Command. Do you send in the aircraft with rockets, or the tanks with lazers? You decide. It doesn’t matter here as Carrier Command allows you to command exactly as you see best. It will frustrate some and you will fail, but good control over your units yields the results.
Strategy games generally work well on consoles as it’s too difficult to select and command units, but here a well thought out UI has been implemented. It’s very easy to select what unit you want, set up their equipment and then send them out onto the field to fight the enemy. When the units are on the ground and the AI takes control of them, they do generally do what you ask of them, but for me there were a fair few instances when my WALRUS (the amphibious ground unit) would be driving along and then just go in circles. Other times it would keep trying to drive up a sheer rock face or into a building without even attempting to reverse away and then navigate round the obstacle. It would just spent 30 seconds hammering the accelerator and ever so slowly inching its way to freedom.
On the whole they did work well. And if you want you can actually jump in and take control of individual units yourself. This allows you to accomplish very specific things that would otherwise be too difficult or impossible to achieve with just the AI.
Finally, as with all good strategy games, at the start you get to decide on a range of options. These include the amount of resources you start with, how many islands you start with and how difficult your opponent your opponent it. This allows you to make the game as challenging as you please.
I mentioned earlier how my first impressions of the game were soured with the look and feel of the FPS section. Well my ears were subjected to Lieutenant Myrik’s voice. You’re supposed to be fighting a war for Earth’s survival taking place on some interstellar body, and his accent and dialect sucks all believability out of the game, saying how events going pear-shaped. Before the introduction video had even finished I was fed up of this guy. The other voice actors were just as annoying too, but overall though this is a tiny portion of the product and doesn’t affect the key elements of this game.
Graphics wise, I wouldn’t say they are anything to shout about in terms of quality, but it’s a decent looking game with lots of variety to the scenery. From volcanic islands to arctic wastelands, Carrier Command does mix up the gameplay with interesting islands. For example, you can quite easily get bogged down in the marshlands, making progress slow. Crucially though, the UI works very well and looks great. Not only is it simple to use, it actually makes you feel like you’re at NORAD, with window in window views of the battlefield, your carrier’s status and more. It’s very engrossing and adds to the feel of this game.
To sum up
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a very good remake, keeping faithful to the original whilst adding a modern polish. It doesn’t revolutionise the genre like it did back in the 1980s, but it’s a solid game and one that console players can actually get to grips with and enjoy.
[Version reviewed: Xbox 360]
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is released on 28 September 2012 for PC and Xbox 360.