25 years ago, the ground-breaking Real-time strategy (RTS) video game Carrier Command from developers Realtime Games and Publishers Rainbird was released for many different systems including the Atari ST, the ZX Spectrum, the Amiga and the Commodore 64. Players commanded a carrier complete with air and land combat vehicles. The objective was to conquer islands held by the enemy for resources, defence and industrial production until eventually the player takes over every island formerly held by enemy forces. Combat units could all be controlled typically with commands inputted by the player via keyboard and mouse. However the big twist was that the player could also directly control individual combat units, giving the player both roles of Commander and combatant. Carrier Command received critical acclaim for it’s exciting, intuitive gameplay mechanics and it’s seaming-less blend of both real-time tactics and strategy. Carrier Command was truly a genre defying video game that delivered a conception far ahead of it’s time and a vision of what could be achieved for the future of real-time strategy gaming.
After a long 25 years, Carrier Command has returned in the form of a remake: Carrier Command: Gaea Mission from developers and publishers Bohemia Interactive, creators of the highly praised ARMA series. This ambitious video game hopes to bring it’s classic, refreshing and sophisticated gaming mechanics into the current generation of RTS games.
The story tells of a battle between two major factions: the United Earth Coalition (UEC) and the Asia Pacific Alliance. A new, terraformed moon known as Taurus is Earth’s final hope to regenerate its dwindling water supply. The UEC hoped to use the moon for restoring Earth’s waters, however dominance was what the Alliance had in mind. War broke out and in the end, the Alliance took control of Earth. The UEC fled to the Taurus colony to regroup and now must take the fight to the enemy and free Earth from the tyranny of the Alliance.
Your carrier is where you’ll be planning your campaign and choosing where to strike. The carrier holds up to 8 units which include the Walrus (an amphibious combat vehicle), the Manta (a fast and durable attack aircraft) and Drones (an aircaft used either for recon or defence). You’ll need to use all you units effectively and strategically if you wish to take each island from the enemy who is usually much stronger and in greater numbers. You must capture these islands if you wish to gather resources, establish strongholds, maintain a supply line and upgrade your forces. Battle is fought over land and sea, which will provide some immensely hectic and intense battles. Luckily you’ll be able to manage your units through a very slick interface.
Pressing the M key bring up the map of the battlefield to plan your attack and a camera to keep track of your units. You can select individual units and give them orders using the Spacebar. You can also add waypoints to the map indicating where the unit should go. Clicking on the camera where you see your unit brings up the video feed in fullscreen so you can see what the unit is doing. This is where you can also assume direct control of the unit and play the game as a vehicular based first/third-person shooter. It’s a lot of fun to directly control a Manta and rampage through enemy forces. This mechanic also adds much more tactical and strategic depth, providing you with many options on how to take the islands from the enemy.
These units along with the carrier can also be upgraded when you hold enough resources from conquered islands. There are many possible outcomes for upgrading your units. The Walrus vehicles can be upgraded to repair other units and hack enemy command centres or the Walrus can be outfitted with more powerful weapons and armour turning it into a fearsome battle tank. The Manta can become either a lightning fast recon vehicle or a destructive gunship. The carrier itself can be equipped with more powerful guns and armour. All these choices offer a multitude of strategic and tactical possibilities which will enable you to proceed with the conquest however you wish, turning you into the ultimate battlefield Commander.
There are unfortunately some shortcomings to this ambitious game which may hamper the fun that you may have. For instance the friendly AI can be frustratingly idiotic at times. Walrus units may be stuck against scenery, take the longest route to a specific destination despite them being amphibious and charge in battle by themselves with no backup against an entire hoard of enemies, even when you’ve told them to stay with the team. This leads to some annoying micromanagement and babysitting when your units should already be adequate enough to follow orders and respond accordingly. Also the plot is rather weak and is really just an excuse to begin using the carrier. The story campaign is very lengthy and may take around 20 hours or more to complete, but it’s full of clichés and is completely unoriginal, which is a shame because the deep and intense gameplay found in this game along with a captivating and exciting plot could’ve been a match made in heaven. Ultimately the story campaign is nothing more than a tutorial for the main strategy game where you’ll be facing off with the enemy AI.
The graphics hold up rather well considering the epic scale of this game. The units look great and there are some very striking special effects which make the battlefield exiting and terrifying. Sound effects are strong with guns, lasers, missiles, rockets and cannon shells providing very satisfying loud booms and bangs which resonate throughout the battlefield. Yet the environments can look rather dull and lifeless. Islands range from wastelands, artic, mountainous and other environments but each of them lack character and appear to be nothing more than places where the enemy is, rather than visually striking battlegrounds. Character models also look awkward and stiff even in pre-rendered cutscenes. Their facial expressions are emotionless and their lip syncing is way off, making the characters not very appealing to look at.
Despite it’s obvious flaws there is plenty to enjoy in Carrier Command: Gaea Mission. The game is full of depth and complexity with plenty of choices to make. The world is huge, the gameplay is challenging and successfully carrying out your plans will always lead to a satisfying outcome against impossible odds. Bohemia Interactive has created a very impressive new-age update from an ’80s classic title that holds up very well by today’s standards.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by Bohemia Interactive.