After receiving the promo copy of ‘Carrier Command, Gaea Mission’, the first thing I did was look at the box art to work out what the game was about. I had never heard of the game before, not being a massive RTS player, but was intrigued by the concept. The game could be initially confusing to the uninitiated, and after the first twenty minutes of play, I went back and did some historical research.
Carrier command was developed back in 1989 by Realtime Games as a cross between a vehicle simulation game and a real time strategy game. The game involves two futuristic aircraft carriers with an arsenal of remote controlled vehicles which have been designed to colonise an Archipelago of sixty islands. One of these carriers falls into the hands of terrorists and it is the player’s mission to use the other carrier to infiltrate and take ownership of the islands, dominate the area and its resources and ultimately to take over the opponent’s more advanced carrier. Realtime followed this up in 1990 with ‘Battle Command’, a more arcadey, Tank battle-game, where the player sits and fights in the vehicles themselves. I actually remember playing this game on the Amiga and breaking my friend’s joystick (remember those?) while playing it. Realtime Games seemingly disappeared from the industry after this, although members of the development team were still active in other areas, including being involved with a port of ‘Elite’ to the PC and a port of ‘Starglider’ to the ZX Spectrum. One of Realtime’s founders, Graeme Baird, eventually went to work for Psygnosis, which went on to become Studio Liverpool, creators of the ‘Wipeout’ Franchise. Carrier Command was well received in it’s time due to its revolutionary 3D Vector graphics which used raster shading rather than texture mapping. This ensured a great fluidity of 3D game play, and good responsiveness in an era of slow and clunky games.
‘Carrier Command Gaea Mission’ is a modern remake of the original ‘Carrier Command’ and is developed by Bohemia Interactive. Quite incorrectly I thought Gaea Mission was a game of two entirely separate halves, an FPS and an RTS to suit the moods of the player. I tried to start the RTS section of the game, called ‘Strategy’, but was prompted to play the campaign first, as the first portion of the campaign acts as a narrative based, setting the scene for the main game. I was happy to do this as the strategy mode was difficult to understand without instructions. The campaign starts as a full-blown first person shooter. As a seasoned FPS player, this initially disappointed me. The graphics and controls seemed dated and frustrating. The colour palette was a clichéd teal, in the vein of many generic shooters and the voice acting was unconvincing and out of place (including one rather grating South London accent). The cut-scenes were more satisfying and well put together, however, and as the play progressed, it became clear that Bohemia Interactive are not in the FPS business. As it turned out this doesn’t matter. Fans of the original Carrier Command are not looking for a shooter. This preamble acts mainly as a way of humanising and explaining the back story and giving it more relevance when undertaking the RTS missions. You meet certain central characters who continue to communicate with you for the RTS sections of the game, and you find your Carrier ship. This will be your central floating HQ for the rest of the game as you wend your way between the 33 islands on the planet of Taurus. The first few missions act as tutorials, teaching you the basics of the gameplay and allowing you to accrue resources.
The controls are drip-fed to you through each mission and the difficulty scales up well, without swamping you with detail. It’s a great introduction to an RTS game for someone not used to the genre. You start with a basic vehicle, the Walrus, which is an Amphibian APC which can undock from your carrier and carry out reconnaissance missions to the Islands. The vehicle comes with its own cannon which allows you to fight your way past robot warriors, turrets and enemy vehicles placed by your opponent, and to take over strategic areas of each island. As time progresses, you can repair and manufacture new vehicles from the islands you capture and stock up your carrier, including flying support vehicles, called Mantas which can lift and retrieve ground-based vehicles as well as taking part in the battles. Later on in the game you can also manufacture upgrades to your weapons and improve your vehicle’s armour. Back on the carrier you can also manufacture vehicles and weapons and this where the main multi-tasking and management skills come into effect as you prioritize manufacture of vehicles and upgrades, repair your carrier and add defensive capabilities as well as other aspects of running a large futuristic carrier. The more islands you capture, the more materials you have at your disposal, which gives you a good reason to go out and dominate again and again. The design is clever and not too difficult to master, with helpful instructions given to you by your crew. You spend your time between missions, traveling from island to island, maintaining your ship and keeping track of your mission log.
The controls on the Xbox worked well for me. Possibly having not played many RTS games on the PC is in my favour, as I found there was no jarring with the more conventional controls most players are used to. I did find fine mouse control of the map and selecting units (with the left stick) slightly frustrating as you can lose precious seconds in the heat of combat trying to select opponents to attack, however you’re never going to get parity of control to a PC mouse, so I didn’t get too hung up on this. One nice feature is being able to switch from the command overview to the in-vehicle view. This is a satisfying variation on gameplay, which obviously draws from the previous carrier command games; a combination of the old RTS view with the zoomable map and vehicle and repair selection tools, and the view from the tank based Battle Command game mentioned previously. This means you can play the game in two ways. You can control all vehicles simultaneously, clicking and setting waypoints for each one on the map, as well as setting targets to attack or setting locations where you can top up charge for your vehicles battery cells or more ammo your weapons. Or you can toggle the full screen ‘in battle’ view and manually control the vehicles and shoot the weapons yourself. As the game became more demanding I found I used this in-vehicle view less and less as it meant I paid less attention to the whole mission, but the view is still persistent as a smaller window in the corner of the screen and it was still a useful viewpoint. Additionally you still need to control your vehicle for sections of the game where you need to search for control points or firewalls to hack. All vehicles have a shortcut hub with some more general commands that can be used immediately in more chaotic situations. In this way I was ‘weaned’ into RTS style playing and I was happy with the situation.
The AI of the vehicles is generally competent, although frequently, if they encountered rocky outcrops or a cumbersome arrangement of buildings, they struggled to right themselves and required human intervention. Sometimes after the waypoints were set for vehicles, their calculated routes were not always the most sensible. This may have been a purposeful design, as it means more care-taking and monitoring of each vehicle and adds to the challenge (and is quite realistic if you consider modern day sat-navs). The environments look like they are iteratively created and work well, with the maps and realtime terrain matched so well that it makes strategic placement (based on terrain) a great part of planning your strikes. Weather conditions are also a feature and can affect the success of you missions too as some of the vehicles find certain muddier or snowier terrains more difficult to navigate, forcing you to be careful with your choice of vehicles in certain missions. The graphics of the map overview are somewhat pixelated (looking much better on the PC version of the game), however, This is a minor issue as the gameplay more than makes up for this.
Playing the game was a delight and hopelessly addictive. I learnt to change my way of thinking quickly. Again, too much like the laissez faire attitude of a FPS player, my tendency was to rush in and attack without thinking about the strategic set up beforehand. This soon changed after a few islands as the difficulty ramped up. There’s a great variety of play here, with plenty of challenge. Finally completing a difficult mission brings a great sense of reward and satisfaction. The game is massive and just playing the campaign could take you between twenty and thirty hours to complete (more if you’re an RTS beginner like myself).
Once you have completed the main campaign you can jump into the ‘Strategy’ mode mentioned before. This mode allows you to take on skirmish battles and lets you customise aspects of the battle such as altering the level of difficulty and changing the number of islands, but seems somewhat lacking as it is still single player with no option for local or online multiplay. I spent a long time in the campaign, however and was satisfied with the amount of playability of the game, but I can see purists having an issue with the lack of multiplayer.
Overall the game has it’s flaws on the Xbox; the controls are satisfactory but lack fine control, the graphics play second fiddle to the superior PC version and there’s no multiplayer. Nevertheless the core gameplay is excellent and proves that high-end graphics are not as important as good honest fun. Fans of the original game will be pleased with this re-make; Carrier Command holds wells against other RTS games on the Xbox and has convinced me to re-evaluate the RTS genre.
Review by Jon ‘Darth Nutclench’ Evans
Copy of Carrier Command – Preview Copy
Photographs Courtesy of Premier Communications (PC version of the game shown)