Game: Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Review
Developer: Bohemia Interactive/Black Element Software
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Available on: Windows PC, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
You may not think of it to look at the sort of stuff I usually play, but Carrier Command holds a special place in my heart. Rainbird released Realtime Games’ groundbreaking strategic vehicle sim in 1988, a game where you take control of a near-future robotic carrier in a battle for the ages with an opposing, superior, more tricked-out enemy craft, over control of a series of islands. It allowed you to play in two different ways, the full-on “Strategy” mode, or a more simple, action-oriented “Action” mode. For the time, the game had an outstanding sense of immersion, whichever way you played. Your carrier is crammed full of features, including remotely controlled vehicles that can be used to attack the enemy, colonise islands or even infect enemy-occupied isles using biological warfare to flush them out. You have to pay attention to your fuel, your shields, your weapons, your decoy flares. It is a tortuous, but rewarding affair. When it was released it received universal acclaim across the board. This was in the days before the internets existed and allowed people like me to write things like this, a time when the magazine was King. Publications I used to purchase regularly as a kid like Crash and Zzap selected it as their Game of the Year, heralding it as a classic and speaking about it in the same breath as Elite and Starglider.
I managed to save up enough pocket money to get the game for my Commodore C64. It was a terrific game, but was the version of the game without the brilliant 3D vector graphics, with the action taking place on a top-down map. Even the bloody Spectrum version had the cool 3D carriers, so I was a bit miffed in that respect. Luckily, around that time, I was spending a lot of my days staying at my Aunt & Uncle’s address. They were loaded, and my cousins had an Atari ST. I remember spending hours playing Carrier Command with my older cousin Lee, that and Wizball, and later on Ocean’s fantastic Untouchables tie-in. It is funny what you remember. Owing to the splintered nature of my family, I seldom saw my cousin in the ensuing years, until I bumped into him out of the blue in a pub eight years later. We spoke about old times, about how we used to play video games together, about family memories good and bad. We both remembered the ST and that pesky enemy carrier.
So when I learned that Bohemia Interactive’s years-in-development reboot was available for review, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and take a look. My taste in games may have changed over the years, but this was a chance to look at what a big-name modern developer could do with what was a landmark, era-defining retro game, that I remembered so fondly.
STORY: Just like its forefather, Gaea Mission is a futuristic affair, with action taking place on the Earth-like planet Taurus, during a dust up between the United Earth Coalition and the Asian Pacific Alliance. During story mode you play as Lieutenant Myrik, a United Earth veteran who is in charge of a team looking to establish control of a the Dead Zone – a biologically diverse archipelago consisting of over thirty smaller islands.
GRAPHICS: Bohemia doesn’t mess around when it comes to graphics. Their ARMA titles look terrific, and this does too. The game looks superb, with many different types of island and terrain. There are snow-swept, arctic areas, swampy marshlands, deserts, mountains and, just like the 1988 title, volcanoes (yaay!). There are some cool real time weather changes too, and some mind-melting explosions and stunning water effects. The HUD is well set up, with a cool picture-in-picture view allowing you to keep an eye on things and track your units on the move. It is amazing to see how far things have come in 24 years. Back then, the ST version of this game was one of the coolest things I had ever seen, now we tend to take graphics in games for granted.
SOUND: There are some decent, suitably epic tunes, explosions, gunfire, soldiers shouting, and generic voice-work for Myrik and his buddies. The sound does the job and is perfectly adequate for a game of this type.
GAMEPLAY: Just like the old days, there are two main ways to play the game. Story Mode places you in what is best described as a lengthy, in-depth tutorial, in which you are introduced to the various elements of gameplay one-by-one. If, like me, you are something of a strategy noob (my gaming senses have been dulled by over two decades of beat ‘em ups, shooters and crazy Japanese games), then playing story mode is utterly essential before you embark on the other stuff Gaea Mission has to offer. The other mode is Strategy mode, which allows you to set up a game however you want, changing and tweaking the various parameters to your liking. You want a harder opponent? You got it. Change how quickly new vehicles are produced? No prob. You can randomise the map, and even choose how the game plays out, whether it ends once you have successfully blown the enemy carrier to smithereens, or once you have completed a full sweep and control all of the islands. In order to succeed in Strategy mode, no matter how difficult, you will need to be guided by the hand on how to best end up as an all-conquering commander.
To begin with, you start out on foot, in a lightweight, and very basic FPS section that serves merely as a precursor to the meat of the game. All you have is one measly gun, and it is your job to secure some vehicles and ultimately a carrier which you can pimp to your hearts desire, creating an awesome mobile HQ from which you can wage war and annex lots of lovely islands.
Like the old home computer classic, your carrier here can house smaller vehicles which can be used for various different jobs. In another nod to the original, there are two vehicle types, the MANTA aircraft, which resemble a latter day vertical take-off fighter jet, and the WALRUS amphibious shuttle. Both of these vehicles can be upgraded with weapons and improved armour, which are also stored on-board your carrier, serving as a floating ammo stockpile and centre of operations. It is entirely up to you what you do with these vehicles. If, like me, you prefer a bit of action, then you can pilot the vehicles yourself in a first person style, and carry out your proposed missions manually, thanks to the excellent and intuitive controls. Alternatively, you can take on the role of a hands-off general, and plot a course for your vehicles on the map. The A.I is top drawer, so you never have to worry about a vehicle going astray or getting caught up along the way, and you can keep an eye on their progress in the aforementioned screen-in-screen boxes, although their vision decreases the further they get from base. You can switch between play styles whenever you like and are able to take control of any of your eight vehicles at any time.
Taking over islands is not as simple as simply blowing things up and sticking a flag in the ground. You have to approach each sortie with a bit of savvy. You can wear down enemy defences using your aerial units, allowing a ground unit to sneak in and take out the enemy command centre. The more islands you capture, the more you can improve your carrier, as you are able to designate what they are used for. Mining an island will give you the materials needed to build new stuff, something which will take place on Production islands, the vehicle-building outcrops where the magic happens. Of course, you will also need a Stockpile island to store all of your precious resources. You can also use islands as defensive strongholds to fortify your whole setup and stop the enemy from breaking through.
LONGEVITY: This is a tough game – old-school tough. Don’t expect to win quickly, or at all if you are a newcomer to the genre, before you have put some time and practise in to manage the crazy juggling act that is keeping an eye on everything occurring under your command. The story mode is lengthy enough, and the strategy mode gives and almost neverending amount of possibilities. A huge disappointment is a lack of any multiplayer. This would have been a hoot if you could play with an on or offline buddy, placing it in line with other strategy classics I have played with mates like Civilization, Return Fire and Advance Wars. This is the second time I have played a strategy title that would have benefited from some multiplayer action, the first being the underwhelming Tom Clancy’s Shadow Wars for 3DS, thankfully, Carrier Command is a far more robust single player experience.
VERDICT: The more I played Gaea Mission, the more I felt myself enjoying it. It is a solid game, that is capable of introducing even the most strategy game-averse to the genre. Best of all, even though it looks blooming marvellous, and introduces some new bits and pieces, it really does capture the spirit of the original that I enjoyed playing all those years ago. It is just about the last game I would have reached for on the shelf if I was in a games shop, yet now I have an urge to seek more strategy action, and see what is out there. I applaud Bohemia for bringing Gaea Mission to the Xbox 360, and would urge you to take a look at this ace strategy title.