Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Review (PC)
The insightful Luke Dicken goes on one last mission….
Once upon a time there was a game called Carrier Command. And when I say once upon a time, I’m talking the 80s, so everybody playing it had an additional 6 feet of hair piled on their heads, giant LCD wristwatches, 4 inch thick shoulder pads and a crazy new technology called a “Walkman” strapped to their belts. I must have been around 7 or 8 when I first played it, and I wish I had made a note in my filofax, because it was a very good game, and one I seem to have lost in the last couple of decades.
So when I learned of a remake to that classic gem, I was beyond thrilled. Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is that remake, created by Bohemia Interactive, who you may remember as the guys behind ARMA and Operation Flashpoint amongst others.
Whereas previously the plot was molecule-thin (here’s a carrier, there’s an island, there’s an enemy – shoot!), now there is a story overlaid over the game. Earth has run out of water, but they found a giant water-world they can save it with. Then there was a civil war, the good guys lost and the bad guys now control all of Earth.
So, as the game opens, you’re part of a last-ditch mission to attack this other planet, seize all the water and reclaim Earth. Or something. It all goes pear shaped, as these things tend to do and the few survivors of Operation Get Everyone Killed manage to steal a “carrier” with which to “command” a guerilla war, using the carrier’s weapon systems and up to 4 amphibious tanks, and 4 VTOL aircraft it has onboard. It must have taken a supreme effort to come up with the name…
At a strategic level, the world is a network of islands linked together. Each island can do one of mine resources, manufacture equipment or contribute to your defense. Think of it as being similar to a 4X space game and you’re along the right lines. You need to keep producing equipment and shipping it out your carrier to replace combat losses and keep your supplies topped up – including fuel which controls how far you can move and how much you can repair and rearm your vehicles.
With your supplies all sorted, it’s a case of sending the carrier to a new island and launching your tanks and aircraft, which you can then order around from an RTS-style view, or jump into and control directly. You proceed to batter the island defenses until you are in a position to capture the Command Centre by sending a specially modified tank in, and Bob’s your uncle. Rinse and repeat as you try to outmaneuver the enemy around the island network. In skirmish mode – known here as a “Strategy Game” in a nod to the original title’s options, this basic pattern repeats until either killing the enemy carrier, capturing all the enemy islands or both.
The campaign takes this overall structure and weaves a loose narrative over it. In order to progress the campaign you must capture this boss island which has plot significance. In order to be strong enough to do that you need to take over all the neighboring ones, which sets you up nicely for being led by the nose through a strategy game that’s been pre-scripted.
There are also some FPS levels mixed in to thread the plot together, so for instance the initial segment of the game begins with a section where you crash-land and have to assault a base on foot, before getting your hands on a vehicle and then the carrier, and these shooter segments are interspersed throughout the campaign mode to highlight plot points.
So then, a modernised, updated remake of a classic strategy game, made by guys famous for their military simulations? On paper, CC:GM looks like it could be something truly truly special.
The reality falls a long way short of the potential this game should have shown. Rather than adding to the experience, the campaign’s FPS segments feel bland and tacked on. The objectives are poorly explained, the set-piece battles take no account of what equipment you might have previously had or what units you might have available to deploy, making them distinctly immersion-breaking.
Apart from the FPS sections, every island is the same scenario – kill/hack X buildings and then hack the Command Centre, and the only effort made to break the monotony of it is “on this map you need to destroy the shield generators” vs “on this map you need to destroy the signal jammers”. In the procedurally generated skirmish mode this might be acceptable (albeit a bit dull), but on the campaign this kind of grind is not at all OK.
However, by far my biggest issue with the game is that because there are 8 units and the carrier to customise and issue orders to, the game starts out by advising you that vehicles not under your direct control will be controlled by “AI”. They should just have just called it “A”, because there’s not a lot of intelligence going on. I’ll try not to go off on a rant here – game AI is my day job, so I’m very passionate about it, especially when it’s done wrong – but individual unit pathfinding is just crap. Units are as likely to get stuck on terrain as they are anything else, units under attack who are ordered to retreat are guaranteed to execute a 27 point turn in the open rather than reverse out of danger. They have barely any concept of their surroundings – both in terms of terrain and enemies, get stuck running into each other, and are an absolute pain to leave unmanaged. Most of your time in game is going to be spent either solo, or trying to herd a bunch of units around that don’t have any intention of cooperating.
Perhaps the only saving grace is that enemy AI is equally appalling, but as a consequence you can sit just out of range, destroy whatever building you need to and at no point does the enemy consider to investigate. This largely turns each mission into a sequence of sniper challenges which can be dealt with by sending a rotating series of aircraft up and commanding them yourself to avoid the AI glitches.
Carrier Command: Gaea’s Mission has the potential to be an absolutely amazing game. But it’s hard to give Bohemia credit for that since so much of what is right about it comes from the 80’s release. If you liked the original Carrier Command, or if the idea of a warfare game where managing your supply chain plays a vital role appeals to you, there’s definitely going to be something here to enjoy, and some of my biggest criticism (notably the AI) could be addressed in a future update which would be brilliant. There’s a depth to the strategic reasoning that I haven’t seen for a long time that, if that’s your thing, will keep you amused for hours. If it’s not your thing, or the criticisms seem off-putting, I’d give it a miss.
6 walrus tanks stuck on top of a rock out of 10