Well look at this, a blast from the past, sort of. Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a remake of the gaming classic Carrier Command, which was released for Commodore 64, Atari, PC and Mac. It’s a combination between a Real Time Strategy game and a shooter, vehicular at least. Bohemia Interactive, master of realistic first-person combat in the ArmA series also added in some infantry missions in the campaign, which was a nice touch.
Many games have attempted something to this effect. We’ve seen commander mode in Battlefield 2, and minion control in Dungeon Keeper. There’s always a different method, and, to it’s credit, Gaea Mission’s approach works fairly well. In a normal mission you will be in command of an aircraft carrier which holds four Manta hovercraft and four Walrus wheeled tanks. You can switch to direct control of any unit with the press of a button, or just command them from the strategy map.
You’ll be flipping back and forth because, as you’re fighting on one island, you must manage production and deliveries from on your other island to replace losses on the carrier and bring in new equipment and fuel. Fuel especially will be a constant need, as your carrier uses it to move, repair and rearm your vehicles as well as itself. Your goal is to capture the series of islands that dot the watery map, while not loosing your own to the enemy.
Capturing an island is rather straightforward, hack the command center with one of your Walruses. Most islands will have firewalls or jammers that must be disabled first, and you can do other things like destroying the radar dish to keep the enemy AI from tracking your movements and swarming you. Sadly, though, in this game, the enemy AI will not be your main hassle.
No, in Carrier Command: Gaea Mission your true enemy is the pathing AI controlling your own units. You have to learn quickly that grouping your units or setting them to assist each other will only lead to driving in circles. Setting them to hunt targets in offensive mode will have your Walruses driving madly off the first cliff they come across. True to their usual theme of realism, Bohemia Interactive has made ramming things damage vehicles, though falling doesn’t count.
Most of the time your Walruses will find their way to their destination…eventually. Manually moving one is much faster because the AI is quite squeamish, causing the walruses to stop and drive around a rock that is off to one side of the road, even if their path is perfectly clear. To their credit, Bohemia has already released one patch working on the AI, and a second is on the way. Since the game is an RTS I have to be harsh on pathing, but it’s nice to know that I can take direct control if needed.
You’ll have to keep an eye on your units too, because they all consume fuel and ammo as they fight their way across an island. For some reason fuel and ammo depots aren’t locked down, so you can access the enemy’s while invading with Walruses, otherwise your units will have to trek all the way back to the carrier to rearm, which is always the case for Manta aircraft.
Graphically the game isn’t stunning, but it’s not out of date enough to really take away from the experience. There could have been a bit more overall variation in the types of islands and base layouts, every island has the same few types of buildings in the different places.
Talking about the studio for a moment, there is hope. Bohemia has a great track record for supporting their games, which means I feel comfortable that the problems will be addressed eventually. It also means that Carrier Command: Gaea Mission should take to mods like a fish to water. Hopefully, though this game hasn’t gotten much press, it’ll attract some fans that can help improve the game.
That being said, there are also some drawbacks as well. I’m not sure why they decided to include first person infantry missions. It definitely adds a lot to the campaign, but so much time spent on modeling and level design could have been put into other things, like more unit types.
Indeed, the first person is truly wasted, because, outside of those few campaign missions, there are only scattered enemy infantry that act solely as roadkill for your Walruses. In skirmishes the whole part of the game is completely unused. While I guess you can’t expect a single soldier to go full rambo when you’re trying to be a bit realistic, it’s still annoying to see so much effort wasted.
Perhaps it’s not all bad though, the infantry levels are often poorly designed and easy to get lost in. Mercifully they’re usually quite short and only to add a bit of story and flavor to the campaign. The whole thing is rather simplistic. When was the last time you played a first person shooter with no sprint or jump? It’s a shame they didn’t just copy and paste this sort of thing into ArmA II, but I guess that community is too focused on Zombies for anything else.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission does its best to be faithful to the original, but when your predecessor was so limited by 1980’s technology, maybe it’s time to sit down and think up a few more unit types. This is where I hope that modders will help by introducing some new concepts. Sure, you can customize your Walruses with armor and weapons, taking them from a scouting buggy to a full tank, but having some more varied units to choose from would be nice too.
Perhaps the biggest problem the game faces though is a complete and total lack of multiplayer. Much of the game appears to have been designed in such a way that it wouldn’t work with two players, such as time compression when travelling between islands. However, why they chose to exclude multiplayer as a design decision in 2012 is just baffling. Without the ability to go head to head the game looses much of it’s replay value.
The game’s campaign is fun enough, and the story is decent, but it’s only around 20 hours worth of time, and the skirmishes with the AI can get dull rather quickly. For fifty dollars in the game’s current state, it’s just not worth the money. When the price drops it’ll be good for nostalgia, or a single weekend of enjoyment, unless multiplayer is introduced quickly, without that the game just isn’t replayable.
Overall, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a fun, if occasionally frustrating bit of nostaligia and gaming history. What’s there can be a good time if you enjoy real time strategy, and there’s some replayability there with the skirmish option. While the original Carrier Command set out to change the gaming world, the sequel could not have been any more less ambitious. What’s left is a decent single player game, that, if anything, is so aggravating because with multiplayer it could have a lot of potential.
Whether you have multiple players per team controlling different units, or each player with their own team and carrier, this game could have had some real chance at building a community. As I mentioned earlier, with a community comes modders, and they could keep adding to the game, making sure it stayed alive and chugging for years to come. As it stands, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a forgettable one or two night stand.