Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Review (PC)

When presenting something to the world, it’s usually a good idea to start with something strong. People don’t take long to make judgements, so you’d better hope your intro is good enough to keep them hooked, and make sure they’re going to stick around for the long haul. Make it weird, make it interesting, make it grand, make it shocking – it doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure you grab your audience by the face and hold on until their attention is fixed.

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, the modern remake of 1988’s Carrier Command, takes the opposite approach. When you first enter story mode, you’re greeted with a hideous first-person shooter section that sees you controlling a single troop on the hunt for vehicles to steal, shooting generic enemies in generic environments with a single generic weapon. Instead of wowing you and instantly capturing your attention, it feels like more of a test: you’ve got to earn the right to play the better stuff by putting up with this nonsense first, because otherwise you’re just not a very dedicated soldier.

Amphibious vehicles allow you to battle on land and sea

After that first bit, it does get better, and the blend of first-person and strategy gameplay gives you a variety that offers a dash of change that the first section really isn’t wholly representative of. The strategy is certainly the main focus and where the game shines, with the ground-level shooting parts feeling a bit like possession in Dungeon Keeper – it’s fun to dive down and experience a different viewpoint every now and then, but the up-close-and-personal frontline is a holiday from the main action, rather than a permanent place of residence.

Carrier Command also deviates from the strategy norm by trying to tell a story that extends beyond a simple excuse to put two warring factions up against each other. Trying something doesn’t always work, though, and they’d have been better off sticking with simple excuses, as the narrative is a mess, and the voice-acting is some of the most unnatural you’ll ever hear. Once you’ve completed the story mode it’s best forgotten about, and the sandbox-style Strategy mode is where you’ll be most comfortable.

The game takes place on the moon planet of Taurus (which sadly isn’t the home of the eponymous Pokemon), where you’ll do battle for control of 33 islands. The 33 islands are an impressive landscape to do battle on, with various zones giving them unique looks, and the engine giving them all an attractive exterior, accentuated by day-and-night cycles and ever changing weather effects.

You travel between these islands on your Carrier, which is your portable hub. You’ll need to defend it from attacks, and it’s where you’ll deploy all your troops from. Units are remote controlled (hence why you can jump into first-person without any need to explain how you’ve got so many lives), and you’re restricted to only deploying a certain number of aerial and amphibious units at one time, with a cap of eight total vehicles.

Whatever he’s saying is far more interesting when you can’t actually hear it

This seems like a small amount at first, especially if you think about other strategy games where it’s all about producing as many units as you can as fast as you can, but the amount of micro-management each one needs is still mentally demanding, and it’s quite a struggle to keep your eye on the positions and fuel gauges of every deployed unit.

The main aim is to take control of all 33 islands, and you can designate different purposes to the ones you’ve already captured. Production is a big part of your strategy, and you’ll need to take advantage of resource islands to build up your force, stripping them bare before stockpiling the goods elsewhere. These resources are then used to upgrade your vehicles, build new ones, and fortify the defences of your already captured islands.

The game is complex and demanding, and never really accommodates for that, leaving you to learn as you fail, even in the story mode levels that do often feel like tutorials, albeit ones where the teacher has bunked off and you’re left to charge around the classroom while a sub shouts vague sentences from a lesson plan at you. There’s nothing wrong with a difficult game, but the difficulty should be in the specifically designed challenges that you’re faced with: you shouldn’t have to battle the game itself.

Take the AI. Enemy troops seem to perform fine, sticking in formations and behaving in a manner that you’d expect on a battlefield. Your troops, however, often disregard your instructions in what looks like a subordinate manner, until you realise that actually they’ve just got stuck on a bit of raised terrain or bumped into each other and overcompensated with a far too large change of direction.

Battlefields allow you to travel between islands freely, giving the whole environment a very open feel

Once you get to grips with the complexity, it becomes a positive thing, allowing you to approach battles in a number of different ways and demanding your full attention, but getting to that point is an arduous journey, and one that the devs could’ve made a little bit easier. As it stands, it risks alienating people not because they can’t understand it, but because they’re never given a proper chance to before frustration took a hold.

The strategy parts of Carrier Command: Gaea Mission are solid, and there is something good hidden beneath the surface if you’re patient enough to put up with the many flaws that you’ll trudge through in getting to that hidden potential. Dodgy AI, a horrible story, and a frustratingly steep learning curve are all obstacles to enjoyment, and even when you do hit the height points, it’s still nothing special.

Top Game Moment: Seeing you aerial units successfully demolish the enemy defences, allowing your ground troops to roll on through to their core.

Platform Played: PC

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By nocutius (SI Elite) on Oct 02, 2012
Noticed the game on Steam, I didn't quite know what to think of it. It looked interesting enough to make me read this review as soon as i saw it so it's a bit disappointing to see that it's average at best.

It's still intrigues me enough to want to play it but not at the current price.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Oct 02, 2012
Nooooo nearly bought it. I LOVED this game a few decades ago when it was released on Commodore. Often wondered when a company is going to pick it up again and redo it. Can't believe they messed it up. So have to skip it... A shame
By lichlord (SI Core) on Oct 02, 2012
Crap AI and tis pathfinding is incredible crap...
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Oct 02, 2012
I watched the developer Diary videos closely on this one and not only did it not look at all simple in it's gameplay, while the developer did his best to demonstrate otherwise, I was none too impressed with what I was seeing visually. I felt that this conquest of islands, replacing lost units as quickly possible would become quickly tiresome so I passed on it.
In the heat of battle the last thing you need to be doing is mass producing units, all the while specifically kitting them in a race against time and by the look of it the losing of units was going to be a constant problem.
I was none too impressed with what I was seeing visually either.
Good and fair review, Jamie. Thanks and *whew*.