Carrier Command: Gaea Mission review – A classic reborn

Bohemia Interactive, makers of the award-winning Arma combat simulation series, have set their sights on remaking what many critics claimed to be the best game of 1988: Carrier Command. The production and release of BI’s own remake Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, was a surprise to many gamers and fans alike. LVL30 decided to take a look at what all the excitement was about and take you with us on the waves with Carrier Command: Gaea Mission.

Before one looks at Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, they need to look back to the 1988 classic. Due to the fact that I was born the year of its release, I, quite understandably, was entirely unfamiliar with the game. However, I looked up several YouTube videos and screenshots with great intrigue to see how great the game really was. It was to be expected that, by today’s standards, the 1988 Carrier Command’s graphics and controls were lacking in epic proportions (don’t get excited, 24 years from now I will be saying the same about today’s games – maybe even sooner). But the basic concepts of the game were entirely transferred to BI’s modern day remake – even down to the identical main menu options (Set aside that BI’s background animation blows the old one to bits). The conclusion: either BI was lazy and just did a straight remake, or the original game kicked some serious butt. The answer, as I would discover, was far more complicated.

Carrier Command (1988) on the left, Carrier Command:Gaea Mission (2012) on the right

As stated before, when one starts up CC:GM they are already reminded of its predecessor. The game has two distinct options, either the campaign or the strategy game. The former is, obviously, a storyline based version of the game while the second is analogous to a typical RTS’s skirmish mode – only there are fewer options and it’s only against a single AI. One can notice the lack of multiplayer from the very start. It must be emphasized that CC:GM has absolutely no multiplayer at all – something critics are all over. It is indeed rare for such a big game to be published without and is clearly a large shortcoming. There is also no true tutorial. Rather, the tutorial is contained within the first few missions of the campaign which also explain who -you- are and why you are floating around in a carrier trying to take islands in the first place. BI indeed fits in its signature gameplay, FPS, in the first mission of the campaign. Granted, the graphics are somewhat disappointing and the AI dies too easily. But do understand that this is the ONLY component of FPS in the game. It is simply to explain why you are there for those who are interested. The successive missions teach the player the basics of how to play by capturing a series of islands and repairing the recovered carrier. Eventually, you battle it out against the enemy carrier after taking a plethora of islands.

The first missions of the campaign are based on the FPS style gameplay – but it doesn’t last long

The campaign is, in effect, an explanation of the game’s functionality and controls. However, if you are like me, the liner constraint of campaign missions are too controlling. After learning the basics (and I cannot stress enough that you NEED to learn the basics from the first few missions of the campaign first), I hopped right into a head-to-head battle against the enemy carrier in Strategy Game mode. The game can indeed be customized. However, the customization is limited and only includes a couple options such as number of islands, income, etc. Once the proper settings are in place (default for me), you are thrust right into the battle.

Due to the fact that CC:GM is a rtS with a capital S, the main commander interface is a tactical map. This lays out the entire “battlefield” or in this case, an archipelago. Blue islands are ones the player controls, red islands are one that the enemy AI controls. Each island can have a single purpose: Resource, Industry, or Defense. Resource islands provide raw units of resource that the player uses to construct various equip-able weapons, subsystems, command centers, and units. Industry islands accelerate the rate at which these items are produced. Defense islands are islands with an abnormally high number of defensive structures and units. There is one last island designation: Supply. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the game is not what to build or where to built it but where the supply island is located. This island is where all supplies for your ship are deployed from to meet up with your carrier. It is highly ill-advised to designate your supply island far from your area of activity. The player can indeed switch which island is the supply island on the fly, but it is a VERY time-consuming task and should be done so only after careful consideration of their overall tactical plan. Keep in mind one other thing: the carrier needs fuel to move. This fuel is expended very quickly and since travel outside of time compression (to be addressed in a moment) is in REAL TIME, one needs to make sure that a supply ship is constantly shipping fuel to the carrier. This adds a degree of complexity (and frustration) that can be either a serious hindrance or a great tactical challenge for the RTS junkie.

The commander’s strategic map that shows the entire battle map of the archipelago

Speaking of production, it’s now time to look at the units that are available. There are, in fact, only two units in the entire game: the helicopter-like Mantas and the amphibious tank Walruses. From the start of the game to the end of the game, the maximum number one can have is four of each type. In comparison, enemy islands may have an assortment of almost 20 units and extensive fortifications. As one may expect, taking over islands is not an easy task and it requires some excellent strategic opportunities. It also takes time, lots of time. But there are plenty of weapons and items to make life a little easier. Lasers, artillery, plasma weapons, missiles, torpedoes, bombs, cruise missiles, rockets, Gatling guns, flack cannons, armor, hooks, scanners, and many other interesting weapons and modules are equip-able to the seemingly small force at your command. The basic equipment must be constructed using the carrier’s production menu, then shipped to your carrier. However, ammo for most modules is created seamlessly on the ship itself. One can also create extremely useful scout drones for recon over islands, upgrades to the carrier’s weaponry, and, for those like me who want to just simply obliterate the enemy’s command center, the stunningly beautiful Hammerhead thermonuclear warhead.

The production interface for building units and modules
The production interface for building units and modules

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is the ability to see it from both the commander’s perspective using the strategic map as well as be able to see and control each unit. The only thing more beautiful is the degree to which control is given so seamlessly. One moment I can be bombarding the enemy’s defenses with the main cannon on the carrier, then next I am flying high above in a dog-fight with aircraft attacking the carrier, the next I am deploying my walruses to the shore to engage anti-air fortifications. All of this with the touch of a button. The player also has the confidence that when they relinquish control, the AI will take over and continue right from where they left off. If commanding was this easy in real life, we would only have to pay one person to fight our wars. However, there is one hang-up: ground AI path-finding. BI has addressed complaints on the stupidity of the walrus’ pathfinding (often running into walls or getting caught in trees) and has said that they are working diligently on a solution. Personally, I believe a patch is no far in the future to completely fix the matter. I find the game almost more enjoyable taking control of the walruses myself and invading the shore with the main gun blasting while my mantas strike from above and the carrier bombards the island mercilessly. Arguably the most beautiful sight is the impact of a Hammerhead nuclear weapon. Reminiscent of the days of World in Conflict (which arguably presents the most accurate visualization of a tactical nuclear blast), the Hammerhead is certainly a sight to behold.

Ground battles can get pretty intense, don't forget to bring your reinforcements to help – preferably with repair mods
Ground battles can get pretty intense, don’t forget to bring your reinforcements to help – preferably with repair mods

In terms of beauty, there are precious few games that rival the beauty of CC:GM. Without a doubt, BI spent countless hours developing an amazing and dynamic environment to fight in. Rain, snow, dust, lightning, fog, and volcanic vapors are some of the atmospheric beauties to observe while raining down fire from above not to mention the change is lighting from day to night. Indeed, as it reiterated by your on-board adviser, units are not affected by the atmospheric effects. However, visibility certainly is impacted. This makes weather a consideration on whether to invade manually, using the AI, or hold out until better conditions present themselves.

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission contains numerous beautiful atmospheric environments and effects
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission contains numerous beautiful atmospheric environments and effects

Following on the heels of the graphics, audio appeared to be a focal point of much effort on the part of BI. Convincing sound effects are throughout the game whether firing off the main carrier cannon, shooting down aircraft with a chain gun, or even lowering the walruses into the ocean. The background music appears to be contained only within the main menu and campaign – quite regrettably due to the epic and convincing nature of the soundtrack. Voice-overs, while not as convincing as Command and Conquer’s Hollywood cast, are certainly nothing to laugh at. However, apart from the campaign, they are few and far between and generally repetitive. The campaign also includes some mild expletives that parents should be aware of – but, as far as I can tell, are not pervasive. Content-wise, the audio makes an excellent pairing with graphics to produce a convincing and engaging environment any strategy gamer would enjoy.

The Hammerhead thermonuclear warhead from the view of the carrier's main gun
The Hammerhead thermonuclear warhead from the view of the carrier’s main gun

BI’s Carrier Command remake could be described as building the better mouse trap. The difference being that this modern day mouse trap is equipped with a mouse-sized thermonuclear warhead instead of an iron bar. Nostalgic gamers will be comforted to know that CC:GM maintains the majority of the conceptual framework that the 1988 original was created from, but brings it into the 21st century for the modern day gamer. If you enjoy strategy, flight/tank sims, and don’t mind playing against the AI, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a game to seriously consider adding to your collection.

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission was reviewed on the PC using using a Steam key provided by Bohemia Interactive.

Review Overview

Concept - 8.5
Visual - 9.5
Audio - 9
Playability - 8.5
Entertainment - 7
Replay Value - 4

7.8

Good

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Mark Rabenhorst

Mark, known as “Kivak” by most, is from the hot state of Maryland. Though he graduated with a degree in Environmental Science and Ecology, he is a computer programmer by trade. From the young age of 6, he had already become a “gamer”, with an unending interest in Real Time Strategy games from Warcraft and Age of Empires, to the modern Dawn of War and Sins of a Solar Empire series. More recently, he has branched out into MMORPGs, FPSs, and just about any other game he can find. His favorite platforms include: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and yes even his iPad. With hundreds of games bought and played, the only real question is: what game is he buying tomorrow?

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