Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Review
Written : Wednesday, October 10, 2012
By: Lee Abrahams
Nostalgia is a funny thing, as often when we look back at the shattered dreams of our youth we can wonder what it was about certain films, books and games - especially games - that made them so special. The problem with games in particular is that the technology behind them moves so fast, so while a book or a film might still have a masterfully told story at its core, a game may no longer have the same advantage. Carrier Command was a strategy game hybrid way back in 1988 and was heralded as a pioneer in terms of its graphics and gameplay. However, the landscape of gaming has changed and the remake never seems to come to terms with the current state of affairs while still trying to cling to those rose tinted memories of yesteryear.
It doesn’t help itself by starting off so badly, with an ill-advised first-person shooter section that feels for all the world as if it has been tacked on at the last minute. It’s almost as if someone saw the success of games like CoD and Halo and decided “we want a bit of that” before doing an appalling job in actually carrying it out. As an introduction to the game it takes some getting over, and it's almost enough to potentially put players off entirely. Any time similar sections rear their head thereafter, it is almost as if the game is just daring you to quit with the intention that it will keep bugging you with such awfulness until you do.
This is your ship. You WILL give her a girls name.
Thankfully once you get control of your big old boat, things do pick up. At least somewhat. Tasked with taking over an island chain consisting of thirty-three varied and unique locations, with varying climates, weather effects and a day/night cycle, then things certainly start to hit their stride. Unfortunately the accompanying story, and diabolical voicework, is best forgotten in all honesty. It’s nice that the developers tried to turn what could be a lengthy tactical slugfest into an interesting narrative, but they seem to have failed wholeheartedly. At least similar games like Command and Conquer have the decency to recognise the often absurd situations they create, and camp it up appropriately. Here everything is too straight-laced and often laughable for all the wrong reasons.
The game is also rather lax about teaching you the basics, which must be breaking some kind of cardinal rule for a strategy game. So you are left to muddle along with the odd bit of help often coming along too late or after you’d figured it out for yourself. The basic premise seems simple enough as you must utilise the carrier, and the limited number of aerial Manta craft and land based Walrus tanks within, to capture the islands and defeat your foe. The tactics come in when it comes to arming your limited forces and giving them specific roles and objectives on the battlefield. You must also take into account the fuel and resources available to your forces, and ensure that you have a steady supply line from previously conquered areas. Keeping on top of all of your needs and managing your vehicles, as well as looking out for enemy activity and planning your next assault can be an arduous job.
Plotting your path to success.
It is here that the game truly falls down. As any good strategy game needs to be powered by competent AI, both in terms of your own troops and those of the foes you are up against. Instead the AI in this game is often culpable of blatant stupidity and pathfinding nightmares that can lead to abject failure and extreme frustration. All too often tanks will get stuck on seemingly nothing, Manta craft will crash into obstacles or circle aimlessly until they run out of fuel, even your supply craft can get stuck which can result in you being deprived of resources at a key moment. It is just as well the game allows players to hop into, and directly control, each of their units as manual intervention is needed far too often. The general idea was no doubt to allow you to blow stuff up with your tanks, or micro-manage aerial assaults, but instead the main function of being able to guide your tanks is, far too often, to make sure they navigate a straight line. That the same issues also plague your enemies is scant consolation for an aspect of the game that is so fundamentally important.
Assuming you manage to grapple your troops into line, ignore the dire first-person sections and focus on the strategy elements of the game then there is plenty to enjoy as the simple premise soon opens up into surprisingly deep possibilities. It’s just the frustration you have to endure to get to that point that make the game so underwhelming, coupled with an inability to play against other players that seems like a bizarre omission. The sandbox mode, which sees you able to tinker with the starting settings of the game prior to launching your quest on the islands, is where any dedicated player will spend their time and at least offers brief glimpses of what might have been.
No ammo! Where is that supply unit when you need them?
Of course, strategy games are notoriously stingy with their points and Carrier Command is no different. You’ll have to capture 250 islands in total, which means countless playthroughs in order to max things out. Sadly you also have a number of tasks requiring direct control of your vehicles which is frankly one of the least appetising areas of the game, so being forced to grind out kills in such a manner is hardly appealing. The rest of your lot will be attained through story progression and overcoming islands with a specific class of defense. No points here for innovation I’m afraid.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission fails at the most basic level, by having troops that are unable to carry out your orders leading to wasted time and energy. At this level you would think it would be fundamental to make sure such bugs are ironed out, but when you couple the constant issues with the dire story, woeful first-person sections and uncompromising learning curve then you’ve got a game that even its mother would struggle to love. It’s a shame, as once you get to the core of the experience then there is some enjoyment to be had, but those moments are just too few and far between in a game that struggles to live up to titles that came out five years ago, let alone anything more recent. Time to sail that aircraft carrier off into the sunset.
Truly laughable voicework, on the scale of inviting your friends round and asking them to improvise the script. While drunk.
Well designed units that descend upon lush and varied islands, which make for an interesting battleground, in what is one of the main positives for the game as a whole.
The first-person sections are poorly implemented but the general strategy elements are much more able. There should be a little more help for newcomers, but once you get into the swing of things then things actually become entertaining.
A mish-mash of ideas that never quite works, and AI that seems to trip you up as often as it can. Spending most of the game simply trying to get your vehicles to follow orders is surely not what the developers had in mind?
The lack of inspiration shines through the achievements with an endless number of “capture X islands” and kill so many enemies achievements tagged onto natural progression tasks. Dull.
A hybrid strategy game that tries to add new elements and fails to make them gel. Coupled with unreliable AI, poor tutorials and a story that is liable to shred your patience, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is most certainly a misstep for a title once held in high esteem. Some things are best left in the past.