Carrier Command: Gaea Mission
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on PC
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is as complex and extravagant as any ballroom dance routine with many a penguin tuxedo and frilly dress covered in military grey sequins, ready to be spun and thrown around the floor to the beat of your tune. Possessing depth which could rival any submarine voyage by James Cameron and a difficulty curve as steep as the space shuttle’s launch trajectory Carrier Command: Gaea Mission will leave you either spinning with the grace of Fred Astaire or bopping along like your dad after one too many at a wedding.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a fresh game in today’s saturated market of military FPSes and third person shooters, it takes the form of a hands on strategy game where you can guide the action from afar or control your units directly for a more personal touch. Based on the original game for the Amiga in the 80s Bohemia Interactive have sculpted Carrier Command: Gaea Mission as a modern day reimagining paying homage to an old school classic which you could argue was before its time.
The game is split into two pieces in a campaign which takes you through the clichéd story arc of two factions the UEC (Good) and APA (Bad) who are battling with each other over an important natural resource (water in this case) and are looking to remove their rival from the planet Taurus with the minimum of fuss. This is where you come in playing as the off the shelf generic space marine type who will allow you to command the battlefield. The first couple of hours of the carrier command campaign are ropey to say the least, as the story necessitates the need for the game to switch to a FPS for a short time. As first impressions go this was a very risky inclusion by Bohemia Interactive as the extremely basic FPS mechanics will have you running through dingy corridor after dingy corridor with only the most basic of environments and mechanics to work with and enemies which only need you to look at them and they will drop down dead. At this point you will be sat there doing either one of two things: reaching for the power button on your Xbox or picking up the box of Carrier Command: Gaea Mission just to make sure you have bought the right game. The FPS Section of the game is dire and we’re pretty sure poor FPSes back on the N64 were more fun to play, why this was included into a game selling itself on the premise of real time strategy action genres is mystifying and downright shoddy.
Once you get past the awful FPS section of the Campaign the game starts to show its true colours as you get your hands on a carrier and a sole amphibious APC unit which allow you to get to grips with the real concepts behind Carrier Command: Gaea Mission. The planet Taurus has a playing field of thirty three islands which you will have to conquer in the game, each one containing a number of strategic builds that when captured will add to your military might. Going through the campaign you will acquire new units up to a maximum of eight, (four land based WALRUSs and four air based MANTAs) of which you will be able to personally take control. Carrying out the usual objectives of destroy this building or capture this commander centre you will discover the choice given to you in Carrier Command: Gaea Mission. You have these basic units in which you can alter and specialise to do specific tasks or carry heavy weapons, the list of alterations is quite vast and will surely allow some great military thinkers to decimate the opposition with some flair, be that with mobile anit-aircraft modifications for your WALRUSs or airlift capabilities for your MANTAs.
The first problem I have with the campaign is the pace, it takes a good four hours to progress to the point where you have a small number of these options available to you and will turn some people off. The second problem I have with the campaign is that it is a glorified eight hour tutorial as you will not be able to figure out how all the controls, units, upgrades, supply drops, drones, production queues, and island resource management work without it. As mentioned earlier the complexity of the game is quite high and a breath of fresh air in some respects allowing you the freedom to customise nearly every aspect of your voyage to dominate Taurus. Combine the complexity with an unforgiving difficulty and you have one very tough experience and the lack of hand holding will appeal to some who are looking for a hardcore experience where the slightest mistake can mean your untimely demise.
The second part of the game is the strategy mode (or free battle mode if you will) and can be considered the real meat and bones of the title, with the same aim to conquer the many islands found on the planet Taurus. You can enter strategy mode and adjust your starting point through a number of variables, be that the amount of resources you start with, the number of islands you have already in your possession, the strength of the enemy and the conditions of victory. This is probably the best part of the title and the bit you will spend the most time with, be that a quick afternoon session where you are looking to finish off an already battered and bruised enemy, or a full on campaign where you are balancing on a knife edge and any decision can be your last.
Regardless of the mode you pick you will come across a few niggles, first off the high complexity does bring about a large number of menus and information which can be confusing at the best of times, and especially when you are using an Xbox pad can be a chore to navigate. You will often finding yourself looking down at your hands in awkward moments when you have little or no idea how to send for a supply shipment or rearrange your production queue. The most annoying issue you will face however is the pathfinding your supposedly autonomous units possess which is lacking to say the least. This issue will lead you into a constant routine of setting a unit on its merry way from the map screen to then find it a minute later driving in circles or head butting a random bunker by the side of the road, and will require a little nudge from yourself to get it on the right track. Thankfully the air units have very little of this problem as they have no roads or compounds to navigate, although for some reason I found the ground units could navigate themselves through dense forest with ease which is a little odd as they usually find driving in a straight line in an open field a challenge.
From a design perspective Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a competent title but does reek of function over form with the environments being rather sparse and covered in rather muddy textures, the units and buildings look like they were plucked from any space marine adventure of the past ten years along with the music and sound effects. The cutscenes from the single player fall into the “so bad it's good” category and again make you wonder why did they bother at all.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission has been a frustrating experience for us at The Digital Fix, dealing with the abysmal FPS section the grinding pace and pathfinding issues is one thing but the real frustration is seeing a game that has so much potential fall so short. You can play it one day and you will find the infuriating scenario where all the aforementioned issues rear their ugly head, these are twinned however with times where everything works and your carefully laid plans go off without a hitch and you reap a great deal of satisfaction. In all Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is going to split its audience as it is a very acquired taste, but what there is probably still isn’t up to scratch for the hardcore elite who would probably relish the challenge.