Carrier Command Preview: Drop Anchor, Drop Bombs
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is one of those games that seems so challenging that it’s hard to imagine anyone playing it for fun. The extreme difficulty derives from the game‘s mix of action and strategic elements. Players will find themselves constantly switching viewpoints as they attempt to wage war on both macro- and microscopic levels, performing a constant balancing act between the logistical aspects of RTS games and the dirty business of vehicle combat.
Built by Bohemia Interactive as a labor of love (Bohemia CEO Marek Španěl had a soft spot for the 1988 original on Atari), the game lets players loose in a giant sci-fi archipelago. Six climactic zones provide variety — some islands rain water, volcanic islands rain ash — and all islands are fully navigable. Using the mouse wheel, players can scroll instantly from abstract, strategic heights to knee-high lows which show off the detailed 3D environments the Czech developers are known for.
As the game’s title implies, player will be given command of a futuristic carrier ship, which acts as a floating headquarters and weapons platform. After docking the carrier near an island, players will launch up to four aircraft and four amphibious tanks. These vehicles can be controlled like RTS units from the map view, or piloted directly (in 1st or 3rd person) for better results against the island’s entrenched forces, who maintain a brisk defense using flak turrets, infantry, and vehicles of their own.
If the assault is successful, the island is captured, and begins producing resources which the player can use to build vehicle upgrades or replace casualties, with an eye on the next island target. To upgrade forces, players will have to designate a “home base” island, which produces all new vehicles and upgrades. These must then be transmitted to the carrier. Skilled players hoping to juggle conquest, customization and resupply will have to master a complicated UI, which suffers from having to accommodate the game’s planned XBOX launch, an idea germinated more in hope than expectation.
A carefully tuned AI will control its own carrier and capture its own islands. Since Carrier Command offers no multiplayer, the game provides an array of different singleplayer options. Two campaigns/island layouts are available from the start; one is based on the original Atari title’s campaign. The main story-based campaign is designed to take 20-30 hours, and acclimates players to the game by gradually doling out items and upgrades, while introducing the Carrier Command’s many facets. Custom campaigns are also available, including the option to play the game as a pure RTS.
Though the title doesn’t use the ARMA engine, it’s beautiful to look at it, and the sheer scale of the island environments and the sheer ambition of the game’s convoluted gameplay are a credit to Bohemia. I spent some time at E3 2012 attempting an assualt, but it’s not the kind of game you can just muddle through, and all 8 of my vehicles were quickly out of commission. Interested players should avail themselves of the semi-public beta, which will enable them to help test the game’s balance and AI, while also testing their RTS and FPS mettle.