Review: Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Needs Sea Legs

Fighting (and sleeping) with the fishes

Once you make it through the tedious, frustrating opening sequence, you’ll finally make it to where the original game’s mixture of strategy, resource management and vehicle combat finally comes into play. It doesn’t come together perfectly, the game leans to heavily away from strategy and too far into direct combat, which hurts it considerably thanks to the wonky controls and aesthetic problems. But more on that shortly.

At the start, you’re limited to a damaged carrier with a single Walrus (amphibious, armored personnel carriers similar to the Mako from Mass Effect, and just as frustrating to drive around in) and just a few soldiers under your command. The goal is to take your battered forces and, through acquisition of resources build your army and gain more territory. You’ll capture your first island, get access to resources needed to make repairs, build more vehicles (like your aerial vehicles, called Mantas), make new weapons and gradually turn into something like a serious threat to the enemy, all the better to acquire control of the remaining available island.

Things from this point forward become surprisingly complex, and you must manage a high number of variables in order to succeed. I particularly enjoyed the desperate need to keep an eye on your resources at all times. Just as you’re seeking to take control of islands from your enemies, so too are your enemies seeking to take back anything you’ve already captured. If you lose an island, you lose its resources and if they’re critical to the fight, you might find yourself boned. (For example, your ships can self-repair, but it costs fuel to do so. This can leave you stranded. It reminded me, slightly, of having to balance resources and fuel costs when traveling between star systems in Mass Effect 2.)

Though units are rather limited, they can be lightly customized and come in slightly different versions. For instance, a hacking vehicle to get past electronic defenses, or a vehicle with precision weaponry like a sniper unit. This doesn’t go too far though, as you can’t create game breaking units of irresistible power. That’s because, despite being outfitted with significant defensive and offensive weaponry, your vehicles are also made of paper. I kid, I kid, but they are fairly easily destroyed, forcing you to think more like a chessmaster at the same time you’re thinking like a swordfighter. You’ll carefully deploy them, obsessively watch their heath levels, and should you be forced to sacrifice one of them strategically, you’ll feel it in the time and resource costs required to replace it.

This is the game in a nutshell. To botch a chess metaphor, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission will take minutes to learn, but you’ll spend hours mastering it. Unfortunately, the game also has some built in problems that the promising main game doesn’t ever fully resolve.

One of the biggest problems is the color palette that is surprisingly muddy, considering textures and environments. During the shooter scenes, it is startlingly easy to get turned around, especially in dark rooms. In the main game, rusty sunsets, sandy terrain and desert flora blend together in an especially frustrating orange/brown blend made worse by the reflected light in Taurus’ ocean. Textures are fine, and water looks fairly realistic, but there are far too many moments when you find yourself disoriented needlessly.

The vehicle controls are also difficult. The Walrus, in particular, comes with a steep learning curve. In water, it breezes around quite effortlessly, but on land, it’s a different story. The camera wanders, which is frustrating enough, but the Walrus controls are unnecessarily difficult. Using a controller, for instance, the default has you using the L-stick to advance and move in reverse, while you still have full camera rotation with the r-stick. This can result in more accidental veering-off than should have happened.

A note: I thought at first that these issues might be the fault of my PC, but after spending considerable time with the game’s (very limited) options, I was able to rule that possibility out. I also tried using keyboard + mouse, and also a compatible controller, and I experienced the same level of imprecision. I was ultimately forced to conclude that the control system just has problems. (Though it could be the build I played. See below.)

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is also hampered by some frankly awful AI. You technically have the option of giving your units commands and watching them play out, true-RTS style, but the units do not tend to follow such commands precisely. You’ll find that units will run right into an ambush despite clear instructions that would have avoided it, while others just kind of wander off for no reason, botching whatever plan you had. More often than not that you have to take direct control of your vehicles to prevent this from happening, and it really hurts the RTS element significantly.

The game also has a way of greatly stretching out the amount of time you’ll spend playing. There’s no warp whistle or other ability to quickly skip back to your command center after completing your objectives. Achieve victory on an island? Great! You still have to manually make the journey back on your own. And the game is full of little timesucks like that, which is extremely frustrating when you’re used to games that tend to help you skip past the boring bits as you advance through. It also forces you to return to the FPS elements once or twice, and every time it happens, you want to throw your controller or keyboard at the screen. It cannot be stated enough that FPS elements should never have made it into the final build, and one hopes they’ll be removed for future installments.

Finally, things begin to feel very repetitive after significant time spent playing. Islands are somewhat indistinct, though there is some impressive variety in places, but enemies lack real variety. Combat eventually begins to feel like a chore than like a thrill, and you wish you could get back to what this game almost excels at. I won’t call Carrier Command: Gaea Mission a missed opportunity, but ultimately, it does feel a bit too much like difference-splitting at the expense of quality.

I played the PC version, and it was a slightly earlier build than the final release. I’ve been told that the game works better on Xbox 360. It is also possible that some, though not most, of my pet peeves were addressed in the final release. But even with that caveat, I found it to be a potentially great game hamstrung by numerous, easily avoidable flaws. I ultimately enjoyed it, and I’d love to see a sequel, but Carrier Command: Gaea Mission feels half finished, and at $49.95, it’s hard to enthusiastically recommend to anyone but the most dedicated nostalgist. Maybe next time, instead of splitting the difference between incompatible genres, Bohemia will instead focus on giving gamers a truly mindbreaking RTS experience. Until then, swim with caution.

Pros:

* The complexity provides a satisfying challenge for gamers seeking to exercise their minds.
* Certain aspects of combat are thrilling, especially flying craft.
* Conceptually interesting.
* Lots of potential.

Cons:

* Horrible AI.
* Muddy color scheme, so so graphics and indistinguishable character models.
* First Person Shooter aspects should have been scrapped.
* Control difficulties.
* Derivative story, terrible voice acting
* Lack of enemy variety

FINAL SCORE: 70/100

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3 Comments on Review: Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Needs Sea Legs

Patches

On October 5, 2012 at 2:47 am

Quite the dissapointment… Especially for a guy who played the original one…
Not the first place I heard this game is sub-par…

Seems to me that Bohemia:
- Tried to changed the original formula too much… Especially the FPS part that has no place if you want to follow the ‘Carrier Command’ IP…
- Botched a lot of thing… If you want to add an unecessary ‘on foot’ shooter, at least make it fun to play… A lot of thing you can drive have bad controls, it seems… The AI (smartness & pathfinding) less than acceptable… Etc…
- Ask too much $$$ for a game that still seems in a beta stage…

After reading this review (and other feedbacks from Forums and such), it seems that I’ll have to pass this mess, unless they do a major fix to a lot of the problems this game has…
And be stuck with remembering fondly how good the original game was…

Alex

On October 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I can only sincerely applaud this review(er). Most detailed and accurate description of what this mess of a game is … while I myself am still struggling to understand, what happened to me, the last couple days.

I share the same problems with the controls (playing on a PC – same Mass Effect Mako deja vu – tried the gamepad and gave up). I won’t repeat the rest – it is all in the review.

My first enjoyable moment I had with this game was today – skipping the campaign – and starting a player-vs-cpu match. You can see the glimpses of what could be a great, fresh attempt on a first person strategy game, jumping from unit to unit, dishing some damage, and jumping back, managing the islands. It could be a great multiplayer game. But it is neither.

It has the same highs and lows like the ARMA games from Bohemia, only on a smaller scale. They need a professional game designer? They need to evaluate how and on what to spend the money, they made thanks to DayZ. This is not worth US $50 (nor 60-70 they ask for it in Europe/Australia!). Try harder?!

slurpee

On November 21, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Excellent game! poor review. I had no problems.