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Carrier Command: Old Vs New
, 18 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Carrier Command: Gaea Mission (PC DVD) (DVD-ROM)
Back in 1984 a company by the name of Realtime Games Software LTD was founded by three Leeds University students, Ian Oliver, Andrew Onions and Graeme Baird. During their career they made 3D games, the first few were self published, then in 1988 they released a game called Carrier Command. This game was published by Rainbird Software, a part of British Telecom. Upon release it gathered a huge following, and was immortalised as one of the great classics. Anyone who is old enough to have own an Amiga 500/Atari ST/ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 and was over the age of nine would probably have fond memories of this game. This brings us to Bohemia Interactive's modern reincarnation, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, a re-imagining of the classic title, brought up to speed with bells and whistles to boot. However, before we go any further with that, let me explain the original first.
GROW OLD ALONG WITH ME
Back in 1988 when Carrier Command was released I purchased my copy along with countless others; I remember the blue box which housed the carrier sticker, brown top secret manual, black music cassette and the Amiga 3.5" floppy disk. Back then packaging was used to sell games, and big boxes were common place on the shelves of computer game retailers. The graphics were good for its time, and it was one of the first 'sand box' style 3D games in an era where 3D was in its infancy. To understand its modern reincarnation, you must first understand the original; to do this we must cover what the 1988 classic had to offer.
Carrier Command was literally one of the first realtime strategy games, however the formula is vastly different to any modern RTS, and this is part of what makes this game unique. To begin with, the game had two play modes, 'Action Game' and 'Strategy Game'.
The action game placed you smack bang in the middle of battle, you start as your carrier approaching an enemy island, and the enemy carrier is not far away. This game is hard, and it puts you in a win or lose situation. You have all your resources at hand, and taking his island is something he rarely gives you time to do.
The strategy game however is where real skill is needed. It starts you at one end of the map, and the enemy at the other, then its a race to take as many islands as possible to produce weapons, vehicles and fuel, so that you can then win the game, the way you play this is up to you, head on confrontation with the enemy tends to be short skirmishes, where when he gets heavily damaged he flees. But most of the time he destroys you if you don't have enough fuel for the repairs. Planning your strategy, taking islands and strategically building your network enables you to take the enemy islands, to the point of taking his stockpile island which cuts him off from his supply, and he eventually runs out of fuel, which leave him dead in the water, then you just go looking for him and blow him out of the water while he is a sitting duck.
What I described seems simple enough, but it is just scratching the surface of the game. Carrier Command is a game of many different part, which come together to make a whole experience, and not one part would work without the other, which was one of the appealing aspects of the game. The player controls an aircraft carrier known as Epsilon, which houses its own defences, including a large laser Cannon, along with two types of vehicles, of which the carrier hold four of each. The WALRUS (Water And Land Roving Utility Shuttle) is an amphibious tank, which can travel on land and in water, capable of supporting multiple combinations of weapons, of which there is a plethora to choose from, should you build them using you factory island. The MANTA (Multirole Aircraft for Nautical Tactical Assault) is a plane which can travel at high speeds, and capable of carrying bombs and firing missiles to take out island defences.
All these vehicles can be outfitted with varying combinations of weapons, and may be launched for an attack all at the same time. This is done by use of your map, which is an overhead view of the islands and their supply lines. Red Islands are owned by the enemy, blue are yours and green are neutral. After zooming in on an island you are about to take, you can command your robotic MANTAs and WALRUSes by setting way points and giving them commands, and this is where the strategy of war comes into play, using your tactical map to deploy your troops. However that is not the end of it, as all of your remotely controlled WALRUSes and MANTAs are capable of being taken over by you at any point, allowing you to get behind the wheel and take control in the heat of battle. This is one of the fundamental parts of Carrier Command that sets it apart from other games. You are in control, and that control goes right down to piloting your craft or tank when ever you feel the need.
The enemy carrier, called Omega, is a lot faster, stronger and has greater firepower than you, his MANTAs and WALRUSes are also at an advantage, and this element of superiority is where you as a player must build up your resources, make strategic decisions on which island to take next and what to stockpile. When things get destroyed they can be replaced, but it takes time, and you have to forward plan your inventory. When you want to resupply your carrier, you must request the things to be delivered to you from your stockpile island. During that waiting time the enemy is getting closer, and he takes islands faster than you, as he is capable of a far greater speed. Fuel is your life blood, it is used to power your carrier, run your repair systems when damaged, and fuels your vehicles, without fuel it is game over, and this is why keeping your supply lines open is essential. When sending out a MANTA or WALRUS you must decide how much fuel you want to put in it, remembering that this is being taken away from your carrier, if your vehicle gets destroyed, that fuel is gone, if it returns, it can be syphoned back into the carrier, every use of resources makes you think hard about your actions, and this is what pulls you into the game even more.
Enemy islands are taken one of two ways. You can get to the command centre in a WALRUS carrying a Virus Bomb, which infects their systems and makes the command centre yours, or you can destroy the command centre, and then send in a walrus with a construction module for either a Factory, Defence or Resource command centre, once fired, it begins to build the structures on the island, but this can take a long time.
Your island network is important, each island links to another via a supply line, these lines allow resources to pass between islands. For example, the the more defence islands that link to another island, the grater that islands defences become, making it harder for the enemy to take it. Making decisions to have a defence island instead of increasing the number of factories or resources is something that can not be taken lightly, and may be a deciding factor in winning the game.
THE BEST IS YET TO BE
The original broke the mould of gaming back in the eighties, it offered something that was daring and challenged the player to either get good, or die. This type of relentlessness has all but died completely, and in recent years games have a tendency to hold the player's hand, and wrap them in a security blanket. Gamers expect the best graphics, the best animations, the easiest controls, and a quick learning curve. If you are one of those type of gamers, then this game is not for you.
When Bohemia Interactive set about doing a remake of Carrier Command, they did it in a way that would stay true to the original, the head of the company was a huge Carrier Command fan, and most of the programming team grew up playing it. So it was no surprise that, upon release the game didn't fare well among other reviews. After all, those reviews were done by people who didn't even know the original existed until hearing about this game. So the molly-coddled reviewer complained about how hard it is, and how they gave in after a short time, and for good reason too. Carrier Command: Gaea Mission was designed with one thing in mind, be true to the original, but bring it into the 21st century. This one goal is what sets the game apart from others on the market, throwing dirt in the face of conformity that seems to have polluted the games market in recent years.
Unlike in the eighties, when purchasing Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, it was done online and arrived through the post in a standard PC DVD case, it contained the manual, DVD and a cardboard printout of the controls for each vehicle, which folds into a triangle and stands on your desk for easy reference.
For those of us who remember the original, this remake of the game breathes a new lease of life into a classic. When I received my copy of the PC game, there were a few patches that had to be installed, and this brought it up to its latest version with patch V13.0014. I can't comment on the bugs other people have reported, and reviews written before December 2012 would not have had this update, which to my knowledge has addressed the issues which they found in previous versions. That said, lets me get into the nitty gritty of the game. Like the original, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission has two modes of play, 'Campaign' and 'Strategy'.
Unlike the original with its 'Action Game', the campaign does not throw you in the heat of battle with the enemy carrier, in fact it does not even put you in control of a single vehicle. The campaign starts as a first person shooter, although the engine struggles with this, as it was designed purely for the purpose of Carrier Command, and it is noticeable from the start. This however is not a bad thing, and they use the campaign mode as a tutorial of sorts while telling a story. This is the first time this method has been used to introduce a player into a game, and the concept has thrown many reviewers, thinking that this is the main game. It is not and never was intended that way, and although your character can not jump, it offers the ability to storm enemy complexes, which otherwise would not have been possible. The weak story and bad voice acting can sometimes seem laughable, but all is forgiven once you get into the action. As I said before, the whole campaign is basically a tutorial with perks, and when looking at it in this respect it does its job really well.
Similar to the original, the Strategy Game is an open sandbox which allows you to configure the settings to suite the type of game you want. you can set the level of difficulty be setting how many islands you and the enemy start with, and the method of winning the game. This is done with slider bars, that give the player enough freedom and re-playability to keep them going for years to come.
As with the original, the game has a network of islands which need to be captured, the blue ones are under your control, the green are neutral and the red ones are enemy controlled. The MANTA and WALRUS have been given a modern update, and so has the carrier, which looks more like a classic carrier with a futuristic twist. There are four MANTA platforms, and four WALRUS docks compared to the original, which only had one of each. These docks are a sight to behold, and to some extent are an ingenious design, not necessarily the MANTA platforms, but the WALRUS docks, which are located at either side of the carrier. These docks are platforms which swing down as they open whenever the corresponding WALRUS approaches, placing a platform in the water which the WALRUS drives onto, and then it swings shut again housing the WALRUS in its bay along side the MANTAS.
In the original the islands were flat squares with the odd volcano and a few defences and runways for protecting MANTAs. Carrier Command: Gaea Mission has gone far beyond this design, making each island individual and complete, capable of being explored by MANTA or WALRUS. The game has a complete weather system, and depending on the island the conditions will vary. On snow covered islands it can snow, have blizzards or be calm, on other islands it can be sunny, raining or even have thunder storms, Trees and grass sway in the wind, sun beams through the leaves and shadows cast depending on how bright it is.
Graphics aside, the game has been updated in many other ways, the vehicles can now have armour, allowing them to support different types of weapons, heavier armour determines the maximum speed. Each armour type changes how the vehicle looks, so MANTAs can have configurations of heavy fighters which are slower but pack more punch, or scouts which are faster and more manoeuvrable but can be destroyed easily. The WALRUSes armour determines the type of vehicle, heavy armour is tank like, this allows the WALRUS to support heavy weapons, where light armour allows the support of lasers and machine guns.
Given the complexity of the terrain, the WALRUS path finding does a great job of finding its way around rocks, trees and over hills, but on occasion they can get confused, even on a straight road, on these occasions you have to jump in and take control, to get it back on course, but this does not affect the game in any way as it has been vastly improved over the previous versions. As more patches are released these hiccups will be completely eradicated.
As with the original there are two ways to take an island, destroy the command centre, or take a hack capsule, which hacks the command centre and makes it yours. Getting to the command centre is more tricky than the original, as it requires sometime taking out shield generators or firewalls which are dotted around the island, and the defences are a lot harder, meaning you have to think about the tactics you wish to use to storm the island.
One of the best parts of this new rendition of the game is the ability to jump in the cockpit and give order to your other units to assist you without having to leave control of the vehicle. This seamless jumping between taking control and issuing orders is where your skills and strategies as a player will need to be honed, and this game does not hold your hand or help you determine the best course of action in any way. I could go on about the ability to attach a harness to a MANTA so that it can pick up and fly a WALRUS into battle, or the various weapons, but i'm not going to, instead I am leaving it there.
This game has had a lot to live up to, and they would have fallen short had they pulled to far away from the original. Bohemia Interactive have ben bold enough to go against the grain, and produce a game which does the original proud. If you are an old time fan of Carrier command, then definitely check out Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, you will be pleasantly surprised. If you are too young to have played the original, but are willing to persevere, the game is worth getting, and if you stick with it, it will be rewarding. Given that it still has a few nonessential bugs that they are working on, patch v1.4 is due out soon, and they have just released a beta SDK, it is looking like a good sign of things to come.
Pros: A remake of a classic that keeps the original feel at heart with a modern varnish. Taking direct control as you get into the heat of battle.
Cons: There is no multiplayer, or co-op, and the game can be a little buggy at times. Although, in time both these factors will be rectified.
Score: I give this game 8/10.
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