Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Review

Developer: Bohemia Interactive / Publisher: Rising Star Games / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Strong Language, Violence]

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XCOM: Enemy Unknown might be getting all the buzz among fans of strategy games, but many might have missed another reboot of a seminal PC RTS game that also came out this fall. Czech-based Bohemia Interactive has revived the Carrier Command name, with a title that hints at ambitions of an ongoing series, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission. With 24 years worth of evolution and advancements in the strategy genre, seeing a new Carrier Command game in 2012 brings with it an understandable set of lofty expectations.

It’s sad to say that you’re better off not having any expectations at all.

STORY

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission’s story is a race for dominance over a planetoid called Taurus. It’s an especially dicey conflict when post-apocalyptic Earth has become nearly uninhabitable, leading to a desperate search of other planets. With Earth in ruins, faction names like the United Earth Coalition and the Asian Pacific Alliance seems outdated, but those are the warring sides in Gaea Mission, with you in the role of a lieutenant named Myrik as part of the UEC.

GAMEPLAY

As a remake of a game from 1988, Bohemia has a curious way of stringing the player along and building things up before getting to Gaea Missions’ core strategy gameplay. You start by spending the first 30 to 45 minutes of the game playing a dull first person shooter section. This might’ve been a fine enhancement in adding variety to the game, but this shooter portion feels underdeveloped as evidenced by the lack of sprinting or jumping. Worse yet, this part of the game is devoid of any challenge since the Phantom Menace-inspired robot sentries hit boxes larger than themselves. The fact that you only have one firearm would be cause of additional criticism, but it’s overpowered enough that it’s really all you need. That, and your shield that regenerates quickly makes up for the game’s unreliable radar, which doesn’t show your enemies consistently.

Transitioning to the game’s strategy component feels that much more of a relief when you finally get to it. Yet you have to suffer though a bloated, time-sucking tutorial section after the FPS portion before you get to the interesting part of the game.

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The primary interface is a radar view of the map with a picture-in-picture display of the real time action on the upper right hand corner of the screen. Your primary duty is to set waypoints for your units while giving them one of a number of orders such as “offensive” and “protect.” And like many real time strategy games, buildings are ripe for the taking, which are also of value since these locations can be used to harvest resources and build additional units.

The game provides a sense of control when working with the carrier units, which caps at four land and air vehicles. Transitioning between issuing commands and controlling units is easy to handle and this is complemented by the manageable island-sized skirmishes. Veteran RTS players see familiar island setups featuring a single base of operations and the smaller resource hot spots. Succeeding in these small scale battles often demands flexibility in testing out strategies, whether through subterfuge, satellite hacking, or being out in the open and going for the kill.

Succeeding in Carrier Commend: Gaea Mission is an exercise in self-reliance, as in not depending on the abysmal ally AI. It’s especially troublesome in the third person vehicular sections. AI-controlled vehicles often get stuck in the environment, forcing you get them out yourself, making your primary vehicle vulnerable to attack. You can only take solace from the fact that the enemy AI are pushovers even when the annoying allies can’t maintain formation. Vehicle problems also extend to the carrier itself, which often takes a lot of time travelling from island to island, an issue that could have been remedied with some kind of time acceleration option.

If that weren’t enough, the game’s lack of multiplayer feels like a puzzling omission, especially when such a feature has long since been a standard in RTSes – even on consoles.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

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It’s of no surprise that the poorly designed shooter portions of Carrier Command: Gaea Mission also showcase much of the game’s poor visual execution. The same could be said of the game’s real time and prerendered cutscenes, which portray the game’s characters as robotic. Walking animations lack fluidity, voiceovers seldom match mouth movements and character designs lack variety. Add to that some framerate issues and you have a game that exudes a low-budget vibe that would be adequate as a PlayStation 2 game. It’s a minor consolation that the radar IU portions are sufficiently fluid and informative and the islands are enhanced with noticeable environmental effects and weather, along with a hint of a graphical influence from ARMA.

The audio does little to help or hurt the game. Bohemia erred on the side of giving the characters a lot of informative dialogue, which might be excessive to some players, though at least no one in the cast overacts. In a game featuring large scale battles, you could also see why the studio would use orchestral sound-alike music with big choirs.

BOTTOM LINE

It’s of some coincidence and mild amusement that this year also saw the release of another FPS/RTS hybrid: the video game adaptation of this summer’s Battleship movie. What’s both surprising and disappointing is that this movie tie-in is about as good as Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, and even better executed in some areas, particularly the shooter sections. At no point did the FPS component of Gaea Mission feel relevant, let alone necessary. Other games have been able to get away with the same kind of low budget production charm that this game clearly strives for, but that becomes moot when you can’t rely on AI allies to properly assist you. You can’t help but wonder how much better this game would have been had Bohemia Interactive devoted all of their resources and energy toward actually making the strategy gameplay worthy of the Carrier Command name.

- Poor AI

- Unnecessary first person shooter mode

- Unremarkable production values

4 / 10

 

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