The original Carrier Command is an oft-forgotten classic, where players controlled a massive carrier-class boat that could deploy and control remote warfare-enabled machines. Or if you preferred, you could hop behind each one and pilot them yourselves. It's amazing then that when you play Bohemia Interactive's (The FPS ARMA series) updated Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, you're essentially playing a title whose mix of strategy and action seem novel and innovative... but in reality it's a 15 year old idea.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to downgrade Bohemia's work. Quite the contrary, the studio's love and passion for the Gaea Universe is apparent in every aspect of the game. And while it's not perfect and there are some major annoyances, at the heart of it Carrier Command's revival is something that deserves to be played and at times is the perfect blend of RTS and action gaming.
Carrier Command's at its absolute best when you're in the middle of a large scale attack, commanding your ships, and hopping into them and out of them at will. Luckily, that's a fair amount of the game. When in the main strategy mode (not the campaign), your goal is to wipe out the enemy carrier and take control of the several dozen islands. This, combined with the highly tweak-able starting conditions make for a very replayable experience that is never quite the same twice. The action behind the wheel of a Walrus, or in the cockpit of the Manta is solid and effortless. The UI is expertly designed as well to make switching back and forth between commander mode and pilot mode as easy and seamless as possible.
The visuals in the game are the most distinct and obvious upgrade over the original. Using Bohemia's proprietary engine, the same one being used on the upcoming Day Z standalone game, Carrier Command is a pretty stunning game on the PC with relatively modest requirements. Explosions are satisfying, the water effects spectacular, and the archipelago's many climates are pulled off well. Guns, engines, and all the appropriate sounds make for a satisfying aural experience as well.
I also really enjoyed the game's somewhat basic approach to traditional strategy aspects: resources and defenses. Each island you capture can be assigned a role, and it's up to you to decide whether you need more resources, more ships, or more defenses to hold down the fort. I often found myself putting the production on the fringes of the map, while as I pushed the enemy further and further towards one area I'd stock up on defenses to hold the islands that were closer to the no fly zone.
The worst parts of Carrier Command's revival come in the little, but often frustrating, aspects. Namely, the AI pathing is atrocious. I'd often tell my units to go somewhere, take control of one, and then I'd arrive at the battlefront only to notice that one or two units had been left behind because it couldn't seem to navigate around a bump of gravel or a patch of grass. This might seem like a small detail, but it happened often enough to be very annoying and it did cost me a fight or two.
I also want to mention that while the size of the game map is wonderful (it's freaking huge), this also means there will be a lot of unnecessary downtime between fights. In something like Starcraft 2, you need this downtime to build up resources and units. That's not alwaysthe case in Carrier Command, and traveling on the carrier can often take a lot of time where you're pretty much doing nothing.
Lastly, let's talk about the Campaign. As a tutorial, this is fantastic. I played through it because I needed to know how everything work. As a selling point of the game, it would almost be enough for me not to buy Carrier Command. It begins with a terribly over-simple FPS exposition, no jumping and floaty mechanics abound, and it takes far too long to get through. But, like I said, it probaby should have just been called a "tutorial" and then it wouldn't have been such a big deal. The meat of the game is far superior to the campaign.
Overall, when I'm forced to sit down and think about it for the sake of this review... I had more fun in Carrier Command than I did frustration. Despite the pratfalls of an AI that needs fixing and the ridiculous "campaign", Carrier Command's core mechanics are very sound and the gameplay can be downright addictive. You find yourself playing for "just one more island" or "just one more upgrade", like any good 4X strategy game induces. I can only imagine what it would be like in a two-player competitive match. Here's hoping Bohemia sells enough copies to make that an expansion. For PC gamers looking for a unique and deep action-filled RTS, I would definitely recommend Carrier Command: Gaea Mission. It may need some patching, but the core of the game is enthralling and ambitious. And that's more than I can say for most games.