Real-time strategy (RTS) videogames have always had a rough time on consoles. Regularly compared to their PC brethren console titles will suffer not due to their playability or the quality of their production, but purely due to the differences in interface. The genre was born with a mouse at hand and as such will always remain a more approachable construct on PCs because of it, but it’s unfair to say that consoles lack any good renditions of their own. The likes of Command & Conquer: Red Alert have been doing good things since the 32-bit era, and now it’s the turn of Mastertronic’s Carrier Command: Gaea Mission to prove that the genre isn’t defined by input, but rather design.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a videogame of two halves: the Campaign and Strategy Game modes. These are, as would be expected from an RTS videogame, essentially the pre-constructed and skirmish gameplay modes, both of which are limited to battles against artificial opponents. Not having a multiplayer gameplay mode of any kind does hurt Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, weakening its resolve compared to the likes of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3’s co-operative and competitive gameplay, and yet there’s still plenty of content here to engage with.
The Campaign offers the player the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the control scheme and each unit type in a leisurely fashion before upping the difficulty. Entering a universe where water has become a precious commodity, the player joins an organisation fighting for the survival of the human race in a distant planetary system, where the moon Taurus holds the key to restoring Earth’s dwindling water supply. The player enters the shoes of Lt. Myrik, literally for the first chapter as your introduction oddly takes place as a first-person shooter (FPS).
An interesting mechanic to build premise though it may be, the FPS gameplay is inherently flawed. Feeling like a production from the late 90s, some questionable design decisions leave the FPS gameplay feeling rather shallow. The lack of jump and melee commands are particularly worrying, leaving players to get stuck in the scenery with only the option to wiggle themselves free and should they run out of ammo (which can happen quite regularly) they will simply have to dodge past enemies as they sprint to find a crate from which to restock rather than being able to inflict even the smallest amount of damage. It’s a valiant attempt and building tension and character in an RTS videogame and one which should be applauded, but it’s not used enough to warrant further investment and too poorly developed to survive a single hour on its own merit.
Thankfully things pick-up once the videogame begins true. Another bumpy tutorial slowly reveals an RTS with a great deal of tactical opportunity. The battles take place across sea and land with your mobile command centre always remaining afloat. This is little more than dressing however, as most of your units are just as agile on land as they are on water. The difference between Carrier Command: Gaea Mission and your traditional RTS experience however, is the fact that you can take direct control over any unit on the battlefield.
All units are held at your command post, recharged, repaired and refuelled ready for battle. Commands are issued to these units, such as a destination or a patrol to make across several points on the map (land and/or sea) and these units will automatically complete the assignment given as with any RTS videogame. However, in Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, simply scrolling through the available units will give you their immediate viewpoint and moving the left analogue stick will forcibly take over their controls. It’s an amazingly simple interface and shocking that no one has brought a similar experience to consoles before.
The Campaign offers a lengthy experience for the player to take on each new mission and each new unit, learning the nuances of both command and control as they progress. The Strategy Game mode however, is a much more demanding affair. A basic skirmish in which you can create you own customised challenge, Strategy Game mode assumes you know what you are doing and allows the AI enemy to hit you with everything they’ve got. If you don’t know your stuff by now, that’s a pretty heavy undertaking.
The cutscenes featured in Carrier Command: Gaea Mission look surprisingly good, with fantastic skin and cloth textures and some well placed lighting effects. Sadly the animation isn’t quite as fluid as one might hope, but it’s nonetheless above average for current-generation hardware. The in-game visuals are more of a mixed bag; though still commendable, they fail to live up to the standard expected of modern science-fiction undertakings. The voice acting follows suit, with the standard achieved being higher than most but still falling miles behind modern AAA productions.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is an RTS that is considerably different to the run-of-the-mill mouse-orientated design, offering far more scope for the console gamer. It’s clear that this is a production aimed at maximising the efficiency of control on a pad rather than a mouse and keyboard, and for that developers Bohemia Interactive should be commended. That being said, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is noticeably bland in a number of areas, and launching at a time when every publisher is pushing their biggest titles of the year won’t do it any favours. Carrier Command: Gaea Mission deserves to perform well enough that we see more developers and publishers willing to take the opportunity to support strategy videogames on consoles, but don’t expect the average Call of Duty fan to rally behind it.