When I first opened and played Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, I must admit, I was a little confused as to what type of game it was exactly. Sure, the original Carrier Command title was incredibly influential in shaping the Real Time Strategy genre (not to mention 3D gaming), but its sequel promises to deliver a mix of strategy, action and first person elements in a gaming era where FPS dominates all.
My anxieties were strengthened immediately upon entering the campaign, where the story kicks off with a few sequences of FPS action. After completing just a few objectives, however, the game made a sudden transition into a more strategy-based style of play. Perhaps the abruptness of this change is what forced me into a state of immense worry.
From here, thankfully, everything began to shift into place nicely. The RTS elements were gradually eased into the experience and soon, an incredible action/strategy hybrid came alive!
The premise behind Gaea Mission is simple: players must command a squad of four tanks and four aircraft and use them to gain control over different regions and islands within the game world. This is done using your stock-standard RTS commands, but with one big difference: players can, at any time, take complete and utter control of their units and move between them.
For this reason, the game is both accessible and versatile: those new to the RTS genre can take control of their vehicles and learn the ropes before returning to the commander’s chair, or continue to control each individual unit. This opens up a range of different playing styles and possibilities, and might just redefine strategy gaming just as the original Carrier Command did so many years ago.
Having pinpointed the accessibility of this game as a huge positive, however, I feel obligated to report that a huge level of depth can be found with just a little experimentation with each unit and their different abilities. As such, while seasoned real time strategists may initially be disappointed with what Gaea Mission has to offer, playing through the campaign in its entirety will allow players to uncover a tactical game capable of competing with just about anything on the market.
For all the things this game does well, however, there is one big gaping hole in the experience which will frustrate players and leave a sour taste in their mouths: the path-finding of ground-based vehicles. While the complexities of pathfinding on three-dimensional terrain probably can’t be overstated, there’s no real excuse for AI-controlled units to be circling around as they struggle to comprehend their surroundings, let alone get from point A to point B.
Players will therefore find they have little choice but to take manual control of their units, which defeats the purpose of placing equal emphasis on both action and strategy. This is what has more potential than any other issue found in the game to turn players away. Simply put, path-finding is such a huge element of RTS titles, and to get it wrong does not look good.
Other issues include the voice acting, which is so hideous at times that it’s hilarious, which can be skipped should players tire of it, and the visuals which, while generally of high quality, have a tendency to overuse bloom. This does at times affect a player’s ability to see all that is going on, not to mention make their eyes sore.
For the most part, however, the campaign stands up to a high standard. This alone makes the experience well worth paying for both for fans of the original title and players new to the series and/or genre. However, there’s also the incredibly-important Strategy Game. This allows players to play against a AI in a battle to control a large number of islands. A large array of settings can be tweaked so that players can customise their battles. The inclusion of a save feature means players can enjoy large-scale battles over the course of several playing sessions.
This is handy as both controlling units manually and commanding entire squads in tandem can consume players’ attention and energy quickly. That the game can be played either in short bursts or long sessions is impressive, and definitely helps to build an experience that can be enjoyed by all.
Veterans of the RTS genre may be disappointed with Carrier Command: Gaea Mission’s initial offerings, however players who stick with the game will discover a surprisingly deep and versatile experience. Those who can persevere and fight the path-finding — which can be immensely frustrating — will be rewarded with a large-scale strategy game that can be enjoyed for many hours. While the audio and visual departments sometimes leave a bit to be desired, their issues can be overlooked in what is overall a solid package. Over twenty years in the planning and making, it’s safe to say that this package has jumped over the bar set by its predecessor so long ago.