When it comes to Bohemia Interactive, I’m a swooning school girl at a Justin Bieber concert. They’re like the saviors of PC gaming, our last refuge in this world of ports and pulp and mass market gaming. Sure, they’ve released more bugs into PC gaming than they have games, but when they clean up their product and get their act together, the end result is invariably a great concept, with great depth, that serves the hardcore crowd like home made soup from its mother.

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is no exception. With as many infuriating bugs as enjoyable perks, this re-imagining of the 1988 classic is both fantastic and terrible.

Developed in conjunction with Black Element Software, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a real time strategy game (although not an RTS), where the player must capture and control various islands on the moon of Taurus. This entails some macro-management, first person control, economy management, and battlefield strategy. I’m well aware at this point that if you haven’t played, or seen, this game, you’re probably thinking it’s some top down RTS from the description, but it’s decidedly not; what it is, is ArmA II style commanding to a Planetside 2 vibe. We still need some elaboration.

Why not play the campaign tutorial until it bugs out?

Listen up, squad, OP is probably really excited right now for recognizing my voice from the Arma II British Armed Forces campaign.

I gotta give it to Black Element et al, the Carrier Command campaign packs a lot of punch, and they’ve done as much as they could with the slightly janky mechanics on foot and in vehicles. Starting the campaign blind is not a good idea, because you shall invariably conclude that this is a low-budget, visually weak FPS to the quality of E.Y.E, or something. You’d be forgiven for that, because without the bigger picture… or… without knowing what you’re learning to play, the arduous campaign feels tacked on and, well, bad.

On foot, you start off with a squad on the planet of Taurus. A member of the United Earth Coalition, you’re battling your way through the Asian Pacific Alliance, who’re in control of Earth in its entirety. Running through, firing the gun which doesn’t require reloading nor provides either a recoil or animated kick back, it’s easy to break immersion soon on and, as stated, lose heart quite fast. The voice acting in the campaign is about the same as Arma II – that is to say, weak – but the game really isn’t about the campaign. Alas, Carrier Command requires you to play it, because otherwise you’ll have no idea what you’re doing.

My knowledge of the campaign extends so far as to the third mission, where I came across a bug. Basically, your standard vehicle template in Carrier Command is an APC called a ‘Walrus’. Each of these vehicles can be slotted with different gadgets and weapons, and at this juncture in the campaign I was required to shut down a main base by using the hacking tool attached to my device. One of my two Walrus’ had said device - allegedly - so I head to the point in order to shut it down. Once I got there, the ‘wifi’ signal was red (meaning I couldn’t hack it) and I noted that I did not have the hacking tool equipped, where Walrus 6 had it in the previous mission. I wasn’t told I had to equip it (as it was equipped from the last mission) nor told how, or when, or where to buy one. The defenses came on, and my Walrus’ were both destroyed. You can’t roll back the campaign missions to the start to the best of my knowledge, so that bug (which is a noted bug on forums) ended my campaign and tutorial right there.

Thus begun the research.

Campaign aside, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a single player strategy game, and any single player strategy game shines in its relative skirmish mode. In the case of Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, this means Strategy Mode.

Strategy mode is where your command ship pits it out against the enemy command ship within an archipelago which can be captured, farmed, and defended against enemy invasions. In doing so, you establish a network of mining, manufacture, supply and defense resources that allow you to purchase units, upgrade them, and restore fuel to your ship, and power, and so forth. Each island is totally unique, and features lush and busy foliage, volcanoes, snow, buildings, lakes, and rivers, etc. In fact, each of the maps are huge (larger than your average FPS map, easily) and realistic in their form and terrain. Fighting for one island is a lengthy process, and it’s one that makes Carrier Command: Gaea Mission potentially  brilliant game.

In your command ship, you control four air units and four ground units. These units have a variety of different weaponry, gadgets, and armour types. For example, you can build primary support vehicles to repair and mend your damage vehicles, or perhaps a Walrus for construction, and one for hacking. Each of these vehicles can be remote controlled and monitored. When highlighting a vehicle, its feed will appear top right of the map, where you can monitor its activity. Don’t like what its doing? Take manual control of it with your joystick, gamepad or mouse and keyboard.

Second to that, you can control defense and scanning drones by setting way-points on the islands, or set them to assist your vehicles, or your vehicles to assist each-other. In sort, the best bits of Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is like playing a whole Planetside 2 game by your self, and the commanding is intuitive and easy to pick up. Watching everything play out is glorious, and really rewarding. There’s nothing cooler than watching 4 Manta’s launching from within the guts of your ship to the deck, all beautifully rendered and animated, then launching into the air and into the battlefield across the ocean. This is where Carrier Command: Gaea Mission  excels, and it’s why I really, really want to like this game.

“Want to like this game” is the key phrase here, because plagued with bugs it is. Often, your Walrus’ will not be able to properly path find, and might end up stuck up a group of rocks unable to move. Often, still, your Manta will drive into cliffs and hills which will heavily damage if not destroy them. Another problem I found was that, when attacking enemy base defenses, the Manta’s would fly right into the base rather than sit beyond it to make for an easy retreat, so when I told them to dock to the ship they often got shot down. Not so hard to replace, but very annoying when it’s a problem with the AI.

When Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is good, it’s great. Each island has its own base defenses, and for a long while you’ll not go up against the enemy carrier ship. Capture the island, and all the qualities of that island becomes yours. This means you can mine for alloys and items that allow you to create supplies such as fuel, energy, weapons, armours and vehicles that are then sent to you by barge from the island that produces the items you need. There is a relative time delay, quite a long time, which means for careful planning of supplies necessary.

With several difficulty settings before the game starts, such as enemy strength, occupied island number, enemy difficulty, etc, there’s enough to keep a well balanced experience as you get better and progress, but there aren’t a huge amount of options for what is a considerably deep game. In that respect, setting up the game feels a little light on its feet. It’d be nice to able to pick positions of the carriers to know when there will be a face off, or to make it harder by placing your carrier in enemy waters, or something along those lines, because with the huge cannons on each carrier, fighting each-other is a sight to behold.

An amphibious Walrus APC undocking from the carrier

There is a problem with Strategy Mode that I couldn’t over-come, though, and that’s that when the enemy carrier attacks an adjacent island, and you track it down, it merely moves onto the next one, and the next one, and the next, making an endless chase that basically stops the game. Carriers do have fuel though, and run out quite quickly, but each time this happens the enemy carrier never seemed to run out. Don’t be tempted to send your Manta off to attack it, though, because fly too far out of range and you’ll lose control over it and be met with a static fuzz, with your manta sitting in the sky waiting for you to get within range.

I’m not 100% sure where I stand with Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, it certainly isn’t a game that jumps out and grabs your by the gonads. It needed a proper, short tutorial for its main mode. The campaign is a very, very long winded way to do this, and it showcases the game in possibly its worse light. Those of you who like budget first person shooters with not a lot of polish will actually really enjoy the campaign, probably, but for those of us more spoiled, it’s a long-winded and janky foray into the world of Carrier Command: Gaea Mission which should have been truncated into mere explanation.

With the amount of bugs still in the game, most of which are AI path-finding bugs and trigger bugs, they don’t make it easy for you to like it, but for those who really love the concept, and love the idea of a long, in depth strategy game, there’s plenty to work with here. For now, it needs some love and attention, and some serious bug fixing. If I were the studio, I’d add a proper campaign into Strategy Mode, the games primary mode, and let players get on with that. The explosive combat and thrilling remote control options make Carrier Command: Gaea Mission a brilliant concept, but it’s a chore to get working, and a chore to understand, under current conditions.

If you miss Unreal Tournament 2004‘s vehicular style, can’t wait for Planetside 2, and are a general fan of Bohemia Interactive, then so long as you have the patience, you’ll grow to love Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, but only for its potential. A few patches down the line and maybe that’ll change – and with no online community to not have, there’s no worry that the game will be ruined by the absence of players.

In a nut-shell, Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a game where you, the commander, remote control a ton of awesome vehicles and gadgets, to conquer and vanquish an archipelago of islands. Awesome on paper, but an uphill struggle in reality.