Everything old is new again
If I had to pick one trend that’s slowly destroying my faith in our culture, I’d have to go with remakes. I’ve got no problem with looking to the past for inspiration, but the recent glut of shoddy, creatively bankrupt attempts to cash in on our collective nostalgia—I’m looking at you, Total Recall—miss the point entirely. For a remake to have any hope of succeeding, it needs to come from a place of passion and respect for its source material, and a genuine desire to introduce the work to a new generation. That’s why I absolutely adore Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, Bohemia Interactive’s update of the classic 1988 strategy game: It’s an unmistakable labor of love.
“The original Carrier Command was what inspired [Bohemia founders] Marek and Ondrej Španěl to work in the game industry,” explains Jan Kunt, Gaea Mission‘s executive producer. “The game’s open and deep gameplay was far ahead of its time and has greatly influenced every game we’ve made so far, including the well-known ARMA series.”
Given the special role Carrier Command played Bohemia’s history, it’s hardly surprising that the studio jumped at the opportunity to reinvent the title for modern audiences. According to Kunt, part of what made that decision so easy was the fact that the classic game was so far ahead of its time. “Although games have evolved tremendously over the last 25 years, it’s amazing how the original Carrier Command concept still holds up today. At its core, Gaea Mission doesn’t stray far away from its predecessor.”
Indeed, the basics of Gaea Mission‘s gameplay will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with Carrier Command. You still take control of a carrier and duke it out for control of an archipelago of islands. You’ve still got access to the same units—the aerial Manta and the amphibious Walrus—which you can send out to attack (and hopefully capture) enemy islands. You can still assume direct control of your individual units to duke it out on the front lines from a first-person perspective.
Still, just because Bohemia has kept the gameplay essentials intact doesn’t mean the team has skimped on refinements and innovations. There are, of course, the breathtaking new visuals, which make the old Carrier Command look about as cutting edge as a cave painting, but there are plenty of less-obvious improvements that greatly enrich the experience as well. There’s the cleaner, more accessible UI, a picture-in-picture window that let you keep tabs on your units, advanced AI, and intuitive squad commands, just to name a few.
Gaea Mission‘s biggest departure, though, lies in its story-driven single-player campaign, which includes a much more diverse set of gameplay mechanics than you might expect to find in a game like this. While a significant chunk of your time will still be spent fighting for control of islands, the campaign will periodically be broken up by more linear levels that focus purely on action, including FPS and on-rails shooting segments. These sections lend a much more narrative, cinematic feel, something that’s often missing from other titles in the genre.
If you’re the kind of die-hard strategy fan who’s turned off by the idea of FPS elements muddling up your beloved campaign, don’t worry. Bohemia’s got you covered, too. The team has also developed a second mode that’s designed to keep things as true to classic Carrier Command as possible.
“The Strategy Game mode was partly created as a tribute to the original game. It offers the same gameplay as the main campaign, but doesn’t include the narrative and FPS missions,” Kunt explains. “It’s available to players right from the start, but it was designed to offer additional experience to players that have completed the [story mode] and to others who are just looking for the experience comparable to the original Carrier Command.”
Before you begin a game in strategy mode, you’re presented with a delightfully old school set of option sliders that allow you to adjust things like difficulty, starting resources, and control over the islands. Once you dive in, the slate of choices only gets deeper. Whereas the single-player campaign requires you to find new technologies for your ships on the islands you conquer, the strategy campaign opens up the entire upgrade tree to you right from the start. It’s clear Bohemia has placed the emphasis here squarely on building an open-ended, dynamic experience with near-endless replay value.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Gaea Mission, though, is the fact the game will also be releasing on Xbox 360—a first for the traditionally PC-exclusive Bohemia. The team has gone to great lengths to ensure that both versions of the game are as close to identical as possible, and judging by my early look at the 360 build, they’ve succeeded in that aim—with the exception of graphics. The game certainly looks impressive enough for a 360 title, but a console is obviously no competition for a high-end PC.
The only lingering question is how well the game will handle with a controller, especially given its inclusion of real-time strategy elements. Thankfully, Kunt says Bohemia has been very mindful of that challenge from the start. “Our goal has been to create intuitive controls for both the keyboard and mouse setup and Xbox 360 gamepad,” he explains. “One of the key concerns was the user interface, which we deliberately designed in a way that would work well for both.”
Of course, even if the team can pull it off, there’s no guarantee that the typically strategy-phobic console community will accept the game’s blend of action and RTS gameplay. Still, everything I’ve seen so far has convinced me that Gaea Mission is headed firmly in the right direction. Bohemia seems well aware of the delicate balance they need to strike—staying true to the classic Carrier Command while keeping things accessible to newcomers—and that’s got me plenty excited for the game’s launch in late September.