The 1988 3D classic Carrier Command is returning in a current-gen action strategy outing and we’ve seen a new, almost-finished version running on Xbox 360. As we detailed in our last preview (opens in new tab), Bohemia Interactive’s new take on the seminal strategy game can be played like a traditional RTS or as a Halo/Warhawk-style action game by taking direct control of individual units, looking to destroy the enemy's carrier by capturing and controlling an archipelago of islands until you're strong enough to mount your attack.
You can even go right down to individual soldiers and play through their eyes in what could easily be mistaken for Halo. But we didn't expect it to be quite so assured in its FPS gameplay considering the number of different gameplay styles on offer here. This gameplay video shows plenty of action from many different parts of the game, but you can skip to 9:42 if you want to see the FPS element in action:
There are two modes for the campaign: One for newcomers and one aimed at fans of the original Carrier Command. The newcomer side starts off as an FPS and moves into RTS territory, while the more advanced mode is more grounded in strategy with optional direct control added in.
The newcomer's mode has some characterisation as friendly soldiers converse with you, Half-Life style, with scripted events and enemy attack waves coming in, forcing retreats and tense firefights. Looking at this aspect of the game in action, you'd have no idea it was actually a large-scale strategy game, with dialogue between the characters directly relating to the small-scale skirmish.
It's all immediate, in-the moment stuff, with frantic retreats and aggressive first-person fire from behind rocks. There's no snap-to cover system, but you need to use your environment to your advantage.
Above: The new Carrier Command appears to share some stylistic traits with the Halo series
As you progress through this action-oriented story, the islands open up one at a time, teaching you features of the game and combat system as you go, until you reach about halfway whereupon the rest of the map opens up and you can play more like the advanced mode. It looks for all the world like you're going to be tackling a regular FPS campaign mode, which is why it's so impressive to see they're just one part of a large strategy game.
Above: You no longer have to wait for everything to happen in real-time. Let's do the timewarp!
Advanced mode is more like the original game. With picture-in-picture windows of the action unfolding at unit level, you command a 2D representation of the map like a military commander, capturing islands and changing what type of assets they’ll create for you. The game is set in the near-future, so you can make Terminator HK-style gunships, or equip new turrets on your eponymous carrier.
The word here is definitely versatility. The game engine allows for super-quick swapping between the units you want to control, with impressively solid and detailed close-up action breaking up impressively considered strategy gameplay overseeing the whole archipelago. Even if you are playing it like a pure RTS, you can take control of individual units at any time, which is great news for subscribers to the old adage ‘if you want something done properly, do it yourself’.
Above: You can control units individually, with full, direct control like an action game
There are three island types: Production (for unit factories), mining and defensive outposts. Defensive islands are tougher and have better-equipped units and should be used to shield your other island types. You can go back and change island types, but it takes time to do so. Seeing as everything plays out at the same pace, you need to plan ahead.
Above: It's fair to say the explosions in the 1988 original didn't look like this
As you can see from the screenshots and video, the water effects between the islands look rather lovely and there’s a day/night cycle too, with pretty fog effects when necessary and long draw distances when it’s clear. There are also weather effects, like snow and rainstorms. While these don't negatively impact your units' functionality, they do impact on your vision in the battlefield.
The inclusion of that first-person shooter mode might just be enough to encourage the CoD crowd to try something a little more tactically deep. We’re certainly interested. The graphical detail may not be as high as dedicated first-person games, but that's because there's far more to this game than simple corridor shooting.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is due out on PC and Xbox 360 on September 28.