Carrier Command was one of the first real-time strategy games.
You control an advanced cybernetic aircraft carrier complete with fighters, amphibious assault vehicles, laser defenses and a fleet of decoy drones. Your mission is to build a series of resource, factory, and defensive bases spanning an island chain. The only problem? At the other end of the chain is an even more advanced carrier under control of a terrorist organization with the same mission.
As you move around the islands you must decide what facilities to build and where they will best support your advance. Resource islands provide materials that factory islands can use to build weapons and vehicles to replace your combat losses but both will be quickly overrun if the enemy attacks them while you are not present. You also have to ensure that your stockpiles of equipment are stored safely until you can find time to launch a resupply drone to bring them to your carrier.
From your carrier, you can take first person control of your attack aircraft and amphibious tanks and use them to assault enemy islands or even the enemy carrier itself if you're lucky enough to find it. The weapon payloads on your vehicles are completely configurable based on your needs. An island invasion may require launching a virus bomb that will take over the enemy command systems or just blasting the base with a wire guided surface to surface missile.
Ultimately, you have to find and destroy the enemy carrier but, doing so will require a solid supply infrastructure and a strategy for depriving your opponent of his.
Carrier Command is easily one of my childhood favorites. Its steep learning curve will throw off most casual gamers, but taking the time to master it will pay off handsomely. So what makes this game worth your time? Well, let's take it from the top.
Even though Carrier Command has a story, it is as uninteresting as it is irrelevant to the actual game. In short, you are in command of a futuristic carrier and your task is to capture islands, expand your supply network and ultimately beat the opponent carrier which is aiming to do the same. A simple premise then, but that's just the top of the iceberg.
There are two play modes - action and strategy. If you're starting the game for the first time, choose the strategy mode as it will allow you to explore the interface. The action mode will throw you straight into the belly of the beast so you need to be familiar with the controls if you are to survive the initial encounter with the enemy island ahead of you.
A word of advice, once you feel comfortable with controls and the interface, restart the game before attempting to beat the enemy. This is due to the fact that the enemy carrier will start capturing islands and expanding its network from the second that the game starts, and if you're not quick enough (or you think the Pause button is not your friend), you will fall behind to the point where you'll be completely cut off.
There are couple things you need to be aware of. Firstly, your carrier has onboard defenses that you will have to get familiar with if you wish to survive. The top mounted laser will be your friend against enemy mantas (aircrafts) and long range missiles. Once you feel comfortable you can also start using the flare which will defend you from incoming manta missiles. There are also drones and long range missiles but I'll let you discover that.
The real fun begins once you start using your on-board vehicles. You have mantas (aircrafts) and walruses (amphibious) at your disposal when invading enemy islands or the enemy carrier. Both can be equipped with a plethora of missiles, bombs, long range scanners etc. Once you equip a vehicle you can dispatch it and then take control. Controlling them is easy and you'll love it, especially flying the manta. Remember to refuel them every time you land back or get one from stock. Getting vehicles into the carrier is a bit tricky. You will have to initiate it from the ship itself once the vehicle is in range (and preferably in autopilot mode). It's a bit tricky but you'll get a hang of it quickly.
Once you have mastered the control of your carrier and onboard vehicles, you're ready to go out and start expanding your network of islands. One of the more cryptic parts of the game is restocking the ship with fuel and supplies. To do this, you first have to be aware of the fact that there are three types of islands - defense, resource and factory. The important part is that you can only resupply from an island that is connected to your stockpile island through the network. You can see the overview of resource network on your map view. This will play a key part in your strategy. You have to get it right or you will run out of fuel and the game is essentially over at that point. Also, when attacking islands, be aware they have unlimited amounts of aircraft and missiles, so you will need to get out of range and then launch your attack. You can try to coordinate your attack and defense all at once, but I only recommend this to experienced players.
Once you feel your stocks are big enough to challenge the enemy carrier, you can try and defeat it. If you look at the message log, you can approximate its position depending on the island it attacked last. Set the heading toward it and if all goes well, you will win the game!
Although very simple at first glance, I think the graphics work exceptionally well with the game. Keep in mind that it is a combination of a real time strategy, first person shooter and simulation. Coming up with a usable interface for such a diverse feature set was not easy, and I think they got it just right. Navigation through the menus is straightforward and once you get a feel for them, you can move around various sections exceptionally fast. In my best days I was able to defend the carrier and coordinate both air and land attacks all at once - solid proof that it works well! :-)
An important thing to note is that the entire environment is in full 3D. Flying your mantas around and performing dogfights is lots of fun as the flight is smooth and quick to learn. The island buildings are also easy to recognize and differentiate. Simple and functional is the best description, and that works for me!
Sound is something you won't be hearing lots of while you play Carrier Command. There will be a few buzzes and blips when you fire lasers, etc, but don't expect anything fancy. There is also no music. Supposedly a very specific Atari version had music, but I've never witnessed it myself.
This review is very biased, and I'm well aware of it. A realistic score would be in range of 3.5-4.5 due to the lack of sounds and somewhat steep learning curve, but I'll give it a 5 regardless. I love this game, and so should you, and as a reviewer I have the freedom to do that ;-) Give it a spin and if you still think it sucks after that, tell us why in the forum!
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