Carrier Command preview

Carrier Command preview thumb

My order is to conquer Nemesis Island. If I succeed I hope we're going to rename it. To carry out my task I get a carrier. It's a vast, semi-futuristic ship that can launch aircraft and deploy amphibious assault tanks. I don't steer it directly, just set a waypoint on the strategic map. As it glides through the sparkling water, I can man any of its guns in first-person to shoot at things we pass. But the real fun doesn't start until I stop the ship just off the coast of Nemesis.

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a remake of a 1988 game that came on one floppy disk. It's by Bohemia Interactive, who produced Operation Flashpoint and the Arma games. It's not brutally realistic like those, and the controls are far simpler, but despite its heritage it does have the same exciting feeling of a game too ambitious for its own good.

I stop the carrier some way from the coast and order a fighter to undock. I can see the geography of the island from the strategic map, but no enemy locations – I need to scout. I switch to the fighter's cockpit view as the hull opens and its launchpad lifts it out on deck.

As soon as it takes off, I'm in control: simple mouse and WASD stuff. I zoom inland, scoping out tanks and bases, but between the anti-air turrets and enemy fighters, I'm losing hull integrity fast. I switch back to strategic mode and tell the pilot to return to dock, then select all my tanks. They're called Walruses: armoured amphibious vehicles that you can load out with various weapons and armour types. I pilot Walrus 9 as all four are lowered through hatches on either side of the carrier. There's a pause, then we're dropped into the sea with a splash. We storm through the waves as a squadron: Walruses float, and they're fast in the water.

Once we hit the coast, I shell turret emplacements and robot troops, and Walrus 6 shoots something with his laser turret while Walrus 8 fixes the hits I've taken with a repair beam. But Walrus 7 is why we're really here.

I switch back to strategic mode, order my fighter to launch, and take manual control of it again. I'm back in the skies over the coast, swooping inland to take potshots at the enemy. But this time I pull back after each pass, letting their planes chase me... right into Walrus 7, a specialised anti-air tank with a quadbarrelled flak cannon.

The enemy are ripped apart spectacularly around me, and I've taken so little damage that I can scout out the rest of the island without risking my neck. This is a tactical ploy I've used before in real-time strategy games, but I've never piloted the individual vehicles involved. It feels very, very cool. The objectives have been found, so now it's time to move out on land. I decide to do this from strategic mode, so I flip back to the island map and select all of my Walruses, then click on the first enemy base. Roll out, fatsos!

Er, fatsos? Where are you going? Walrus 6, that's the opposite direction! Walrus 7, why aren't you moving? Walrus 9, stop bumping into Walrus 6! Only Walrus 8 carries out the order perfectly. But Walrus 8 is the repair vehicle and has no offensive weapons. He is duly destroyed.

Operation Flashpoint's spliced-together radio chatter became famous for the dismaying blurt of “Oh no. Six. Is down.” Carrier Command has its own catchprase: “Walrus 6. Is stuck. Walrus 7. Is stuck. Walrus 8. Is stuck. Walrus 9. Is stuck.”

Right now, the reason to be excited about Carrier Command is that it's an RTS where you can control any unit. The reason to be sceptical about it is that you almost have to. They really, really struggle to do anything on their own.

In fairness to them, even as the player it's pretty hard to get these clunky vehicles up even gradual inclines, or between tightly packed trees. It feels as if the bumpy maps were made for a military sim, such as Arma, and the AI and vehicle handling were designed for the flat battlefields you'd find in an RTS.

It's nearly a year until the release date, though, so technical faults aren't too worrying at this point. Bohemia do have a history of setting their ambitions a notch or two higher than they can easily accomplish, but it's part of their charm.

Behind the action, Carrier Command even has an intricate system of manufacturing components, having them flown out to your carrier, then designing and building new units to replace the ones you've lost. It's a little tricky to understand right now, but it has the potential to give you really interesting tactical options to counter enemy forces. Besides, I'd rather play a slightly wonky version of something extraordinary than a game that's bland but perfectly formed. After tinkering around with this one mission several times over, I'm ready to pre-order