Review: Carrier Deck29 Jun 2017 13
Review: Carrier Deck
Released 15 Jun 2017
Every Single Soldier, the studio behind Vietnam ‘65 and Afghanistan ‘11 is back with a game that has significantly less hexagons. Carrier Deck is a strategy game that places you in task of commanding the CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagen, with the aim to manage preparations for all aircraft on the ship including taking off and landing. It’s minimal on plot (ok, it’s non-existent) and leans more into the design tropes of modern casual mobile games by offering a star rating at the end of each mission dependent on how well you did.
The game is split into three separate modes; quick game throws you into a randomly generated level at the difficulty of your choice; survival is an endless mode, constantly bombarding you with challenges till you are finally overwhelmed; finally, there’s the campaign - a series of pre-scripted missions with objectives that need to be met. Each mission takes roughly ten minutes to complete with the entire campaign keeping you busy for a few hours. Each mission gives you the mission or objective, intel for what to expect in the level, and the log letting you know what is inbound. The main task per mission is a balancing act of having enough aircraft on board the ship while dealing with an assortment of enemy craft, plus occasionally handling cargo as well.
One of the keys to success is having your radar out as far as possible - maximising the chances of spotting incoming enemy aircraft before they are within striking distance. The focus of the game takes place within the bars on the bottom half of the screen. These represent what type of enemy craft is on its way and how far away it is. Enemy ships and craft will have a number next to them representing how many planes are needed to take it down. They’re also colour coded, pairing up to your craft, so you know which one you’ll need to use. It’s a simple set up but once the game ramps up the action there’s a good sense of flow. You go into a routine of checking for enemy aircraft, making sure the runway is clear, tidying up the upper deck, etc. It takes a good few knocks to sink your ship - giving you room for error to start with, but makes you feel noticeably fragile in the later missions of the game.
The carrier is split into the upper deck and the hanger below. The hanger is needed for when damaged craft needs to be repaired, which consumes time, and when the top half starts to get busy it does become necessary, creating the challenge of deciding what to keep up top to send off on a moment's notice. It’s one of the core parts of the game where the ‘time management’ really comes into effect.
You have - mostly - full control over what to send out, except the supply craft, which takes full precedent over everything else, regardless of that battleship right on your tail. Even if you have fighters ready to take-off, the supply craft has to be refuelled and launched first. It’s the one rule the game enforces on you that doesn’t make any sense other than to frustrate.
The game, though presented like a wartime strategy game, ends up having more in common with the management simulation genre. It’s not so much about being the aggressor against the enemy, but being smart about what craft to use and when. For those less patience you can use the acceleration button to fast-forward through the slow parts. You need to be wary about leaving your craft out for too long for fear of running out of petrol and leaving your pilots stranded at sea, while also timing the landing of each plane, as to not accidentally have two collide on the runway, damaging your ship and star rating at the end of the mission.
Presentation feels sparse, with the audio the biggest culprit. The bulk of the game is spent using the top-down view, but you can switch the camera to see planes taking off or landing, though it’s more for the visual effect than a beneficial gameplay mechanic. As the game takes place out in the ocean there’s not a whole lot to look at. You can see other carriers from afar in take-off or landing vision, just to give a sense that you’re not the only line of defense. The waves look choppy, with the occasional splash effect on the side of the carrier looking pretty ropey as well. Even Wave Race 64 fares favourably in comparison, and that game that came out in 1996. The actual planes look solid enough, though from the top down camera at that size they look more like the models from Micro Machines. The actual deck itself is devoid of detail, and the hanger is even more basic. It’s a myriad of uninspired design choices that leaves Carrier Deck lacking - especially when there are games at half the price who bring more to the table visually.
Carrier Deck feels like it was designed as a mobile game first and a PC game second, between the UI being kept to minimum so your hands cannot block important information, plus the structure and feedback of achievement through the star ratings. And I’m not knocking Every Single Soldier for taking this route, but ‘casual strategy gamer’ sounds like the nichest of niche markets - hardcore strategy gamers might not find enough here to satisfy their needs, and casual gamers will be turned off by the price tag before they even take a glance. I can appreciate the simplified method the game takes, and though the game does show its hand early on, it’s a decent enough time filler when there’s ten minutes to be killed.