I didn’t realise I wanted a game about managing an aircraft carrier until now.
Carrier Deck is a game in which you launch and land planes on an aircraft carrier. Wait. No, come back! I know it doesn’t sound like fun but it’s actually pretty great! Before playing this there was no part of me that had even considered a game like it would be enjoyable to me, but I’m quite happy to find that I was wrong.
You take on the role of an Air Officer on board an aircraft carrier during wartime. It’s not clear what war this is (it takes place all over the world with fairly modern aircraft) but that doesn’t really matter as there isn’t much of a story to speak of. All that matters is that you need to protect your carrier from an unnamed enemy by launching scouting and combat missions as well as maintaining your aircraft and taking supply deliveries.
This is very much a strategy game. You’ll need to order your aircraft around the deck and hanger of your carrier, queuing up missions and launching them in the queued order. Your carrier only has a limited range (shown on the bottom of the screen) and will require you to send up aircraft to extend it if you want to detect threats early enough. Once one is detected, combat missions will need to be launched before they reach your carrier and cause damage. Aircraft will need to be landed after missions and clear the deck to avoid crashes before being prepped for their next mission. Different aircraft are suited for different missions, with EC2’s having excellent radar range whist F18’s are more suited to anti-air missions. There are other aircraft for other mission types, but there are only a few in total. I’m no expert on modern combat aircraft, but a bit more variety would have been welcome here.
This really comes down to time and resource management. You will have a lot going on at a time, with limited aircraft, runways, and helipads to work with. Keeping track of everything you need to do at any one moment can be quite difficult, with different ordinances needing to be in different craft whilst maintaining a good radar range and ensuring a helicopter isn’t about to land on top of another one. It can be very high pressure but you can get into a good rhythm. A rhythm that can quickly be broken if an F18 returns damaged and needs to be taken below deck for maintenance. This can throw off your plans and force you to think on your feet by deploying craft in a sub-optimal way to account for this temporary loss. Aircraft that aren’t maintained can be destroyed causing even more problems.
The pressure of each stage is high, but it’s a tremendous aspect of the game. Going for 5-stars on each mission (the stars don’t seem to mean anything incidentally) requires your carrier suffering no damage which can be a monumental task on the later stages. It’s true that you could fail repeatedly and learn the stages, but completing them on a first try gives a huge sense of accomplishment. If you’re feeling especially brave you could try the randomised Quick Missions and Survival modes to see how you get on without the ability to preempt every enemy move. Even if you do lose though, missions only being 5-10 minutes in length means there’s no huge loss.
The graphics are good enough. There’s nothing spectacular, but the planes and helicopters have enough detail to differentiate themselves from each other. Little details like the control tower components moving and deck crew running from one job to another are nice and make the carrier appear as more than just a platform for launching missions. There are multiple camera angles that allow you to see take offs and landings, but they are fairly useless for gameplay as they limit your view of the play area considerably. The UI seems to be designed with a mobile release in mind, with each button being chunky and radial menus appearing for vehicles when they’re selected. The star ratings for each mission remind me of mobile games as does the short play time for each mission. Whether mobile was the intention or not, the interface works well enough with keyboard (camera movement) and mouse.
Whilst I did very much enjoy my time playing this, there were a couple of drawbacks. The sounds are fine but quite simplistic. There are sirens warning when the landing strip is occupied or enemies are getting too close, as well as engine sounds and explosions but they all sound quite basic. On the slightly more irritating side though, is the pathfinding for some of the aircraft when being sent around the deck and hanger. If they become obstructed by another vehicle they tend to just dance around each other before returning the where they came from. During high pressure moments in which getting a plane repaired quickly is essential, this can be quite frustrating and lead to my restarting on more than one occasion.
In spite of this though, I had a lot of fun playing this in short bursts. Frustrations were rare and didn’t cause a huge amount of harm when they did occur due to the quick mission time. In all I enjoyed this and would recommend you at least give it a look if you have any interest in management games. Just don’t try to play it using one of the silly camera angles as you won’t stand a chance!