More science-fiction than survival horror, Jaleco's new Dreamcast game, Carrier, makes it to the stores a few weeks before Capcom's next entry in it's Resident Evil saga, Code Veronica. To say that Carrier is a "copy" of the RE games is a bit unfair, as that particular series itself borrows a lot from many other sources as well. But still, the game owes a bit of it's content to RE, and also shares some of the same faults- which will no doubt be pointed out with some fervor by those diehard RE fans looking to defend their turf, as it were. Which is too bad, because I found Carrier quite enjoyable, for what it is.
The story takes place in the near future, and has a rescue team of sorts investigating an aircraft carrier after it picks up a strange organism (called ARK, another carrier of sorts), then loses contact with the mainland. Things get off to a bad start when the ship shoots down the chopper, and the resulting crash leaves our hero, Jack Ingles, stranded onboard, and having to go it alone to get to the bottom of things, literally. This setup is a tad similar to Resident Evil 2, with it's two separate characters to control, but you don't get to play as Jessifer (Jack's female partner) until you complete Jack's mission. I wasn't really expecting much from the story at first, but the opening narration is pretty deep stuff, and the longer you play (and ignore some of the more dopey dialogue), the more you appreciate the well-written storyline. Like Silent Hill, you find out things as you go along, and there are only a few times during the game when you'll roll your eyes because you saw a particular plot point coming. The game is actually a lot closer to the import Sega Saturn title, Deep Fear, which took place in and around an undersea base, and zombie-infested nuclear submarine
The game runs in a really clean high resolution, and there are some really great locations and environmental effects, like transparent mist, and water, along with some nice lighting. Everything is in full 3D, but the game has a pre-rendered feel to the movement, like in Dino Crisis, or Code Veronica (for those of you who've played the import already), but better. The character animation is well-done, but a bit odd at times, and I got a really good laugh early on, as a plant-zombie thing seemed to dance into the room Jack was in. Jack controls a lot smoother than any of the RE characters, with the exception of his little sliding move when you point him in a new direction, but that's a tiny flaw. Combat is actually a LOT better than in the RE games, and Capcom should take a look at this game for some clues on how to make a game less frustrating. Targeting is much more fair and you can switch weapons without having to go to a separate screen, equip a new gun, go back to the game and have to retarget all the time!
There's also this fantastic item in the game called a BEM-T3 Scope, which allows Jack to see through certain walls and lockers, check out dark rooms, and most importantly, see if any of the ship's crew is ARK-infected. This reminded me of a cross between the tracking device in the Alien films and those silly sunglasses in John Carpenter's They Live, but the suspense factor is multiplied tenfold here. It takes a few seconds for the scope to give it's results, and I jumped more than once when I saw something coming at me in a poorly lit area, or the scope's DANGER light went flashing, as I scanned a few of the crew. The game is set up with very little backtracking (cough, ahem, Capcom...), and the "puzzles" are mostly of the "I need the key to this door" variety. I liked this a lot, as the story here is one of those that will have you thinking, and keep you guessing until the end. In other words, the annoyance factor is kept to a bare minimum.
Speaking of annoyances, there are few here, but these are some of the same gripes I have with RE, such as the tendency of the camera angles to jump about if you're backing away from a creature into the previous shot, and most of the voice acting, which made me laugh more than I should have. Also, as good as the script is, it seems as if some of the dialogue was written to pad out a scene or two, rather than move the plot along. But the music and sound effects are quite excellent, so that makes up for some of the above faults, in my book.
Overall, Jaleco has a winner here, in my honest opinion. They seem to love taking chances with games that on the surface seem not so hot, and those true gamers willing to overlook stuff like borrowed influences will be very pleased with this game. If you're into this, and can't wait for Code Veronica to show up, go out and pick up a copy of Carrier- just don't compare it to RE, and you'll be happier than you think, and pleasantly surprised with it.
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