In any creative arena, there are always going to be innovators and those who follow in their footsteps—who are more commonly referred to as imitators. But just because something is an imitation, doesn't mean that it has no value or integrity by default. For example, is Michelangelo's statue of David nothing more then a cheap knock-off of Donatello's statue of David, which preceded it? To further illustrate my point, is John Woo's contemporary action film, The Killer, only a pale copycat of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai? In both cases, the imitation largely drew its inspiration from its predecessor, but at the same time managed to find its own identity and expression. The same can be said of Jaleco's latest release on the Dreamcast, Carrier.
On the surface, Carrier appears to be nothing more then a pure rip-off of Capcom's groundbreaking Resident Evil series. Resident Evil defined many elements in what is now known as the survival-horror genre and Carrier isn't shy about mimicking it. Almost all the setups are near identical. In Carrier, players take control of Jack Ingles and Jessifer Manning (only after beating the game), a guy-girl duo part a special investigative unit known as SPARC. This closely mirrors the duo of Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield in Resident Evil universe and their continual involvement with the elite team of STARS agents. The plot also takes a similar tone where something has gone awry in a remote area and it's up to the crack team of special agents to find out what went wrong. So while the backdrop of all the Resident Evil game centered around towns, Carrier instead takes place on a aircraft carrier (hence the title, which also has a double meaning—being infected with something).
Regardless of setting, both games utilize the same style of pivot-on-an-axis control, locked down camera angles and the majority of enemies are zombie-like creatures. Anyone whose ever read my reviews of either Dino Crisis or Resident Evil 3, know that this is far from my favorite setup. Carrier is no different in that it is plagued with similar problems that have always befallen the survival-horror genre. I've always found that control over a character in tight situat ions to be overly limiting. The inclusion of a 180-degree turn in Carrier only helped marginally. I've also been continually bothered by the camera angles positioned inappropriately during moments of combat. The full 3D environments in Carrier, with more dynamic camera shifts and the ability to observe environments from a first-person view, again, only helped marginally. Then there's the constant battling of only slow braindead zombie-like creatures that only made the gameplay seem more stagnant. To top it off, both games feature B-grade voice acting that is unintentionally funny and pathetic at the same time. Thankfully, Carrier has an option that allows player to restore the vastly superior Japanese voices with English subtitles, giving the game an almost anime-like appeal.
Where Carrier does manage to find its own voice and direction is in three areas: graphics, puzzle design and story execution. Graphically, Carrier is top-notch and confidently presents the genre in a new light by having detailed character models and well-textured environments that appear to transpire in an actual aircraft carrier. The game also has the benefit of being first out of the gate by beating Capcom's own Dreamcast survival-horror release, Resident Evil—Code: Veronica. So if even if it's only a matter of days before Veronica's eventual release, Carrier can still stand atop the pedestal for the time being.
Carrier also distinguishes itself in terms of its puzzle design. Whereas the puzzles in Resident Evil always blended a strange mix of technology and mysticism that constantly bordered on absurdity, Carrier consistently keeps things more intuitive and down to earth. That's not to say that the puzzles were always perfect. I'd sometimes find myself confused as to what I should be doing next by virtue of not following the flow of gameplay exactly as the designers would have wanted me to. There were other times where the answers to some puzzles seemed somewhat illogical and obscure. Still, these flawed instances were rare and on the whole, I found much of the puzzles to be well thought out, relevant to the plot and much to my liking.
Yet by far the one the thing that sold me on Carrier was the story execution. I've always found the characters and any semblance of an actual story in Resident Evil games to be a joke. This was not the case with Carrier. Not only did I find the relationships between characters more compelling (Jack Ingles and his brother Robert in particular), but the story progression with its eventual surprise revelation near the end was actually quite satisfying, or at least more so then any other Resident Evil game to date. This was the decisive X-factor that kept me engaged throughout almost all of the game and distracted me from the all too familiar gameplay that Carrier offered.
No one is going to call Carrier original by any means. Right from the get-go, it's pretty obvious where Carrier takes its cues. But like some other fine derivative creative works, Carrier manages to find its own identity as far as graphics, puzzle design and story execution goes. The game may appear much worse for wear once Code: Veronica reaches the market, but the reality is, Carrier is out now, and judging it on its own merits, it measures up quite well. I can recommend it to anyone immediately looking for this style of action on the Dreamcast.