Retro Review: Desert Strike
Platform: Sega Megadrive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
It’s hard to conceive that games would be released based on wars that are still being fought or have recently ended. Playing a game featuring a famous battle or conflict is one thing, but seeing the coffins of repatriated soldiers on TV then playing a game based on those events could be deemed as a little insensitive. In 2009, there was a game being developed called “Six Days In Fallujah”. The game was based on true events in 2004 of Marines fighting in Iraq. It was seen as too controversial and as such has never seen the light of day.
Sensitivity to the subject matter and video games sometimes don’t go hand in hand, which in my opinion is demonstrated by the 2010 release of Medal Of Honor. This game was set in Afghanistan and had you fighting against the Taliban. The multiplayer aspect of the game received considerable scrutiny as one side played the part of the Taliban fighting American forces. Due to huge amounts of pressure from governments around the world the Taliban were changed to “opposing force.” Hindsight is a beautiful thing but you have to question the decision to create a game based on current events whereby you are shooting American soldiers.
You’d have thought that Electronic Arts would have learnt their lesson, however, the 2012 follow up Medal Of Honour: Warfighter was basically “The Hunt For Osama bin Laden: The Video Game.” The conclusion of the game was your team storming a compound in Pakistan killing a terrorist leader. There was even DLC for the game called Zero Dark Thirty. A little crass? A little insensitive? I’ll let you decide.
I do have to give EA some credit as they did a great job with the World War 2 based Medal of Honour from 1999 and the 2002 Medal of Honour: Frontline. Steven Spielberg’s involvement guaranteed the subject was treated with respect. Add an amazing score from Michael Giacchino and you were onto a winner. The reason that these games don’t stray into insensitive territory is because World War 2 had ended over 50 years prior to the games being released.
Anyway, what does this have to do with Desert Strike I hear you cry? It occurs to me that you can trace Electronic Arts roots for making games based on real life events back to 1992, as this might as well be called “Desert Storm: The Game.”
Middle Eastern Dictator, General Kilbaba, (who is in no way shape or form Saddam Hussein despite looking like him), invades a fictional Gulf State causing the Americans to take action.
The intro shows him torturing people and positioning his scud launchers to cause maximum damage. The commanding officer briefing you, (who is in no way shape or form ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf despite looking like him), asks “can you stop the madman before he starts World War Three?”
You control an AH-64 Apache helicopter and the action viewpoint is isometric. I always find it nice to play games that have an isometric view as they don’t seem so common these days.
You have certain objectives during the missions such as destroy radars, enemy encampments or rescue survivors. It’s advisable to tackle the objectives in order as the enemies are a lot tougher if you decide to ignore the mission recommendations.
For a game that boils down to shooting stuff in a badass helicopter, it has a surprising amount of depth. Firstly you have 3 weapons at your disposal. Weak but plentiful machine guns, a medium supply of more damaging Hydra rockets and very small supply of deadly Hellfire missiles. You also have to manage your resources such as ammunition, fuel and amount of people you have on board. You are allowed to carry 6 survivors at a time but once your chopper is full, you need to drop them off at a helipad. Luckily each survivor tops up your armour which becomes invaluable. You also have to pick your co-pilot with each one having a handy little bio to give you background information before you make your decision. Will you pick the slow and steady hand who is competent with machine guns and the winch or go for a crack shot gunner but is useless at grabbing your fuel in a firefight?!
Although the graphics aren’t the best I’ve seen on a Megadrive, they are nicely detailed with enemy vehicles looking good and in particular your helicopter standing out. Maybe it’s just me but even though the tiny troops are quite limited in terms of their appearance, I can imagine that they are running around the desert and have their own personalities, which adds a certain amount of charm to the game.
The sound in the game isn’t going to win any awards and the sound effects you are likely to hear the most are the humming of your rotors and firing of your weapons. However there is that amazing intro music which really gets you excited to take on the enemy forces.
Desert Strike is a really fun game to play. Your helicopter has a nice amount of momentum which makes it feel like it has some weight. You are also very quick, meaning you can jink and manoeuvre around the slow tanks and enemy defences. The makers of the game really managed to pull off what it feels like to be in charge of an attack helicopter but keep the sense of fun at the same time. I suppose the only downside is that the game is relatively short with there being four levels however; its an absolute joy to play so you wont mind replaying missions.
Special mention should go to the Amiga version of Desert Strike which improved on the sound and graphics from the Megadrive.
Graphics – Not the best graphics I’ve seen on the Megadrive but everything is nicely detailed and looks very charming. 7
Sound – The sound effects do the job but it’s nothing amazing. However; that iconic theme tune still rocks. 6
Playability – Managing your resources and taking on your objectives elevates this game above your standard shooter. Most importantly of all the game is lots of fun to play. 8
Re-Playability – Desert Strike is still extremely playable today and I regularly replay it once every couple of years. 9
Overall – Desert Strike stands the test of time and is one of my favourite Megadrive games, only surpassed by its sequel, Jungle Strike. 8
Review by Chris (co-host of 60 Minutes With and The Same Coin)