Conflict: Desert Storm
Pick a war any war, and you can pretty much guarantee that it has been done to death on PC already. Well, OK then, the number of games featuring the Tet Offensive or Rorke’s Drift have been pretty thin on the ground, and despite the potential carnage, Passchendaele hasn’t seen much in the way of in-game footage, but generally, wherever there is war, us PC gamers are willing to fight. Just so long as the odds are stacked heavily in our favour.
So it’s a little strange when you consider that the Gulf War has taken so long to reach our monitors. If there is one thing you can guarantee in a war action game it’s a high ratio body count and they don’t come any higher than the six week Desert Storm operation - according to 'official’ figures Iraqi forces managed to kill about 150 of the Coalition forces, with a few more notched up by the US. However, according to US Central Command, 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed, while close to half a million others were either wounded, taken prisoner or were courting execution for desertion. Shocking figures indeed, but no more impressive than your typical PC game. Serious Sam can take out 100,000 screaming headless zombies in the time it takes George Bush Sr to call his boy and say: "You go get ’em, son."
Of course, the main reason we haven’t had a Gulf War action game until now is because it was and still remains a contentious war, one that whether it was necessary or not, certainly gave EastEnders a battle in the ratings war. Still, wars are soon forgotten, and when Conflict: Desert Storm was conceived (the game, not the TV show), the world’s peacekeeping armies had moved through Somalia, the Balkans and East Timor. The time seemed right. Then came September 11, Operation Enduring Freedom, and George Bush’s thinly veiled desire to finish what his father had started in Iraq.
Consequently, Conflict: Desert Storm has become something of an interactive hot potato. Publisher SCi is of course no stranger to controversy after three Carmageddon titles, although they’re at pains to express the game has "nothing to do whatsoever with September 11 or the war in Afghanistan".
The game we are concerned with today is far less controversial than you might I imagine, considering current events.
As with most PC games it offers a S more sanitised version of history based loosely on actual operations. Those of you expecting the Cold War realism of Operation Flashpoint may be a little disappointed. Desert Storm is an action game through and through, one that measures health out of a hundred, where you play the good guys, kill the bad guys and get to run across lots of sand. Burning oil fields, friendly fire, Gulf War Syndrome and NBC suits are all off the menu.
"It’s a game not a simulation," says Jim Bambra, MD of Pivotal Games. "We’ve drawn extensively on events in the Gulf War, but we’re not creating a soldier sim. Instead, we've gone for a fun-based game that allows you to take a few hits before being knocked out." Certainly the PC could do with some light relief. Action games with a contemporary setting have exclusively been aimed more towards the hardcore, while the more arcade-like Delta Force series hasn’t delivered all it could have done. I for one am relieved, although since we saw more of Kate Adie than anyone else on the battlefield, it will be strange reliving the conflict without reporters bringing up the rear.
"Actually, during the Kuwait City mission a news helicopter buzzes you," says Jim. "You can see the cameraman filming you as you fight your way across the highway. Later, at the end of the game, the media are interviewing one of the characters you’ve rescued earlier on in the game."
Sure enough, as I played through beta code a couple of days later, a helicopter flew over my squad. Needless to say they never filed their next report. You can’t have nosy media types exposing the cream of Britain’s fighting few, after all.
Who Dares Wins
Yes, you read that right; Britain’s fighting few. In what is something of a first, certainly in living memory, Desert Storm allows you to play either as Delta Force or the SAS. Of course the game isn’t much different whichever nationality you choose to control, but having led hundreds of virtual American soldiers to their doom, it makes a refreshing change to be able to do the same to your own countrymen.
"The most obvious difference is the character uniforms and voices," adds Jim, "but each set of characters has different levels of specialist skills. All the SAS guys have one skill level as a medic, while only one of the Delta Force characters has medic skill, but he starts at level 3." It would be interesting to see how Delta Force and the SAS would square up to each other in the game, but in reality, the way the skills have been handed out to the troops is pretty realistic. For example the SAS are very adept at everything; each soldier is familiar with most weapons and can patch up a wounded colleague. US special forces on the other hand are much more specialised to the point where a medic wouldn’t only be able to perform minor surgery, he could offer counselling as well.
"We’ve used Cameron Spence as our military adviser," adds Jim. "Cameron is the author of Sabre Squadron and an exSAS trooper who fought behind enemy lines in the Gulf War. It’s been great having him on the team as he has first-hand knowledge of the weapons, tactics, and the environment in which the game is based." Well that’s alright then.
Setting the game behind enemy lines makes a lot of sense, especially since the actual ground war in the desert only lasted a couple of days. By the time the tanks rolled across the Saudi border, the job of the special forces was all but done. For them the conflict lasted for weeks rather than hours and was rather more taxing than taking thousands of prisoners.
"The mission objectives are varied," says Jim. "From blowing up bridges, rescuing prisoners of war from Baghdad, escorting the Emir of Kuwait to safety, all the way up to full-blown military attacks on enemy positions. In 'Cavalry Charge’ you have to take out mobile anti-aircraft defences and then call in the A10 Tankbusters to take out the emplaced enemy armour. Plus, we have classic Scud hunting missions, and wetop it all off with a deep insertion into Iraq to take out a high-ranking Iraqi general in his heavily guarded fortress." To help you in your mission of course are the members of your highly-trained squad. Up to four soldiers will be in action at any one time and like Red Storm’s recent Ghost Recon, switching between your troops and issuing commands on the fly is a thankfully simple affair.
"The order system is very elegant," says Jim. "It’s all done in the game world with no recourse to planning maps or complex in-game editors. You can tell the other men to follow you, go to any position you can see in the game world, get them to crouch, crawl, fire at will or set up ambushes."
"Each character complements the others," he adds. "Success depends on using the characters as a team with the sniper and heavy weapons guys being used to cover the others as they advance. Once the front guys are in position, the heavy weapons and sniper guy can be quickly called up or moved into new positions using the order system."
A Real Hummer
It wouldn’t be much of a game without an array of real-world weaponry, most of which we’re all well acquainted with through Counter-Strike and other games and mods; M16 with M203 grenade launcher, Barrett Light 50, M60, AK-47, MP5 - the lot. Moreover there are mines, grenades, mounted machine guns, Stinger missiles and the option to call in artillery or air strikes. Best of all your specialists can hop into Humvees and M2 APCs and drive around. Of course the Iraqis have hardware of their own, so racing through the desert isn’t something you do too often.
While the version of the game we played had very impressive team Al, that of the enemy was rather static. They throw grenades, run from yours and even try to outflank you, but finding cover seems something of a problem. Of course we have a few months to go until release, by which time we will have played the multiplayer side of things (you can join up as Russian Spetsnaz or Iraqi Republican Guard). Maybe Pivotal will even sneak in a Sadam Vs Bush minigame. Controversial certainly, but it would be fun.
While there is a place for a game like Desert Storm, its biggest problem is its release so soon after the Ghost Recon add-on Desert Siege. Despite being set in near-future East Africa, Desert Siege is a fantastic expansion to a great game. Desert Storm itself shares many similarities with Ghost Recon' the four-man squad, the environment and the realtime tactics. Desert Storm certainly has its work cut out and worryingly Pivotal doesn’t seem to have played it. Leaving aside Ghost Recon, there are many other realistic shooters out there or on the way -Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and Raven Shield are two that spring to mind -prompting us to fear that Desert Storm may be a game too far.
"If shooters don’t evolve, then yes, PC gamers will get sick of them," says Jim. "But Conflict: Desert Storm is primarily a third-person game, not a first-person shooter. This makes it play very differently from other FPSs. It’s also very tactical with each of the characters performing a different role, and to succeed, you have to use the characters as a team. With Conflict: Desert Storm we’re offering something very different."
Whether it’ll be different enough, we’ll have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure, with so many realistic teambased games setting themselves in fictional conflicts, the fact that Desert Storm has a very real setting will be a big draw. For me, until we get to go over the top and across the bog of the Somme, the desert will do just fine.
How Real Is Conflict Desert Storm?
Just how real is Conflict: Desert Storm compared to the real war in the desert? Well it’s certainly the case that we’d rather play Desert Storm than have been in Desert Storm. While in the game you have to worry about being shot in the face by an Iraqi bullet, in reality, as a Brit, you had a greater chance of being shot in the back by an American one. Then of course there was the extreme heat, the dust and lack of water. The only extremes you face in front of a PC are tiredness, obesity and incontinence. Just be glad Conflict: Desert Storm is a game. If you want the real experience, put on a gimp suit, turn up the central heating, set your PC in front of a treadmill and gaffer tape mobile phones to your ears to simulate the effect of being in constant contact with depleted uranium. If you don’t expire with ten minutes, you surely will within ten years.
Download Conflict: Desert Storm
You've Seen it on TV, you've read about it in the newspapers, now you can finally play this second-rate squadbased shooter budget release. The only problem is that it ain't as good as its similarly flawed sequel, both based in and around the sandy bits of Iraq.
Set in those bad ol' pre-liberation days, it's your job to prepare the way for George Bush Snr's forces; blowing up Scuds, infiltrating airbases and sneaking around right under Saddam's evil nose. Hell, while you're in 1991, you might as well have a poke around for some weapons of mass destruction as well. It might just save some time in the long run.
With a clunky control system and stealth that doesn't quite work, Conflict: Desert Storm isn't a patch on realismbound peers like Operation Flashpoint or Rogue Spear. It's a passable shooter with a few decent levels, but most of your carefully planned assaults degenerate into formless scrambles against the braindead Al of the Iraqi crack troops.
Being able to choose between playing as US or British troops is a nice option, but the game really hasn't aged well. For a bit of extra cash, you'd be mad not to splash out on Hidden & Dangerous 2 instead of this.
Timeliness is one of the few things this squad-based shooter gets right--you just know someone wants to live out the war in Iraq from the safety of the sofa. But I wouldn't blink if U.N. weapons inspectors unearthed a cache of Conflict discs buried in the bowels of Baghdad. The U.S. Delta Force puts up such a piss-poor fight in this game, playing through it might actually boost the Republican Guard's morale. Uncle Sam's boys can't shoot straight, even with auto-aim, and the Iraqis are unstoppable bullet-sponges with extrasensory perception.
CRISPIN: Yep, that Gomer Pyle--caliber A.I.--both in your squad of four controllable troopers and within the enemy Iraqi ranks--almost makes me wish this PS2 port had wound up MIA. I've seen some bad guys teleport through objects. I've seen others just stand in the sand, waiting to get gunned down while their buds pursue me with lethal gung-ho gusto. And my fellow Delta operatives...sheesh. I felt as if I had to hold their hands and guide them everywhere. This ain't summer camp, guys--seek some damn cover!
And regardless of our gripes, we have to admit we had a good time going to war together. The two- to four-player splitscreen mode, available for all missions, let us bypass the wonky teammate A.I. by giving us each a trooper to control. I liked how we could all ride in the same vehicle, heal each other, and swap weapons, especially once we figured out that Mark made the best sniper. Of course, we had a lot of laughs the developers didn't intend.
Snapshots and Media
- Delta Force
- Delta Force 2
- Delta Force: Black Hawk Down
- SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs
- SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo 2
- Armed and Dangerous
- Assault Retribution
- Battle Engine Aquila
- Hidden & Dangerous: Action Pack
- Team Buddies
- The Guardian of Darkness
- Total Carnage
- Unreal 2: eXpanded MultiPlayer
- Unreal Mission Pack 1: Return to Na Pali
- Zax: The Alien Hunter