Desert Strike - Return to the Gulf

a game by Electronic Arts
Genre: Action
Platforms: Lynx, PC, GameBoy
Editor Rating: 6.3/10, based on 3 reviews, 6 reviews are shown
User Rating: 7.2/10 - 5 votes
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See also: Flying Games

Desurt strike was just one of the many games to fight for the attention of would-be warm-weather avengers after the long promotional advertisement, that was the Gulf War, hit our screens, and, for all its ethically questionable nature, it was far and away the best to emerge on the consoles. In fact, in console terms, it's an old, old game, and it has long since been superseded by its follow-up. Jungle Strike. It's even quite an old game on the Amiga, on which format-happy psychopaths have been blowing up large pieces of desert for about a year now. Nearly two years after its first appearance, Desert Strike has now been hauled feet-first on to the pc, leaving long fingernail marks in its wake. But what exactly is it?

It's isometric, tactical shoot-em-up fun

Yes, it's isometric, because this is the name given to games designed by programmers who haven't got their heads around the concept of perspective. It's tactical, because your Apache AH-64 attack helicopter may very well have an enormous chain gun and a small range of fashionable, colour co-ordinated, air-to-ground missiles, but it doesn't have an endless supply of them. And it's a shoot-em-up, because if anything hoves into view that you don't like the look of. you're perfectly free to shoot it "up".

Each of the four levels of the game is a separate campaign, comprised of several set missions, with 30 missions in the game in total. These range from run-of-the-mill jobs, like taking out enemy radar sites, blowing up enemy airbases and char-grilling lorry-loads of British soldiers; to the more demanding ones, like sealing leaks in oil-pipes with gunfire, or escorting embassy officials to safety. (Although quite why you'd want to do this, when it's probably their fault that you're stuck in this God-forsaken country in the first place is beyond me.)

Goodies

To aid your survival while being assaulted on all sides by an assortment of headstrong Arabs with tanks, scuds and sams, traditional shoot-em-up power-ups are available. These come in the form of caches of fuel drums for topping up the old petrol tanks (fortunately for you, your "Pillager" model Swiss Army knife comes complete with a fuel-drum opener and pop-out siphon attachment); huge crates of missiles with spare sets of touch-papers, and even a gigantic toolbox for repairing your battered chopper.

It also increases your chances of survival if you pick up the lost allies you'll spot from time to time, fighting for their lives on the burning sands below. (That'll teach them to go to Margate dressed as Mods. Arf arf.) Showing the total lack of intelligence that ensures a long and happy career in the American armed forces, some of these people are "missing" approximately 150 yards (to scale) from the nearest Allied army encampment. In fact, one of them was picked up round the back of a bowling alley after pranging his Stealth Bomber on the bins outside MacDonalds. Anyway, every one of these intellectual giants recovered will give a much-needed boost to the status of your helicopter's armour when returned to a friendly landing zone.

Personality differences

Firing at things is made more "interesting" than it would be in most games by the firing method: since you're the pilot, all you do is point the chopper at the thing you want to wipe off the face of the planet and push the button. Your co-pilot then does his stuff to the best of his abilities, taking out what he thinks you're after. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to disappointment - you may think you're clearly aiming in the direction of the 200-foot radar installation, but your co-pilot seems to have the idea that it was the small patch of sand nearby that you saw as a tactical threat. This can introduce an irritating need to position yourself exactly in the right spot by using the "jink" button.

Some of the available co-pilots are better than others: some go to pieces under heavy enemy fire, some have personality disorders that make them shoot everything in sight and others spend their time being airsick out of the loading bay in time to The Ride of the Valkyries. One of the missions involves finding and winching up an ace co-pilot who makes everything just a little more straightforward for you.

Campaign Charlie is me name...

There's no way of saving a game mid-level, and you don't get a password for the next until you've completed a whole campaign, so the tactical nature of the thing is stronger than may at first be apparent. For example, it's best to save missiles where possible and use your chain gun instead. If you keep shooting for long enough, you can even take out buildings with it - but you have to balance that against the amount of fuel you'll expend hovering in place while you do so. And it's usually accepted that, ideally, you should torch all the surrounding men and machines carrying Helicopter-Be-Gone attachments before attempting these leisurely pursuits. Much consultation of the map is the norm.

Generally, but especially from the second level onwards, it's essential that you complete each section of the campaign in the order you're told. Unless you save the right people - or blow up the right things - in the right order, you won't learn the information that allows you to progress to the next mission. For example, until you've captured the scud commanders in one level, you don't know the position of the scuds you have to destroy. On the other hand, when indulging in the pursuit of more general mayhem, there's nothing to stop you blowing up the primary school before attacking the community theatre group. There's a password system so that you don't have to repeat the early levels each time you play.

The general approach to a campaign involves knocking out the enemy stuff that's going to hurt you. taking care of the necessary targets as quickly as possible, avoiding particularly hazardous areas where possible and balancing the amount of fuel and ammo you're carrying to ensure that you've always got enough to keep you alive and airborne, but also still have a few items stashed about the desert for emergencies.

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? It's not. The difficulty level was fairly steep in the original game, with a bit of a jump between campaign one and campaign two. in which saved MIAs reward you with fewer armour points, and there are markedly fewer crates of ammo and fuel drums - and running out of fuel in Desert Strike is as appealing a prospect as running out of sedatives during Pets Win Prizes. This version seems, generally, to be a little harder all round, largely because the enemy's rate of fire - particularly from the AAAs - is a lot quicker, drastically reducing the time that you have to fly in and hit something.

So, what you have is a game that's been around a long time on other formats, and which still isn't quite finished even now. The version we've got doesn't have the complete sound effects which do so much for the atmosphere of the original game. It's taken so long to arrive that just about anybody who's had access to an Amiga. Megadrive or snes will probably have already had a go of it. And anyone who's done so simply can't fail to notice that this version isn't quite as good as the others.

Overall, it's a little bit harder than other versions we've seen, and it's certainly the weakest version in the graphics department - the chopper sprite itself is a little ragged looking, and small targets seem harder to pick out of the landscape when you are scrolling quickly across screen. On the other hand. Desert Strike is still a good blast, with plenty of challenge, and crossformat comparisons mean little as long as it plays well in this version.

Download Desert Strike - Return to the Gulf

Lynx

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Gameboy

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Remhmber when, back in the good old days, an Amiga or st game that had been pretty highly rated in its own format was awaited with great suspense by pc gamers forever starved of decent entertainment? Inevitably, after a delay of five years, it would eventually appear in cocked-up form, with its formerly gorgeous sprites now looking like something to do with a rather horrible farming accident, its background graphical splendour reduced to four-colour ega and its toetapping soundtrack sounding uncannily like a sample of The Clangers. Times have changed. Nowadays, if an Amiga or console game makes it onto the pc it has a lot to do to make any impact. You know what's coming....

Console ahoy!

Desert Strike first emerged into the world as a console game, and a rather rare one at that. It's one of the few console games to concern itself with industrial action by registered tree surgeons in an area with few opportunities for gainful employment. You play a chisel-faced, gimlet-eyed, chain-smoking, gun-toting renegade member of acas, out to settle the dispute the only way you know how: extremely violently -after an extensive period of time spent lounging around in top hotels taking Michelin star-standard working lunches. To this end, you are equipped with a large leather briefcase with your initials embossed in gold on the flap, a set of matching executive rollerball pens in an attractive leather-look presentation case and an Apache AH-64 attack helicopter with ffont-mounted cannon and a full complement of air-to-ground missiles.

Shoot-em-up ahoy

Desert Strike could best be termed a tactical shoot-em-up. Or even a great tactical shoot-em-up. In fact, I'll go further: it could safely be described as the great tactical shoot-em-up of the console games world (apart, just perhaps, from Nigel Short's Sucker Dart Chess Challenge). It's a shoot-em-up because everything you come across in the game can be shot up. And it's tactical because you don't have everything you need to shoot everything up with you at all times; dotted about the parched desert landscape are hidden caches of weapons, fuel and aviator Ray Bans. You can see where they are by consulting your on-board map, but you can also see that there are numerous sam sites, scuds, tanks and quite a few other unpleasant things that would very much like to hurt you.

Very untopical joke ahoy

Bear in mind also, that you can't just fly about willy-nilly, having fun. You're not Mike Smith. There are definite set objectives to each mission you're given - and there are 30 missions, spread over four different levels. You might be called upon to rescue a comrade from behind enemy lines, destroy entire oil fields, blow up chemical weapons plants and nuclear reactors or drop leaves on the railway lines. The tactical part involves insuring that you pick your way through the things that are out to get you, get the things you're supposed to get, and don't run out of weapons or fuel while doing so.

It's played from an isometric viewpoint, and the helicopter never varies in height above the ground. Taking off and landing are achieved, rather like horrible Brummie accents, by the influence of environment rather than by any active learning process.

All you do is fly over a landing area slowly and it does it all for you. Despite this lack of proper flying, the helicopter handles pretty much as you expect - the nose points down when you fly forward and up when you fly backward, and even further up when you crash.

Hopeful final paragraph

Even though it's only a console game that's been put onto the pc over a year after it first appeared; even though the original game had something of a steep rise in difficulty levels and even though it isn't a first-person viewed shoot-em-up like every other game that's around at the moment; it might be a playable little number when it appears in a month or so's time. (Not that we'll notice - we'll all be glued to the World Cup, out of our heads on top-quality Belgian beer and bloated to the gills with deep-fried pigs' nostrils in crispy batter.) ea's games have generally survived the transmutation to the pc fairly well - yes, this was an ea game, even though Gremlin are publishing this version of it. How that will affect matters remains to be seen.

The Weapons

There are three types of weapon available to you in your quest to purge the sands of evil enemy scum: a gun, some powerful death-dealing missiles and some even more powerful deathdealing missiles. Caches of these weapons can be found dotted liberally around the landscape - well, liberally on the first level, anyway. Later, they become few and far between and a great deal of careful planning Is called for. Generally they're hidden in buildings which you have to destroy (carefully) before the goodies are revealed, but they can also be found under mounds of sand and beneath huge plies of belly-dancers' jewellery.

To shoot stuff, all you have to do is point the helicopter/chopper vaguely in the direction of the item you wish to flamb6 and push the button. Your allegedly intelligent co-pllot will then do his stuff: fine-tuning the aim to take out what he thinks you've taken a dislike to. (Some of the co-pilots are better than others - in fact, one of your later missions involves locating and winching up an ace co-pilot who's been shot down somewhere out in the hellish wastes with only a bottle of Evian and some Ambre Solaire SPF60 to keep him going.) Sometimes this aiming method didn't work as well as it might have on the Megadrive version, usually because of the Isometric view rather than the incompetence of your co-pilot, but we'll have to wait and see how it goes in this version.

Big Gun

It's a fairly powerful thing, your big gun, and it's more than capable of wrecking buildings if you have (a) the time, (b) the patience, (c) 8,000,000 bullets, and (d) no-one running up to you with a SAM in his back pocket.

Hydras

The less powerful of the two missile types available to you are all very well, but they don't really pack much of a wallop. They're best used for taking out light-armoured vehicles or ice cream vans. Their range seems to be about 30 yards to scale, so you'll find you have to get in closer to your intended victim than you'd like.

Hellfires

If missiles were Coronation Street characters, Hellfires would be Alf Roberts. They're that mean. Powerful and with a good range of fire, their only downside is that there aren't that many of them. You can only pick them up in batches of eight and just one rush of blood to the head later, they're gone. But, happily enough, so is the bloke who cut you up at the lights.

When A Psycho madman is threatening the world with nuclear terrorism, there's only one thing to do; fill an apache helicopter with as many missiles as you can and go on a Middle-Eastern shooting rampage. You could call Jack Bauer as well, but he wasn't around in 1994.

Chuck aside the horribly cliched plot and you've got yourself an action game with an unstoppable appeal to anyone with a pulse and a searing lust for destruction.

Cruising the gulf in your pimped-out chopper, you control your rocket-stocked beast from an isometric viewpoint, and go about your world-saving business picking up POWs with your winch and obliterating unsuspecting soldiers with your mounted machine guns.

Desert Strike was originally released for the Amiga and Mega Drive to great success, and was later ported to good old MS DOS in 1994. At the time, the game's isometric 2D graphics were top-draw, and we can remember being enthralled by the then-impressive sprite animation. Take a look at the game these days and you're more likely to reach for the sick bag than gasp in amazement - but blowing up stuff with a helicopter thankfully hasn't gone out of fashion.

The Strike series spawned a number of sequels including Jungle Strike (which takes place in, er, the jungle), Urban Strike and ignored series relatives Nuclear and Soviet Strike. Despite the popularity of the series back in the days of old, there are currently no plans for a Starsky & Hutch-style revival, so get used to your DOS prompts.

The handheld Desert Strike has almost everything that made the original title great.

You pilot an AH-64 Super Apache chopper through three tough desert campaigns. Armed with guns and missiles, you must rescue POWs and destroy Scud launchers. Unfortunately, inefficient controls make it sometimes difficult to position your chopper and fire accurately.

Commendable graphics and clear sounds give this game all the realism it can squeeze out of two megs. Gunfire and explosions are just a few of the sound effects that add life to each tough mission.

Strike fans and gamers who enjoy challenging action/shoot-ers should climb into this Apache's cockpit. You'll be piloting one of the better Game Boy carts around.

ProTips:

  • Blow away everything In sight to find power-ups.
  • Beware of heavily guarded areas. This version gives no "Danger Zone" warning.

There's a ruthless terrorist in the Middle East, and the President has tapped you to fly the attack copter mission to obliterate his military arsenal. You'll fly more than 20 fiery missions via a behind-the-copter view. The Genesis version of Desert Strike was very popular, inspiring an SNES version and an SNES sequel called Jungle Strike.

Just when you thought that desert madman was done terrorizing neighboring countries and threatening world peace, he's back on the Lynx. Should you choose to accept this mission? Probably.

Scorched-Earth Policy

Desert Strike is a good conversion of EA's Genesis and SIMES action war game. You pilot an attack chopper in an angled overhead-view environment and undertake four missions and numerous objectives to loosen the dictator's grip on the Persian Gulf. The action keeps you occupied as you try to rescue hostages, take out satellite stations, blow airports sky high, and generally wreak havoc on the enemy operation. It's extremely difficult to complete a mission, but fortunately passwords enable you to continue from the start of each mission.

Although your copter doesn't fly as smoothly as it could have, you grow accustomed to the stiff-at-first controls. Machine gun bullets, Hydra Missiles, and Hellfire Missiles are your arsenal. This game isn't just shoot-and-blast, as you must track your resources, such as ammo, shields, and fuel. A useful radar screen helps you locate your next target or supply dump.

The graphics have some fire. A surprising amount of detail from the 16-bit versions was retained, such as the tiny, annoying foot soldiers. The explosions are satisfying and you even put a crater in the ground when you take out something sizable. You probably won't suffer from too much eyestrain from this cart.

The sounds are also good. There's not much music, but the hum of your helicopter is well done. You even hear a winch cranking when the rescue ladder is lowered.

First Strike

Pick up Desert Strike if you like action, overhead flying, and war simulation. Even if the Lynx won't, you might survive a trip to the Desert.

ProTips:

  • In the first mission, start at the North quadrant, work your way South, then East, and then West.
  • Missile silos have longer striking range than your machine gun, but they can't "see" around some obstacles.

Snapshots and Media

GameBoy Screenshots

Atari Lynx Screenshots

PC Screenshots

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