Thursday, 15 February 2018
SNES Review 139: Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
It is funny how you sometimes consider a game to be a SNES game or a Megadrive game or a playstation game not because it was exclusive to that machine but because thats just the machine you most associate with it. For me Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf was always a Megadrive game, I owned a SNES and an Amiga at the same time as I had my Megadrive but back in the day I never even realized you could get Desert Strike on anything other than the MegaDrive. Desert Stike came into my life because of one of my brothers, he brought it home one day and began playing it, at first I just watched him but eventually I started having a go at it myself. I have to admit that other than Thunderblade I hadn't actually played many games were you controlled a helicopter at least not any that automatically spring to mind so this made it stand out. In fact helicopters were not something I had thought about much at all with my only real exposure to them being airwolf and Howling mad Murdoch flying one in the A team.
So Desert Strike is a military themed shoot 'em up released by Electronic Arts in 1992 originally for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis I think my brother must have gotten it pretty soon after its release because of my strong association between the game and this format. The truth of the matter though is that the game made it to all kinds of formats obviously the SNES as I am talking about it here, but it also made it to the , Amiga, MS-DOS, Mac OS, the Master System, the Lynx, the Game Gear, and the Game Boy.
The game is clearly inspired by the Gulf War and depicts a conflict between an insane Middle Eastern dictator, who despite having a made up name is obviously a stand in for Saddam Hussein and the United States. The game came out after the gulf War had ended but there is a certain degree to which this game kind of has an America F*** Yeah propaganda sort of feel to it and there actually was some small degree of controversy regarding the game's subject matter back in the day with some people criticizing it saying it was a little bit distasteful with its release being so close to the end of the Gulf War. Looking at it now and thinking of the context of it all sort of makes me think of Team America but still even noting this as insensitive as it might seem of me I personally don't really care if the game is semi based on reality if its a fun game thats enough for me. As far as plot goes it doesn't extend much beyond where the good guys and we are going to stop a nut case dictator by destroying his weapons but really for this sort of game what more do you need?
OK so when your playing Desert Strike you control an AH-64 Apache helicopter and ''if there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that nothing is more powerful than an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns AND missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine.'' to paraphrase Patrick Stewart. Well you use this absolute death machine to go on missions which involve all manner of objectives such as destroying enemy weapons and installations, rescuing hostages and capture enemy personnel. While doing this you need to be mindful of your ammunition it is possible to run out of both shells for your cannons and rockets but you can find more and pick them up. When I described this as a shoot em up it might have brought all kinds of ideas to the brain of someone who has not played it, usually shoot em ups are fast and your either going up the screen or left to right but Desert Strike is not like this at all. There is less emphasis on quick moving and more on strategy. The action takes place on open, multi-directional scrolling levels viewed from an isometric perspective, your not forced to keep moving you can go towards enemies at your own pace and you can back up, strafe and even retreat, this makes it have more of a thinking edge to it. Do you fly in all weapons blazing or slowly strafe towards a target or even decide your not ready and go seeking extra missiles and ammo?
As previously mentioned the levels in the game consist of several missions, which are based around the destruction of enemy weapons and/or enemy installations, rescuing POWs, or capturing enemies. How you do this though is where your grey matter comes into the equation, you need to look at the map work out the direction you need to go in and then meet whatever enemies you find with the appropriate response, obviously you could fire a hydra missile at a stick man holding a pistol but then what are you going to do when you have used all of your missiles and your stuck trying to knock out an anti air missile defense with a low powered machine gun most likely your going to die. So given this some of the strategy comes in knowing which weapon to use when, which target to eliminate first, when to fight and when to run. Your Apache has a very limited amount of armor, which is depleted as the helicopter is hit by enemy fire, when the armor is gone well then its bang bye bye helicopter time. If this happens three times then its game over.You also have a finite amount of fuel which is steadily depleted over time. Should the fuel run out the Apache will crash, again bye bye helicopter. You can however refuel by collecting fuel barrels. This means that really you need to plan mission routes carefully in order to maximize fuel efficiency.so there is a lot of balancing you need to do making this more thought based than a lot of shooting games.
The game controls well if there is anything I would add it would be cross-hairs to show where your missiles and guns are pointing and likely to hit but I suppose this would lower the challenge really. The game is fairly short but is pretty high on challenge its not one for those who are easily frustrated due to the fact if you just go in guns blazing your armor is pretty shoddy and you'll soon find yourself facing a game over screen, slow and steady wins the race here. Its also not the best game for re-playability as once you have it done and dusted your probably not going to pick it up again for quiet a long time as outside of the main game theres nothing to help prolong your time with it (no multiplayer or score attack or anything). The graphics are simple but functional, everything looks as it should even if its not overly flashy. It all sort of looks like highly accurate military toys which is kind of cool. The same can be said for the sound its all very functional, you have your helicopter noise your missile and machine gun noises your crashing noise but if you want music then your sadly out of look as the game simply doesn't have any. I know music would potentially hurt the realism but I would have personally liked the option.
So what do I think of Desert Strike overall? I think its a pretty darn good game really, I wouldn't call it perfect and I do have some issues with it but for me I would call it a 7 out of 10. I did grab my megadrive version and have a quick go on it and maybe its just me but it actually seemed a little bit better on there, having checked though apparently the main developer much prefers the megadrive version so if you have both machines id look to the megadrive in this case. I spent £5 on an American SNES cart of this game and having a look the going rate seems to be around £10 for either a Pal or NTSC cart with boxed copies being more between the £25 to £35 price range, obviously these prices vary but this gives you a rough idea of what to expect.