Now Available On: PSP (as part of the EA Replay Collection)
Modern military simulations are about as close as most people would want to get to the frontline, but there was a time when they were more humble affairs. Electronic Arts' 1992 Mega Drive hit Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf may not look like much alongside Battlefield 3, but it was about as realistic as console warfare got back then.
Desert Strike was a Choplifter-inspired shoot 'em up in which the player took control of a lone Apache helicopter. Lead designer Mike Posehn had no prior video game experience, but he did possess a PhD in mechanical engineering, giving him a strong grasp of vehicular physics.
Thanks to what was a sophisticated camera system at the time, the game mimicked realistic helicopter movement and handling, and used 3D modelling to create impressive vehicle sprites influenced by Matchbox toys.
Dubious Gulf War comparisons aside, Desert Strike was a refreshingly tactical take on the shooter formula. Action took place from the isometric perspective, placing the player outside of the cockpit. Gameplay was mission-based, and non-linear to a degree. Players were required to take out military targets, rescue hostages, and capture enemy personnel, while keeping a close eye on their fuel and ammo supply. As both were finite, it was important to map out your route carefully, ensuring there were fuel barrels and ammo crates to pick up along the way.
The original version of the game was to include cinematic cut scenes and slightly different gameplay. A karma system would have punished players for taking out targets that damaged international relations, and missions were to be entirely non-linear. The original control scheme was poorly received during development, and Posehn was forced to alter it in order for production to continue.
A direct sequel, Jungle Strike, was released for multiple formats in 1993. This was followed by Urban Strike, Soviet Strike and Nuclear Strike in the years following. A sixth title in the series was announced in the late 1990s under the working title Future Strike. The game was eventually modified and released as Future Cop: LAPD, a third-person shooter bearing no relation to the franchise.
Desert Strike remains an intriguing piece of gaming history. The tactical gameplay still poses a challenge today, and it's aged better than many games of its generation. Posehn's opus and its sequel Jungle Strike are prime candidates for rerelease via the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live and Virtual Console. Isn't it about time they were readily available once more?
Do you have any fond memories of Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf? Write a comment below.