Retro Review: Desert Strike

We first spotted TSA user LiquescentShadow running his retro reviews a while back (this is his third, the first two can be found here) and at the time we thought it would be nice to see how they go over in our forums and try to work out a way to incorporate them into our offerings on the main site. With the introduction of our Guest Writer features we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to get them out. So we asked him nicely and he has kindly agreed to let us throw some custom TSA graphics at his reviews and put them on our front page. This will be a semi-regular feature that we run on a Sunday afternoon because nostalgia seems to be what Sundays are for.


Game Reviewed: Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf

Reviewed Platform: Sega Mega Drive

Release Year: 1992


As the pilot of an Apache attack helicopter, you must complete a series of missions to take out Dictator Kilbaba and the army that he has amassed before he initiates World War 3. Sound familiar?


If you think that this game is just a straight-up shooter, you’d be wrong – there is a strong emphasis on strategy and going into battle ‘all guns blazing’ will normally result in your demise. In each mission there are a set number of tasks that need performing; some visible right away, others given to you on-the-fly, which need to be completed in order to succeed in the mission. You’ll find yourself destroying a whole host enemy installations and weapons – you can destroy radar stations, airfields and command centres in the first mission alone. Whilst these can be performed in any order, doing them in a specific order gives you a tactical advantage, which is a huge help. Doing something wrong (destroying necessary installations etc) usually means a mission failure, at which point you are instructed to head back to the frigate. Thankfully, missions restarts due to this aren’t common and so won’t hinder your playthrough. Each level is effectively a mini sandbox, which you can travel through as you wish in any direction from the game’s isometric viewpoint. Your helicopter is responsive and easily maneuverable, although sometimes it’s a bit tricky to line up the helicopter with whatever it is that you need to destroy. Once you’re good, you’ll run rings around enemies whilst you pummel them with machine guns, hydra rockets and the devastating hellfire missiles.

Now, the tactical element. Nearly everything in Desert Strike is controlled and limited. Helicopter fuel, armour and weapons each are finite and depleted over the course of a mission. Thankfully, fuel drums and weapon crates are strewn across the map, some in plain sight and others hidden in objects that need to be destroyed to reveal the contents. Don’t worry about finding them, though, as the pause menu gives you all the information you need to know. You can see how much fuel, armour and ammo you have, locations of mission critical installations, items, friendlies and enemies. This allows you to plan your attack effectively and sort your priorities – you may be within range of a target but running out of fuel and ammo, so you can easily open the map and check the nearest item locations should you need to break from the attack to replenish your supplies. Items and people can be picked up with your winch – if you manage to pick up a friendly and drop him at the landing zone, your armour will be increased. Either running out of fuel or armour will cause your helicopter to crash, losing you a life. When all lives are lost you will need to restart the mission. The missions all follow the same basic structure, but there’s enough variety to keep you entertained.


Graphically, this game is quite good. The viewpoint makes a welcome change from the sidescrolling shoot ’em ups which were heavily present in the era. Explosions look nice with some good fire effects, giving you a good sense that your weapons (especially those hellfires) are serious toys with a substantial destructive force behind them. All the vehicles are nicely detailed, although these (as well as the explosions) suffer from some noticeably jerky animations at times.


The game sound is a bit below average. I can’t say that anything is particularly bad, but nothing stands out. As far as the audio is concerned the most exciting part is the opening sequence (which has an audio style very similar to the game Road Rash), and after that it’s pretty boring. There’s no in-game music, so the only things you’ll be hearing are the chopper blades, the weapons firing (which all sound different, there’s even a noticeable difference between the whoosh of a hydra and hellfire) and the warning sounds when you’re low on fuel.


Desert Strike is a good strategy game, and although it starts out relatively easy you’ll soon find that you may have to invest a good few hours before you can make significant progress. Once you’ve got to grips with it, it’s a real joy to play.