Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf

I want to see my children grown, but your plans might cause the end of all the world.

Back in the day, I remember playing - maybe even owning - Soviet Strike for the PlayStation, an Apache helicopter'em up where you were a one-chopper special forces unit destroying everything from the sky.

Truth be told, I've seen a few videos of that for the sake of nostalgia and I appear to remember more about the intro video and voice acting than I do about the actual game, but that's memory for you, and we're not even talking about Soviet Strike here.

No, we're talking about the game that had to come out before Soviet Strike could even be conceived, Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, and I have a feeling it's going to be good.

Or good enough. I'm not sure really. Maybe I just have feelings for attack helicopters...


Found on a few consoles of the time, I fired up the SNES version of Desert Strike hoping it'd offer a control scheme that I'm a bit more used to, as opposed to that of the Sega Mega Drive original. In the end, it didn't matter which version I was playing, as I didn't often get the job done.

There are two reasons for this, really, but they're such good reasons that they took me away from the screenshot shortcut, so good luck following along.

Fun Times

The first reason for me not having a hope in hell of getting anywhere in one piece is the control scheme, which is realistic (not that I've flown an attack helicopter to know that). Momentum and positioning and all that evoke games like Choplifter, and if you struggled with that, well, Desert Strike is in 3D, so you can only imagine where your incorrect inputs will take you.

My manoeuvring wasn't pretty to look at, especially at first, and I may have switched up the control scheme to an easier one in order to allow me to enjoy the game by feeling at least somewhat competent, but it absolutely felt like gliding a helicopter across the barren deserts of a fictional country in the Middle East. It's remarkable, if a little slow maybe.

You won't see any of that in this post, though - too busy to screenshot and all that - but I urge you to go and check it out in motion because coupled with the realistic physics of your helicopter is a gently swooping camera with physics of its own, and those two combined make for a great experience of flight.

But what is that experience? That's the second reason why I wasn't too successful - Desert Strike is a sort of open world type of game, where, once free to engage your targets, you are able to go anywhere you please, doing anything you like in an attempt to get the job done.

Each level switches up the tasks for you to do, which involve knocking out the enemy radar, rescuing prisoners and so on, before your final or overall mission for the stage kicks in, something like rescuing a VIP - a militarily important one, not just a celebrity.

While you're advised to tackle these tasks in order, you can do them however you want, and flying over the vast map will see you bumping into structures that relate to different tasks. Structures that usually have some sort of defence that requires dealing with.

Destroying targets, be they soldiers, anti-tank missile launchers, vehicles or buildings, requires you to manage two different supplies, fuel and ammo. You don't want to run out of either, as wasting powerful rockets through either missing or wasting them on weaker targets means you'll be left to destroy something with just your chain gun, and it's going to take a while - hopefully your fuel won't have depleted by then.

There are opportunities to resupply, where you can drop a winch and pick up crates, barrels and prisoners, but it pays to clear the screen of threats before you become a sitting duck, hovering over a few barrels until you manage to hook on, the control scheme causing you to flop and wobble because you're still not used to it yet.

If you manage to make it out of the area alive, preferably with some rescued prisoners and a large path of destruction behind you, you'll get a nice high score to take with you into the next stage, where you'll be doing more of the same on a different map.

Final Word

It is a little repetitive, but Desert Strike must be played. Play it because of those controls, play it to see the bordering-on-absurd introduction, play it to remind yourself of Soviet Strike and then wonder which of the two is actually the better game, it doesn't matter, just give it a shot.

There aren't too many differences between the SNES and Sega Mega Drive versions, at least not that I noticed, but you'll have your preference. The sound on the Mega Drive is a bit bleh in my opinion, but that's nowhere near enough of a reason to avoid it.

If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to be an attack helicopter, Desert Strike might just have what you're looking for.

Fun Facts

The games sandbox format was supposedly nicknamed 'SNAFU'. As in 'SNAFU'.

Desert Strike, developed by Electronic Arts, first released in 1992.
Version played: SNES, 1992, via emulation.
Sega Mega Drive, 1992, via emulation.
Version watched: Sega Mega Drive, 1992 (EightBitHD)