Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf is a classic helicopter action game, developed and published by Electronic Arts for the Sega Megadrive in 1992.
It is known for its easy-to-play but hard-to-master gameplay, and for its controversial ‘Gulf War’ storyline.
The storyline in Desert Strike walks a tightrope between satire and propaganda. On the one hand the ‘terrorists’ are racist stereotypes, but on the other hand they are a parody of real life. So you have to compartmentalise the BS to enjoy this game.
And Desert Strike is a very enjoyable game, so it’s worth playing, in spite of the BS.
For starters: the chopper feels really nice to control and the developers have done a good job of positioning the aircraft on-screen, depending on which direction you’re facing.
The aim in each of the five different levels is to fly out and destroy a series of objectives, but to do them in list order, otherwise you might struggle.
You have three different weapons – a standard front-mounted machine gun, more powerful Hydra rockets, and the even more deadly Hellfire missiles. The number of Hydras and Hellfires you can carry is limited, but you can re-arm yourself during a mission by flying over an ammo crate and picking it up with your hook.
The same thing can be done on rescue missions. Fly over a POW or a spy and a small rope ladder will automatically drop down, allowing your passengers to clamber aboard. You have to remember to return any rescues back to a landing zone as soon as you can, though, because if you’re shot down with passengers on board you will permanently lose them.
Desert Strike is a solid challenge and has stood the test of time very well. It still feels very good to play now and a lot of that is down to how the developers have refined the controls, and the way the screen scrolls around the helicopter. It’s subtle, but it’s clever. In fact: the way the chopper controls, and the way the weapons work, survived through the entire Strike series. The first sequel, Jungle Strike, came out in 1993, and the second sequel, Urban Strike, came out in 1994.