Before EA Games became the publishing juggernaut most of us are familiar with today, they were known as Electronic Arts and developed a string of hit titles of previous consoles, most notably on the Sega Genesis. One such title was 'Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf', a helicopter combat game released in 1992 for the Sega Genesis (Sega Mega Drive). Players were pitted against a fictitious Middle Eastern warlord identified as 'Kilbaba', who aims to start World War III "or worse".
Players piloted a lone Apache helicopter, and the game was played from an isometric view. The chopper was armed with machine gun cannons, hydra missiles and hellfire missiles. Players are able to pursue mission objectives in any order, as well as find numerous secret missions and P.O.Ws throughout the levels.
One of the game's greatest strengths was its camera system, as it provided a realistic use of momentum which emulated the feeling of helicopter flight. The game's lead designer, Mike Posehn, was heavily inspired by 'Choplifter' and although he had no prior game designing experience, he was able to create the camera system as well as the in-game 3D models, which were fairly sophisticated for the time.
Desert Strike underwent a series of radical changes during its development process, some of which were minor and some were complete overhauls. The animation system, for one, was initially a lot smoother and brighter. Mike Posehn also wanted to omit certain traditional features and structures out of Desert Strike, such as end of level bosses, story-driven linear gameplay, and power-ups. Posehn also felt limited by the Sega Genesis' resolution and created large, detailed models for the game, and then shrank them down to size.
The finished game was unlike anything else on home consoles at the time, and critics raised its unique mix of challenge, strategy, brilliant sound and the overall quality of gameplay. Even after all these years, firing up Desert Strike in my Sega Genesis has me addicted all over again. The fun of completing mission objectives, rescuing P.O.Ws, winching up supplies and finding new co-pilots that add new perks is something that is still entertaining now.
Desert Strike went on to spawn four sequels in 'Jungle Strike', 'Urban Strike', 'Soviet Strike' and 'Nuclear Strike'. All the sequels were successful and entertaining, but couldn't much the impact and initial fun of the original, which, when it was released, was Electronic Arts' bestselling game. If you haven't played Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, give it a go, it's still a fun and challenging experience today, and easily one of the Sega Genesis' best games.
Written by Nick Getley