Conflict: Desert Storm Review

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Publisher: Gotham Games (Take-Two Interactive)
Developer: Pivotal Games

Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC
Reviewed on GameCube

Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990. The following winter, international forces drove Iraqi troops out of the wealthy but small nation of Kuwait in an effort dubbed Desert Storm. Take on the role of U.S. or U.K. special forces to perform critical operations, ranging from saving the Emir of Kuwait to freeing allied prisoners of war to eliminating Iraqi SCUD launchers before they can bombard Israel. As part of the SAS or Delta Force, you lead a four-man team into action based on the most dangerous and important phases of Desert Storm.

Kyle Ackerman

The market is thoroughly glutted with first and third person shooters based on World War II. Fortunately, a few developers have expanded into other conflicts. Pivotal Games has created a squad-based tactical shooter set in the Gulf War of the early 90s, code named Desert Storm. Conflict: Desert Storm lets you be a hero of the Gulf War – if you can get beyond the frustration inherent in some missions.

Expel Iraq in Fifteen Missions

The bulk of the game is Conflict: Desert Storm's campaign with fifteen missions covering the entire span of the war. Each of the missions has multiple objectives, such as eliminating all the anti-aircraft defenses in a region, clearing a road for tanks or demolishing a communications signal booster. If you use the kind of caution you might need in a real life-or-death combat situation, missions can take more than an hour. Even if you attempt to rush your squad through enemy fire, the pace of the game is slow and deliberate. Many of the levels are in desert canyons, replete with sharp cliffs and rocky outcroppings, although several explore urban conflict in cities affected by the war. These regions are typically large, and can take a long time to traverse, by foot or vehicle.

The size and duration of missions is one of Conflict: Desert Storm's biggest problems. The developers went to the trouble of implementing a save anywhere function, and then decided to taunt players by limiting its use. You can only save twice in a given mission. Given that missions can take more than an hour, two saves is hardly enough. Limiting saves also encourages the player to get as far as possible within a mission – that way, when you lose your entire squad and have to restart the mission, it takes that much longer to recreate your progress.

The concept of your troops going MIA is an interesting dynamic designed to offset the lack of saves. Wound a soldier badly enough and he collapses, wounded, unable to act until he is treated by another soldier with a medikit. As long as you have a soldier standing and medikits to spare, your squad can go on. For many of the middle missions, the ability to save a wounded soldier is enough, and you don't need the save function. Unfortunately, in the first mission, when you are just learning the controls and the game systems, you are alone until you can rescue a sharpshooter from captivity, so if you are wounded, you have to restart. Also, in late missions, your entire squad might stumble into a killing ground, such as the vast open field in the “Cavalry Charge" mission where your whole squad can be eliminated by tanks while trying to heal a fallen comrade. The ability to save at will would make the game less frustrating and more entertaining.

The missions are the same no matter which elite squad you choose, but the teams have different skills. In Conflict: Desert Storm, The U.S. Delta Force has stronger combat skills, while every member of the SAS squad has basic medic skills. This reviewer found that difference made the SAS a little easier to play. As the missions don't change based on your choice of squad, the only noticeable difference between the two Special Forces is in their accents. Your missions won't change, but the voices for your briefing and squad banter will.

Four Men – One Controller

The most frustrating aspects of the game arise from incomplete control of your squad as you change from controlling one soldier to controlling another, and from trying to command your squad in the heat of combat. Your Special Forces squad works as a tightly-knit, if often frustrating, unit – the soldiers follow orders, shout to identify targets, and quickly eliminate threats. With the full team together, against infantry at close or medium range, it can be hard to get a shot off before your companions eliminate the problem. At the same time, your squad has trouble with distant threats and vehicles. Your sniper may sit and take machine gun fire from a far away enemy, and yet not shoot back. Your heavy weapons specialist may choose not to fire a rocket at a tank, or deplete his munitions firing a series of rockets into a hillside near the tank. You can often control your team, one at a time, in order to eliminate threats the squad AI can't cope with, except when your team has to operate a vehicle. Different personnel drive, man the machine-gun, and operate the rocket launcher. Since you need the rocket launcher to take out enemy vehicles, but the AI has a little trouble firing rockets, you need to park in the line of fire, take control of the gunner, aim and fire. By then, you've been taken out by a tank's main gun.

Fortunately, your enemies aren't any brighter than your squadmates. You can easily set up a killing zone, and infantry will continue to run into your field of fire, mown down as they arrive. They sometimes even help accomplish your objective. An Iraqi tank destroyed an Iraqi SCUD launcher while trying to eliminate a sniper with its main gun.

To help your squad, you can issue detailed commands. Ordering soldiers to follow you or go prone are obvious commands, but you can also have them go to a specific location and cover a particular direction. That incredible flexibility is unfortunately offset by the awkward and complex series of buttons that need to be pressed. Conflict: Desert Storm has a Training Camp mode to orient you to the controls and actions you can take in-game, but you may still find your squad leader shot before you can direct all three other members of the team. This complexity makes it even harder to avoid having one of your team setting off the alarms that are all too common.

The desert setting, along with a few war-torn urban areas, provides an environment largely brown and barren. The graphics are good enough to give a sense of place, but aren't up to the standard set by the most recent console titles. Hills are a set of jagged shapes, and characters are blocky. There are some nice details, such as goats, civilians that run in terror from gunfire, and even cruise missiles streaming overhead. At the same time, many of the levels are very dark, and the green tinged night vision doesn't add enough contrast to help distinguish foe from (palm) frond. Sometimes infantry will even respawn in plain sight, popping out of thin air at inconvenient times.

Friends in the Desert

You can play the entire campaign in multiplayer mode. With two humans operating characters, missions become interesting challenges – even those that were previously a frustrating gauntlet. Vehicle missions become easy, and two soldiers can leapfrog effectively from one cover to another, with the rest of the squad tagging along behind. The only real issues with multiplayer are that the screen is split vertically (horizontally would work far better), and that one player sits out most of the first mission in a prison cell, just like the computer squadmate does in the single-player campaign.

Conflict: Desert Storm has a lot of entertaining moments, and the middle missions of the game are particularly enjoyable. That said, the first mission and late missions can be very off-putting given the lack of saves and AI issues. If you can find a friend to play through the campaign with you, the game may be a worthwhile title to have on your shelf – otherwise, consider renting the Conflict: Desert Storm to see if you get overly frustrated by the desert combat.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 13, 2003 6:39 PM.

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