Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf logo Gamer Gold

Take control of a big chopper in this Gulf War arcade simulation. Saddam Hussein and Stormin' Norman are not included...

Electronic Arts are back and this time they're bringing out the big guns. Gary Roberts, the guy responsible for the conversion of John Madden's Football to the Amiga has been beavering away in a dark dungeon to bring you Desert Strike.

A massive hit on the Mega Drive, I can already guarantee Desert Strike is going to take the Amiga games world by storm. How can I be so sure of this fact? Well, it's just simply brilliant. I could quite literally enthuse about it all day. For starters, I'm probably biased because it's my favourite game on the Megadrive, but now it's out on the Amiga and I can safely stick little brother's Mega Drive in the cupbaord. Desert Strike is excellent, the best thing since sliced bread, the best, the tops, the best game in the universe. Sllllaaapp. Phew, I flipped out there for a second.

Right, I'll start the review properly now, it's just one of things I had to get out of my system. I'll ask a question. "What particular subject makes a good computer game?" It's easy. The answer is war. Death and destruction is what the kids want. Everyone loves a good war game. Kill some foreigners and then go and have your tea and go to bed. It's just a bit of fun isn't it? It's recently been reported that violent computer games influence how kids behave and react. Personally I think it's all a load of rubbish. The thing that influences kids to do what they do is real life.

They see wars between nations, they see people stealing cars and property, people taking and selling drugs, violence on the streets and racism and sexism among a whole list of other things I could mention. Kids want to act like adults. This is the example being set to them by others. How do they see all this that is corrupting the world? It's easy - they only have to watch the news on television or read a newspaper. Computer games are just a scapegoat, so that people don't have to accept the truth about the world we live in.

Oh I was getting a bit serious there wasn't I? What was I talking about? Err, I remember it was Desert Strike. Desert Strike is about a return to the Gulf. Without warning a madman has made himself leader and threatened to start Armageddon.
The madman calls himself General Kilbaba and looks nothing like Saddam, honest! Very little is known about him, although he has been known to watch Les Dennis on Family Fortunes and laugh. As I said before, completely and utterly hat-stand. One thing our brave government knows is that loonies and missiles just do not mix. You play the part of an American Apache pilot and because the President doesn't want to cause a fuss, he sends just you (and co-pilot) into the warzone to complete a set number of missions.

The missions vary from blowing up radar sites to rescuing POWs from their camps and even though not strictly a mission, you can play such fun games as exploding camels. Each level, of which there are four, consists of between six to eight of these missions.

Desert Strike is a very hard game, not too hard that you can't get anywhere, but hard enough to keep you entertained. For example, after a few days I managed to complete the first level and by this time I'm getting quite proficient at playing it, but it still took me 40 minutes to do it. Thankfully, there is a password system otherwise it'd take you ages to complete.

As you can see from the screenshots, the view is very different to what you'd normally expect from a chopper game. Instead of being inside the Apache you actually control it from the outside. It's very similar to those 3D isometric games but far better. It's also very easy to control. It works best in joystick mode because you get a better feeling of actually being there.

The Apache houses three different types of weapons. The cannon is used to blow up enemy soldiers and features in comedy duo with Bobby Ball. The Hydras are used for almost everything else except the big buildings. The Hellfires are particularly impressive and can be used to blow up anything big or if you're a sadist you can use them to obliterate helpless enemy soldiers. You can flick between the weapons via quick stab of the space-bar.

One of the most important features when playing Desert Strike is the map option. You use the map to call up information on campaign targets. The map also tells you where the fuel, ammo, MIAs and targets are and keeps a careful check on where the enemy is.

Keeping a eye on how much fuel and ammo you've got is essential if you want to be any good at Desert Strike - although I have to hold my hands up and say when in the midst of battle I did forget about little things such as fuel, and died.
Be careful - the passion to kill the enemy might overcome you and it will be the start of your downfall.

The big question on my lips is: "Is Desert Strike as good on the Amiga s it is on the Mega Drive?". The answer is that it is actually better. The graphics have been improved. The Amiga's 64 colour half-brite mode has been utilised and the game features realistic graphics including shadows and smoke. The sound is a massive improvement on the Mega Drive's lacklustre attempt. Desert Strike features sound effects taken from actual Apache manoeuvres. The sound is also directional and in 3D.

What this means is, for instance, if you see a tank in the distance, as you approach it the sound gets louder and more defined. The music itself is absolutely incredible. The introduction music is adorned with some of the funkiest sounds you're ever likely to hear on your Amiga and is full of James Brown samples. The music when you complete the level is also amazing and, in the style of the 70s music revival that's happening at the moment, features some excellent "wakka wakka waw" guitar music. It's the best music I've heard since Thrash Pig which starred in Core Design's Jaguar XJ220.

The playability is almost faultless. I say almost because at times for some unknown reason the game slows down. But this doesn't happen too often, but I thought I'd better mention it. It's certainly not a reason to not buy the game. It's very addictive and I can tell you this with some certainty because everyone in the Gamer office keeps on playing the damn thing and I can't get anywhere near the Amiga.

Desert Strike has always been one of my favourite games and it's nice to see that EA haven't made a mess of the conversion and actually improved the game. It just goes to show that these consoles aren't everything they're cracked up to be and the Amiga can compete with them. Desert Strike is probably Electronic Arts' finest moment since Populous. You already know how I feel about the game, so what on earth are you waiting for? Go and get it and be enlightened. Just deserts!

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf logo

You've all seen the war on TV, and now it's your chance to Return to the Gulf. But be careful not to get sand kicked in your face.

Somewhere in the depths of the Middle East, a madman by the name of General Kilbaba has taken over a rich Rab Emirate and is planning to end the world by killing us all with a nasty cocktail of nuclear and chemical weapons. In true John Wayne fashion, Mr President (of the good ole USA - where else?) has decided to send in you and your trusty Apache helicopter to sort out the situation and hopefully avert Armageddon.

Sounds familiar? You'd not be wrong to say that this game has been influenced by a certain military operation that happened a couple of years ago in a country not a million miles away from Saudi Arabia.

This time it's just you against the mighty of the Iraqi - sorry, not Iraqui, - I mean General Kilbaba's terrorist army. You're in an Apache attack helicopter, while the enemy has soldiers armed with AK47s, anti-aircraft missiles, gunboats, helicopters and tanks.

Arabs with attitude
An excellent intro sequence takes you into the game, with some nicely drawn animations, and a good rave-type soundtrack. Quite what this has got to do with battles in the desert I don't know, but it's rather good anyway.

The game is broken up into several missions, which are then split into several tasks, such as destroying an airfield. Completing one mission gives you the password to start the next one. There's no way that you'll be able to complete the mission on the stocks of fuel and weapons that you start out with, but fortunately, the enemy have been considerate enough to leave some lying around.

A number of your soldiers are wandering around in enemy territory. They shout 'Over here!' very loudly when you spot them. Picking them up and dropping them back at the coastal landing site helps to replace the armour chipped away by enemy fire.

You control your helicopter with the joystick and keyboard. As you'd expect, the joystick tilts the helicopter, moving you forwards or backwards, which takes a bit of time to get used to. The fire-button fires your chosen weapon, and the space-bar switches between the three available.

You spin me round
It's also possible to control the helicopter by using the keyboard or the mouse, but using this is nigh on impossible because you inevitably end up spinning all over the place. Pressing F10 puts you into the map screen, which shows your location and the various other targets awaiting your pleasure. The map also contains details of where you can find fuel and armaments, and where the Missing In Action (MIA) soldiers are located. You're supplied with information on each mission, and are given new objectives as you work through the missions.

Desert Strike runs in a 3D, isometric sort of viewpoint, which takes a bit of getting used to. Unfortunately, this means that objects sometimes disappear behind others, but this is only a small inconvenience. Steering the helicopter is something of an acquired habit, because it takes a bit of time to get used to the angle of view.

How sandy is my desert
There are plenty of sound effects, ranging from whirring rotor noises, loud explosions and your soldiers shouting "Over here!". These all add to the atmosphere, and there's always plenty going on. Unfortunately, it's too much at times, and occasionally one of the sounds doesn't work, or one is cut off in the middle. However, it's more of an irritation than a problem, especially if you're a fussy so and so like me.

The graphics are well drawn and smooth, although the background is a bit jittery, but because the helicopter is smoothly drawn, you're not likely to notice. The game runs in extra half-bright mode, which means that you can get realistic shadows, and extremely effective-looking explosions, although these sometimes seem to be in the wrong place.

Previous efforts at combining flight sims and shoot-em-ups have been less than successful, so it's great to see Electronic Arts pull off this tricky combination. Desert Strike has got more going for it than the average shoot-em-up and should appeal to those interested in strategy games. It also retains the excitement of blasting the enemy to dust.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Enemy anti-aircraft guns can be a pain in the fuselage.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Picking up your MIA's is a very kind thing to do, right.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Not, not a barrel of laughs but gallons of extra fuel.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Jeeps can't hit you, but you can blast the hell out of them.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Enemy soldier. Pick them off because they kill your MIAs.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
This Rapier can do a lot more damage than 'Metal Mickey'.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Tanks sort of move around a bit and they shoot you.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Armoured cars are slow, but extremely obstinate enemies.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Your enemy leaves boxes of weapons lying around. Great!

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf logo Amiga Joker Hit

Daß Spiele von Amiga aufs Mega Drive konvertiert werden, ist immer noch häufiger als der umgekehrte Fall - daß die Umsetzung aber auch noch das Original übertrifft, hat überhaupt Seltenheitswert. Gratulation an Electronic Arts!

Die Konsolenversion dieser actionreichen Kriegssimulation mit strategischen Spurenelementen war letztes Jahr einer der Knaller in den englischen Charts, bei uns wurde das Modul dagegen nie offiziell angeboten.

Im Gegensatz zur TV-Berichterstattung über den wirklichen Golfkrieg konnte man bei der digitalen Neuinszenierung nämlich sehr wohl sehen, wie eigene und gegnerische Soldaten im MG-Feuer umkommen...

Auf dem Amiga präsentiert man uns (vermutlich aus Rücksicht auf die Sittenwächter der BPS) nun ein inhaltlich etwas entscharftes, dafür aber technisch verbessertes Desert Strike mit mehr Landschaftsdetails, einer äußerst lebensnähen Gerauschkulisse, etwas Sprachausgabe sowie deutlich schöneren Titel- und Zwischenmusiken.

Was die nur leicht verfremdete Story angeht, erzählt das Intro vom größenwahnsinnigen Tyrann Kilbaba, der ein kleines, aber reiches arabisches Nachbarland erobern will. Das ruft natürlich die Weltpolizei Amerika auf den Plan, die den Untergang des erdölabhängigen Abendlandes verhindern will.

Die Verpflichtung von General Schwartzkopf war den Programmierem anscheinend zu teuer, also darf der Spieler in einen Apache-Kampfhubschrauber klettern und die Sache wieder ins Lot bringen.

Dafür werden im Hauptmenu zunächst mal die Arbeitsbedingungen festgelegt: Man kann den Begleitsound und die animierten Zwischensequenzen ein- oder ausschalten, den Steuerungsmodus (Joy, Maus, Tasten) festlegen und ein bereits erkämpftes Passwort eingeben.

Außerdem werden mehrere Copiloten mit S/W-Portrait und kurzem Steckbrief vorgestellt, deren Auswahl einen gewissen Einfluß darauf hat, wie akkurat nachher geballert wird.

Anschließend folgt eine Einsatzbesprechung mit kurzer Erläuterung der Details der anstehenden Mission. Sind die Kriegsvorbereitungen abgeschlossen, startet man von einem flugzeugträger, der vor der gegnerischen Küste ankert, hinüber aufs Festland.

Hier erwartet den Retter der freien Welt ein leicht schräg von oben gezeigtes und in alle Richtungen scrollendes Kampfgebiet. Es empfiehlt sich, zur besseren Orientierung erstmal die Übersichtskarte aufzurufen, die nicht nur die feindlichen Ziele (blinkend) anzeigt, sondern überhaupt einen wahren Schatz an Informationen bereit stellt.

Hier erfährt man, wie es um die Waffen-, Sprit- und Energievorrate des Helis bestellt ist und wie viele seiner ursprünglichen drei "Leben" noch übrig sind.

Außerdem kann man sich alle im Operationsgebiet herumlümmelnden Personen und Objekte auf der Karte zeigen lassen, von denen auch kurze Beschreibungen und "Gebrauchsanleitungen" vorhanden sind. Schließlich enthält der kluge Kartenscreen noch eine Auflistung sämtlicher Aufgaben dieser Mission mit Angabe der bereits erledigten.

Zurück aufs Ölfeld der Ehre: Der erste Auftrag der ersten Mission besteht im Eliminieren von zwei gut bewachten Radarstationen. Mit Rambo-Methoden ist jedoch kein Blumentopf zu gewinnen, überlegtes Vorgehen ist angesagt.

Ein Grund dafür sind die knapp bemessenen Spritvorrate, die es unumgänglich machen, regelmäßig Tankstopps einzuplanen, damit der Motor nicht in den Hungerstreik tritt.

Deshalb muß man seine Route so legen, daß der fliegende Indianer immer recht zeitig zu einem der Reservoirs mit Benzinfassern kommt, die er per Seilwinde an den Haken nimmt. Genauso kann man sich die (feindlichen) Waffenvorräte angeln, was ebenfalls überlebensnotwendig ist, weil sonst die Munition vielleicht gerade im entscheidenden Moment ausgeht.

Denn wie üblich hat man von den relativ unwichtigen MG-Patronen reichlich an Bord, während die leistungsfähigen Hydra- und Hellfire Raketen (mit Zielsuchfunktion) nur in geringen Stückzahlen vorhanden sind...

Sobald die Radarstationen erledigt sind, kommt das Kraftwerk dran, anschließend stehen zwei Flugplätze und das Kommandozentrum des Gegners auf der Abschußliste. Hat man auch den ganzen Krempel in Schutt und Asche gelegt, muß noch ein Agent befreit werden, dann ist die erste der insgesamt vier Missionen geschafft und man darf zurück zum Flugzeugtrager.

Nach diesem Schema geht's weiter, nur daß man später halt biologische und chemische Waffen fabriken, Scud-Stationen und dergleichen zerstört, durch geschickt gesprengte Locher einen Gefangnisausbruch ermöglicht oder UN-Inspektoren heimholt.

Theoretisch ist man dabei übrigens nicht an die vorgegebene Reihenfolge der einzelnen Aufgaben innerhalb einer Mission gebunden - praktisch sollte man sich schon daran halten, da die Geschichte sonst irrsinnig schwer wird.

Eine Ausnahme davon bilden lediglich die überall im Kampfgebiet verstreuten Kriegsgefangenen, die man jederzeit via Strickleiter retten kann und sollte, wofür sie sich mit Energiepunkten revanchieren, die den Schutzschild des Helikopters verbessern.

Wie eingangs erwähnt, hat sich Electronic Arts mit der Präsentation viel Mühe gegeben, das Ergebnis sind vier verschiedene, liebevoll mit kleinen Details ausgestattete und ziemlich flüssig scrollende Grafiklandschaften in bis zu 64 Farben, eine gelungene Sounduntermalung und die astreine Steuerung - den Maus-Kampf vielleicht mal ausgenommen.

Das alles gilt bereits fur den 500er, am A1200 lauft die Geschichte sogar noch etwas schneller und sanfter.

Aber das Aufregendste an Desert Strike ist und bleibt das Realo-Gameplay, an dessen erschreckende Faszination sich auch in der "braveren" Fassung nichts geändert hat. Ob er sich darauf einlassen will, muß wohl jeder Bildschirm-Pilot für sich selbst entscheiden. (C. Borgmeier)

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf logo

It's a hit on the Mega Drive and the SNES - and now it's even better on the Amiga. Heads up!

We at AMIGA POWER have regular in-house chart polls, the most popular currently being that for "Most-likely-to-turn-out-to-be--a-crazy-person-who-goes-on-a-rampage-round-the-office-with-a-gun". Mark has 'shot' straight to Number One after last month's disturbing Walker review, and is firmly entrenched in that position thanks to the photograph of him that decorates his 'Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Kill!' feature in this very issue. (Not to mention the 'Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Kill!' feature itself).

As for me, being the kind of person who gets upset during the more violent moments of Tom and Jerry, the rest of the team will agree that I'm pretty far down the chart. I might best be described as a supreme pacifist who finds all war stupid, all firearms completely superfluous to our existence as civilised human beings, and anyone who uses them completely mad.

Sure, I like the odd feature film portraying (fictional) extreme violence, and as a subject matter for games it's often essential, but in the real world it's a sin and a crime, and I believe that anyone caught using guns should be shot.

I'm not, then, the best person to review Desert Strike. Not because it's full of guns (if that was my criterion for avoiding games, I'd spend most of the time doing nothing and waiting for Lemmings 3 - Nobody Gets Hurt In This One, Honest). No, more because it's so frighteningly serious and realistic.

Take first the situation that you're placed in. It's set in the Middle East where, from out of the confusion of religious and racial conflict, a madman has emerged as the leader of his race. He intends to start Armageddon, and his name is General Kilbaba (an obvious derivation of 'Kills-Babies' in my opinion). This isn't like a pretend situation where you control a spaceship trying to defeat an evil empire of unpronouncables. This is, like, real, man. Something very similar to this happened just recently and may well happen again. When I was handed this game my bottom lip wobbled, tears welled up in my eyes and I had to suppress the urge to moan "We're all gonna die."

As I said, I wasn't on first consideration the best person to review it. But how wrong an impression that was. What an utterly fabulous and absorbing game. Not long after I'd loaded it up I was overheard by the others hissing "die verminous scum", in a manner not dissimilar to my worthy compatriot Mark 'Kill Kill Kill' Winstanley. What's happening to me?

Anyone caught using guns should be shot

Let's calm down and start at the beginning. One of the first things that strikes you (ha) about this game is that it's extremely professionally done. There's an incredible cinematic intro reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, and the accompanying music and sound effects really gear you up for the action. Similarly with the options screen, the whole thing is polished to a militaristic sheen. I wouldn't normally spend this much space on pre-game sequences but you'll know what I mean when you see it for yourself (and don't forget to turn the volume all the way up high - this could be the best sound on an Amiga yet!).

That's fine then, but we don't spend thirty quid for a good intro sequence do we? You want to hear what the game's like. If you don't already know, this has been acknowledged for some time as one of the best games on the Mega Drive, and the recent conversion to the SNES has proved a success too. We Amigans are the last to get it, but the good news is that it's the best version of the lot. The graphics have been improved, in particular the really meaty explosions that accompany your destruction of the enemy, and the sound is massively improved. Doesn't that make you feel good?

More importantly, though, everything about the gameplay that made the console versions a success has been retained here. You're piloting an Apache helicopter and you have to complete four campaigns, each consisting of various sub-missions. You have to complete the missions in a specified order - although nothing actually prevents you from doing them in any order you like, you will sustain more damage from attacks if you don't attempt them the way you're told to.

During the campaign you need to constantly keep your eyes on three important factors (But I've got only two eyes! - Ed): how much fuel you've got, how much ammunition and how much power your helicopter has. Fuel and ammunition can be found all over the area, sometimes under enemy hangars and tents which need destroying first.

It's the best version of the lot

Your ammo takes three forms - the canon, and Hydra and Hellfire missiles. The cannon is good for shooting down foot soldiers and anything that doesn't fire back, but when faced with Rapiers, anti-aircraft guns and suchlike then you need to resort to the more powerful missiles at your disposal. The Hellfires are awesome,but they're in short supply, so use them sparingly. Swapping between the weapons systems is done with the space bar, which can be a pain when you're trying a tricky manoeuvre and being shot on all sides by everything that General Kills-Babies can throw at you. But it does get easier with practice.

Your helicopter power is a measure of the amount of armour protecting it from enemy fire. The main way to recharge this is to pick up MIAs (friendly troops who are 'Missing In Action') and return them to one of the landing areas. The MIAs are meanwhile being shot up by foot soldiers, so if you miss any of them on a pass, the chances are they're not going to be around when you come back for them.

This idea of picking up MIAs to ensure your survival is a masterstroke for a number of reasons. First, it gives you another task to constantly come back to while you're trying to complete the main missions. Second, it's in your interests to take on randomly-scattered ground forces, or else they may end up killing your valuable MIAs and leaving you dangerously armour-free.

And this is what's so great about the game. Because it presents your objectives in a specific order, you might think that it's going to be an extremely linear strategic run-through with no variation in the gameplay when you have to start the game again. But you'd be wrong, because with all the other factors you have to bear in mind you never seem to play the same game twice. And once you've got through a campaign, you can always come back and try to do it without going for any more ammo, or other similar challenges.

The actual pace of the game is quite slow - there's no fast flying or Top-Fun-style acrobatics. The control system is a bit unusual but, once you're used to it, gives a tangible sense of realism. Not that I've any idea what it's like to fly a helicopter, but I imagine it's quite like this. Probably. Your gunship is always at the same height, which is actually pretty low, so low in fact that you occasionally bump into buildings and rocks that get in your way. It's quite a skill to pilot it effectively, but it's very satisfying when you do finally get better and start pulling off some cool manoeuvres. As you can see from the screen shots, it's all viewed from an isometric 3D perspective, which is unusual for this type of game.

But what is this type of game? It may look like a fairly standard war-themed shoot-'em-up (like, isn't it just, when all's said and done, Commando in a helicopter?), but when you play it you realise there's no other game quite like it. The strategic elements are enough to make it intriguing without causing immense boredom (my usual reaction to strategic elements in games), and the satisfaction of blowing up enemies in glorious technicolour has to be experienced for yourself.

As I said at the beginning of this review, before seeing this game I wasn't the type of person who'd get into a shoot-'em-up with the Gulf War as its theme. Now - well, just you trying getting me off it. It's got me completely hooked, and it's one of the few games that come in which gets everybody in the office looking over your shoulder saying things like "Can I have a go?" and "You didn't want to do that". I'm afraid there's only one thing for it - you're going to have to go out and buy this.


Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Anti-aircraft artillery. It's not very accurate but it does have a fast firing rate.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Surface-to-air missile launcher. Deadly accurate, so you'll need to be fast to outwit them.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Not much firepower here, but it does have wheels and can follow you around.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
These fire at you out of the water. Not too much of a problem, because there's not a lot of water in the desert.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
A rock hard tank. It takes a lot of hits and fires powerful shots rapidly. Avoid.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
A sort of crispy, bready substance that's often sprinkled on your soup in pos restaurants.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
With a bazooka, though. A couple of shots from him can bring you down, so pulp him.


Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
It's not doing much harm, but it's a good chance to get ina bit of target practice.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
They could contain innocent civilians, but in a war everyone becomes your enemy.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
A harmless truck, at that. A bit like those ones on the Waltons. You got it - it's history.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Not much of a problem in the sky - but wait, isn't that guy laughing at you? Kill him.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
A bit unfair this one. Tents can't really deflect bullets at all. Decide for yourself if it should go.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Again, a bit of a chance for some target practice. Plus, it's a lovely exlosion.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Not quite sure what that swirly thing does - best to bomb it!

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Well, it looks pretty abandoned, ut there might be some kids playing inside. Pow!

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf logo CU Amiga Screen Star

Dan's always wanted to get his hand on a big chopper, so when we gave him a copy of Electronic Arts' latest shoot'em up, he got all hot and bothered. One cold shower later and here's his review...

The original Megadrive version topped the charts for months on end, and it looks likely that the same will happen with the Amiga conversion. The programming team may have finishing it off (the lazy sods were supposed to finish it in time for last Christmas!), but the wait has definitely been worthwhile.

Most of the game's graphics have been completely redrawn or touched-up and the sound effects cranked up a notch or two. Extra frames of animation have been added to the main helicopter sprite, making it look much more realistic as it swoops about the sky, and the animated intro screens and overall presentation have been significantly improved. So much so, in fact, that the Amiga conversion is far superior to the Megadrive or SNES versions currently doing the rounds - so tell that to your smug console-owning friends!

Missions typically involve knocking out tracking sites, rescuing hostages, bombing runways, blowing up chemical weapons plants and shooting anything that moves. You've got a full complement of state-of-the-art weapons on-board, including a chain-gun for taking out ground troops and several laser-guided Hellfires capable of reducing the largest targets to a smouldering heap of rubble.

Unfortunately, you've only got a finite supply of ammo, so extra supplies have to be picked up from drop sites scattered around the map. The same also holds true for fuel, so frequent sorties have to be carried out to replenish supplies before the rotors fail and your 'copter crashes to the ground. Soaking up enemy fire isn't a good idea, either, as each hit significantly reduces the Apache's armour plating. Ground fire isn't too much of a problem, but heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles are capable of diminishing your armour at an alarming rate.

As you only have two 'copters in reserve, it's best not to be too gung-ho in your approach. Again, re-supplies can be picked up from special drop sites or by stealing enemy supplies.

Your co-pilot operates the gun- ship's targeting system and the winch for picking up supplies and ground troops. There's a choice of co-pilot at the start of each campaign - most are either good winchmen or expert shots, but rarely both. It's all a bit frustrating, especially when you're practically hovering above a target, watching your shots go wide of the mark.

Luckily, there is always one effective co-pilot available, it's just a question of finding out which one!

Another aid in your one-man war is the Apache's on-board computer, called into play by pressing F10 on the keyboard. From here, a detailed map of the mission area is displayed; this is useful for locating key installations, enemy gun emplacements, ammo dumps and fuel pick-ups. It also monitors fuel consumption, the number of missiles left and armour points - but why this information couldn't have been included on the main screen I don't know.

Status and mission windows give a breakdown of the campaign so far and detail the remaining targets.

The in-game action is viewed from an isometric, three-quarters top- down perspective and the screen scrolls in eight directions, panning out in front of the 'copter as it's guided across the desert terrain. It's possible to configure the controls so that either the joystick, mouse or keyboard can be used, although I found the mouse controls virtually unplayable.

The joystick is also a problem because the keyboard is needed to access the map screen and toggle between the three different weapons. This can be a bit of a distraction, especially when you're in the thick of things. Sega's joypad was much more effective, as everything could be accessed via its three buttons.

Graphically, the game looks a treat. Everything has been rendered in the Amiga's 64-colour extra half-brite mode and the battlefield atmosphere is enhanced further with huge palls of smoke drifting across the desert and burnt-out wrecks littering the area. Much of the game's military hardware has been redrawn and the weedy explosions of the original have also been ditched in favour of digitised effects that resemble mini-Hiroshimas.

Even the sound is top-notch, with sampled gunfire, monitor-shaking explosions, and the death screams of enemy troops heightening the on-screen action. The whirr of the 'copter's rotor blades speed up or slow down in sync with the craft's speed and an on-board computer voice warns when supplies are getting low or if you're entering a designated danger zone. Best of all is the screeching launch of a Hellfire missile and the rattle of the chain gun as you wreak your vengeance on the enemy forces - they're some of the best samples I've heard in an Amiga game for quite a while.

But great graphics and sizzling samples don't necessarily guarantee a good game, as any Spectrum owner will quickly tell you. Fortunately, Desert Strike is simply amazing to play. Once you've started a campaign, you just won't want to stop. There's so much to do and each mission is refreshingly different from the last.

Once you've mastered the Apache's controls, this is real seat-of-the-pants stuff with hardly any let-up in the action. Most of the gameplay remains true to the Megadrive original, although some missions have been made a little harder or easier as a result of feedback from EA's playtesters. One important change, though, is the near indestructibility of your MIAs.

'Friendly fire' has become a bit of a contentious issue since the Americans managed to kill off more of their own troops than the Iraqi were capable of, so EA have decided to imbue your lost men with a near- kryptonite invulnerability. This means that no matter how many Hellfires you shoot into their midst, they'll still be left standing once the smoke has cleared.

Fortunately, some of the other characters in the game, such as a lost TV crew, are not so invulnerable and can be reduced to crispy cinders with a well-placed missile. That's definitely more like it!

Another quibble is the sheer stupidity of the opposition forces. If you position your gunship so that a target comes between you and an enemy gun emplacement, the idiots will launch a volley of shots in your direction and do the job for you. It's possible to sneak up on a target and stay just out of range of its guns while you pick it off - sometimes they're not even aware of your presence which seems a little crazy when you're blasting away with all guns blazing.

The only other complaint is the excessive number of shots it takes to dispose of some of the bigger installations. It's obvious padding to stretch out the action, but it isn't really necessary as there's tons to do anyway.

But I'm nit-picking really, as the game is probably the best blaster I've ever played on the Amiga. It's been programmed by Gary Roberts, the brains behind the excellent conversion of John Madden last year, and everything about it shouts class.

It's the little details that really make it stand out, such as the large number of fire-fights and the sand particles thrown up as a stream of bullets rip into the desert. Even when you've completed a campaign, there's still lots to do if you don't want to head back to base straight away. And there's always the incentive to keep on playing to improve your highscore.

The mix of low-level strategy and shoot 'em up action is a curious but successful combination. It might seem a chore to have to continually replenish the Apache's supplies in the heat of battle, but the game would be much duller if the strategy elements had been left out. In fact, the finished game has a special 'fire- and-forget' cheat which will give you unlimited ammo so you can play it as an out-and-out shoot 'em up.

All things considered, Desert Strike couldn't be a better game. The mix is just right, the action fast and frantic and the missions suitably varied to keep you coming back again and again. It's got the just-one-more-go appeal that so many of today's games seem to lack. Thoroughly recommended.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf

Dubbed the ugliest military helicopter ever built, the Apache AH-64A is also one of the most sophisticated battlefield helicopters of all time. Named in honour of the legendary Apache Indian warriors, it's equipped with a fearsome array of weapons, including a chain gun capable of pumping out 625 rounds per minute, conventional folding tin rockets and laser-guided Hellfire missiles with a range of 3.7 miles. Its two GE T700-701 turbo-shaft engines can generate 1,694 horsepower with a top cruise speed of l87mph. The Apache can also climb faster than most jet airliners and absorb a straight-down impact at 20 feet per second.

The airframe has been constructed to collapse in on itself, giving the crew a 95 percent chance of walking away from a crash at anything up to 42 feet per second - how they actually came up with this figure, though, is something I'd rather not find out.

Its twin engines are mounted more than six feet apart to minimise the chance of both being simultaneously damaged by enemy fire.
Another safety feature are the blast shields which separate the pilot and co-pilot. It one crew member is injured there's a good possibility that the other will remain unhurt and continue flying the craft. The exhaust system also incorporates three secondary nozzles that suck in cooling air which is mixed with the exhaust. This helps reduce the exhaust temperature by up to a half, thus minimising the engine's infra-red signature and making it virtually undetectable by heat-seeking guided missiles. Carrying enough fuel to keep airborne for 1.3 hours and able to cover 330 nautical miles, extra fuel tanks can be added so that the Apache is capable of crossing the Atlantic under its own power (without the need for mid-air refuelling!). The US Airforce now has 34 attack battalions of Apache helicopters with more than 614 'copters in service at any one time.

In the States, Desert Strike caused quite a storm (no pun intended) when it was originally released on the Megadrive. Many people felt it came just a little too soon after the end of the Gulf Warand there was even one celebrated incident of a group of American vets (ex-soldiers rather than budding James Herriot-types) burning a number of copies of the game to show their disgust. Whatever the moral implications of the game, it's slightly ironic that EA should have brought out a shoot 'em up based on Operation Desert Storm. After all, the Gulf War was nicknamed the 'Joystick Wars' because of all the hi-tech, remote-controlled hardware used to bomb the Iraqis into submission. In fact, one pilot returning from a bombing mission was quoted as saying the war was just like playing a video game, only this particular 'game' cost billions of dollars to take part in!
Your Apache comes equipped with three different types of weapon. The Chain Gun isn't very powerful, but fires rapidly and is great for taking out ground troops and unprotected buildings (although this might take a long time!). Hydra missiles form the second part of your 'copter's arsenal. These are fairly weak, but the Apache does carry 38 and they can prove effective in polishing off ground based targets such as anti-aircraft guns and mortar emplacements. Leaving the best until last, Hellfire missiles are the most devastating weapon in your armoury capable of taking out even the most well-protected enemy installations. Unfortunately, you're only equipped with eight at a time, so used them sparingly.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf: Statistics Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf: Map
By pressing F10, you can call up your on-board computer. This details essential information such as fuel and ammunition levels as well as mission breakdowns and a map of the campaign area.

As the US's top fly boy, you've been chosen to pilot a lone Apache 'copter in a series of covert operations against General Kilbaba's regime. Be careful out there!

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf: Campaign One It's Important to establish air superiority right away. Knock out the two radar sites first, otherwise the enemy's defences will be able to automatically track your chopper as it flies across the desert. Each site is guarded by a couple of AAA batteries. These can be picked off with your chain gun while you remain outside their range. Your next target is the power station. it's relatively undefended, but is heavily armoured. Don't be tempted to use your valuable Hellfires though - keep plugging away with the chain gun and it'll eventually explode in a huge fireball. Once that's taken care of, it's time to take on the heavily fortified airfields. There are two to take out and they're surrounded by Rapier SAM sites, AAA batteries, and a whole host of other such goodies.
Extreme caution is advised. Even when you've polished off most of the perimeter defences there are still the mobile rocket launchers to take care of as well as some suicidal foot soldiers who just won't quit until you've reduced them to a pile of cinders. Keep an eye on your fuel supplies as this part of the campaign is extremely time consuming and you'll probably have to refuel a couple of times during your raid. The command centres are also heavily defended with sentries and missile banks forming an outer ring around the complex. Once you've negotiated your way past that lot, the real heavy stuff is wheeled into play and the air becomes thick with triple 'A' and heat seeking missiles.
This isn't a time for heroics, so hover just outside the perimeter and pick off your targets one by one. This might take some time, but it's better than charging in and getting your rotors shot to pieces. When the command centre falls, pick up the fleeing commander who will give you details of where the American spy is being held hostage. After locating and freeing your compatriot, leg it back to the frigate for some well deserved victory celebrations.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf: Campaign Two Now that you've established air superiority it's time to turn your attention to the enemy's scud launchers. As in the first mission, it's wise to take out the radar sites first. They're even better protected than the first two, but if you keep a cool head you should be able to accomplish it without taking too many hits. Now it's time to start a jail break and free your imprisoned compatriots. The area around the jail must be made safe before you blast open the building, otherwise the fleeing prisoners will be picked off with sniper fire before they can be picked up. After winching the prisoners to safety, another power station has be decommissioned, as well as a heavily fortified chemical weapons complex.
This one will take all your Hellfires to complete. Once you've reduced the chemical weapons facility to a pile of rubble, the fleeing commanders need to be captured. After a brief interrogation they'll give you the location of all the Scud missile launchers. It's now a question of flying from one site to the next, blasting each one into oblivion. It's a race against time, though, as they must be destroyed before they can launch their own missiles. At least five of the six launchers must be taken out before the mission can be deemed a success.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf: Campaign Three Things really start to hot up now! This huge campaign involves eight separate missions and each must be carefully planned if you're not to run out of fuel halfway through. The first involves rescuing a team of United Nations inspectors who are under attack in a hotel's car park. There's an enemy tank to take care off plus a legion of ground troops equipped with snipers and jet-propelled missile launchers. Be careful not to hit the inspectors or you'll have to start the mission again.
The next target is a biological weapons complex on the city's outskirts. The chief scientist resides in one of eight identical looking buildings. Each one has to be destroyed and the scientist captured. He'll give you the location of the underground missile silos which should be your next objective. These are covered by sand dunes and are difficult to locate at first. Pepper the desert with shots from your chain gun to find them. Listen out for the metallic clanging sound as your bullets bounce off the silo's armoured covering. Again, you must prevent any missiles being fired. It's best to collect any nearby ammo crates or fuel drums before you start blasting as once the missile silos explode any supplies in the vicinity could be caught up in the blast.
The action now takes on a nautical theme as you're requested to rescue several pilots who have had to ditch their planes in the Gulf. It's a fairly easy mission, but watch out for the speed boats which spew out an end less stream of bullets. Next up is yet another power station to blow away! This one houses a special radar system which protects General Kilbaba's personal yacht which is being used as a floating prison. Once radar cover has been knocked out, fly to the yacht, blast a hole in its side and rescue the prisoners from the sea by winching them out of the water. You have to be quick, though, as they're weak and can't stay afloat for long. Once you've secured the area, head for the enemy's embassy.
Your objective here is to capture their ambassador and rescue the 12 officials who are being held captive. You're in for one hell of a fire fight here as the whole of Kilbaba's army appears to have converged on the area. Most deadly are the enemy helicopters that swoop down like birds of prey. There are also the usual gun emplacements, ground troops, tanks and other military hardware to overcome. It's not possible to blast through this stage of the game with out re-arming, so make sure you've located an ammo dump before moving in. Your co-pilot is needed to drive a bus to ferry the hostages to a safe heaven - it's incredibly vulnerable to enemy fire, so needs to be escorted all the way by the Apache.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf: Campaign Four In a spot of environmental consciousness, the fourth campaign involves protecting the oil fields from Kilbaba's henchmen. This necessitates taking out all the enemy tanks that surround the fields and dropping off a group of commandos to secure the area. There are a couple of crippled oil pipes, though, and these need to be closed down. This is done by firing at the end of the pipe to stop the oil gushing out. Once done, a special briefing appears on screen, detailing the rest of this top secret mission. We're not going to give too much away, but you'll find yourself in a race against time to stop Kilbaba launching a nuclear strike against the West. Good luck, the world is depending on you!