The 1990s had its fair share of great video games, but it was also the decade that brought us one of the finest video game franchises ever created. I am of course talking about the Strike series; a set of five helicopter-based shoot em-ups that fused together a fine blend of fast paced action and strategy.

Developed by American software house Electronic Arts and initially under the watchful eye of lead designer Mike Posehn, the series began with the critically acclaimed Desert Strike on the Sega Megadrive / Genesis and was followed up year upon year with sequels that included Jungle Strike, Urban Strike, Soviet Strike and Nuclear Strike.

Throughout the series, great effort was made by the EA design team to retain the game's core mechanics that made the original so special and in doing so ensuring fans of the series kept coming back for more. So, join us now as we take a look back at this iconic series and celebrate why it's so utterly brilliant!

The first and perhaps most iconic of the series is Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf. Released in 1992 for the Sega Megadrive / Genesis, it went on to achieve critical success and was one of the best-selling games that year.

The game also sparked controvers­y over its subject matter, which was deemed to be in poor taste, as it was released so close to the end of the Gulf War conflict, around which the game’s main plot is centred.

The game opens with an evil dictator having taken over a fictional Gulf state where he has quickly begun to set up fortificat­ions and started the manufactur­e of chemical and nuclear weapons. Taking to the skies in your heavily equipped AH-64 Apache helicopter, it's up to you to complete a series of missions over four levels in order to prevent the situation from escalating into World War III.

After a short briefing and overview of the level's missions — which you can perform in any order, you take off from the safety of your frigate and cross the ocean into

the desert war zone, where the action begins. Missions generally involve things such as blowing up countless enemy structures, rescuing MIA's, hostages and downed pilots, capturing enemy top brass and destroying weapons silos.

Along the way you'll also have to despatch a vast array of opposition ground troops, light to heavily armoured vehicles, tanks, helicopter­s, boats, and various surface-to-air defence systems. Thankfully your Apache comes equipped with three different types of weapon; a chain gun, hydra rockets and the more powerful hellfire missiles. Weapons are limited, so you must choose the right ones for the job — but fear not, for there are ammo crates that can be found scattered throughout the level, that will replenish you supply. As well as limited ammo, fuel is another finite resource and you'll have to keep your Apache topped up by collecting the white fuel drums which again lie scattered around the level.

For the time, the game was graphicall­y way ahead of anything else that had been seen on the Megadrive / Genesis, with its smooth colourful animations and a camera system developed by the game's lead designer Mike Posehn, which featured a momentum mechanic that mimicked the movement of a real helicopter. Sound effects were also very good and are just as they should be. There is no in-game music as such, other than during cut scenes and briefings, but it is the rocking main title screen track, by legendary composer Rob Hubbard that really gets the heart pumping.

Overall, Desert Strike was a great start to the series and Electronic Arts really did a fine job in creating a gameplay experience that felt realistic and fun at the same time. The game was ported to several systems including the Super Nintendo, Gameboy, Master System, Atari Lynx, Game Gear and PC. Special mention however must go to the excellent Amiga version, which featured some excellent improved sound and graphics.

Desert Strike had been a huge commercial success and in turn it put EA firmly on the map as a player in the new 16-bit era. Keen to capitalise on their success, it wasn’t long — only a year in fact, before a sequel was released, which came in the form of Jungle Strike.

Despite being a much-hyped sequel, Jungle Strike received a fairly subdued launch, but this mattered not, for the game was an instant smash and all fears of a lack lustre follow up were quickly laid to rest. Thankfully, Mike Posehn and his team stuck to the winning formula that made the first game so unique and exciting and in doing so delivered an excellent sequel, featuring improved graphics, new enemies, interactiv­e environmen­ts and the addition of new vehicles for the player to take control of. Choppers-wise, it was the turn of the new and improved but fictionali­sed Comanche, while other vehicles at your disposal included an armed motorbike, hovercraft and F-117 Stealth Bomber. The in-game missions had also received a makeover and were far more

engaging, in that a more tactical approach was often needed in order to succeed. Gameplaywi­se there was much more variety and there were plenty of tense combat moments to keep you on your toes.

As for plot, Jungle Strike centres around the son of the madman antagonist from the first game, who's out for revenge against the US for killing his father. He's also teamed up with a South American drug lord who wants to teach the Americans to stay out of his drug trade affairs, between them hatching a diabolical scheme to set off a nuclear device in Washington DC.

The game featured a whole host of new enemy troops and vehicles to contend with, as well as structures and there is a much bigger emphasis on conserving your ammunition and making sure you use the right tools for the job. Simply fly in all gung-ho and you won't last long. Both ammo and fuel are in shorter supply, so you must conserve every last piece and drop. All this makes Jungle Strike a much tougher game than its predecesso­r, but this isn't a bad thing as the game delivers some of the best combat and action sequences you'll find on a console and it won't be long until the old adrenaline starts to surge and your heart rate begin to climb.

As you might expect, the game was graphicall­y more enhanced and this time played in a 2.5D perspectiv­e, which almost gives the illusion of everything being in full 3D. From the steamy South American jungles to the snowy wastes of Alaska, each location oozes atmosphere and colour and has been well drawn. Animations and controls have also been improved and are much smoother. Like the first game, there isn't much in the way of music and while the intro screen track is decent, it fails to capture the awesomenes­s of Desert Strike’s rocking anthem. The in-game sound effects are far more intense however, which adds to the realism.

Overall, Posehn and his team delivered a fantastic sequel that didn't disappoint and ensured that EA continued to ride high on their wave of video game chart success. Jungle Strike was — and still is a thrilling ride from start to finish and one you won't want to put down. Again, the game was ported to several systems of the time including the Super Nintendo, Gameboy, Game Gear, Amiga and Amiga CD32. A PC CD-ROM version was also released, featuring Full Motion Video (FMV) with real actors during the introducti­on, cutscenes and end sequence.

Another year and yet another sequel, Urban Strike was the third game in the Strike series and last to be released on the 16-bit consoles. Not content to stick with the same formula as the previous two titles, this time EA opted to take the game in a new direction, one which saw the implementa­tion of new isometric run ’n’ gun missions that took players out of the cockpit and into enemy buildings on foot, armed ‘only’ with a trusty rifle and rocket launcher!

A nice concept you might think and one that will surely breathe new life into the genre, but sadly this was not to be, as it was in fact the new run ‘n' gun scenarios that truly let the title down. Why? Well mainly due in part to a lack of quality and gameplay, as the on-foot missions were nothing more than a bunch of similar mazes with no logical layout, chock full of cheap looking enemies. The run ‘n' gun combat was also abysmal and rather than create tension and atmosphere all it managed to do was annoy and frustrate the player.

Thankfully however when it comes to the helicopter­s, which let's face it, is what the Strike series is all about, Urban Strike manages to surpass its predecesso­rs by allowing you to fly not one but two different types of chopper. The first is the fast and deadly fictional ‘Mohican' assault chopper which comes complete with a lethal, yet limited, array of armaments. The second is the bigger and slightly more cumbersome Black Hawk, designed for carrying out larger rescue missions, but still armed with plenty of rockets, nonetheles­s. One downside to the choppers however is that for some unknown reason EA decided to remove the momentum mechanic, which is a shame as it was such a key feature in the first two titles and added fantastic realism to the aircraft. As for other vehicles, there's an experiment­al Ground Assault Vehicle, or GAV to get to grips with, but sadly this is only for a limited amount of time during one level.

In terms of plot Urban Strike has a far more mature storyline that sees a fellow Jungle Strike comrade being bumped off in the opening sequence, which sets the stage for a storyline full of colourful bond-like villains, political intrigue, futuristic technology and a twist towards the end that I won't spoil for you.

The game is packed with missions, each requiring their own unique strategy to complete, all with the added bonus of being able to exceed the mission parameters. For example, you can earn extra points for rescuing more hostages than required. There are also hidden goodies to find and undocument­ed secret missions to discover — a first for the series. Of course, there's the usual struggle of maintainin­g your ammo and fuel supplies and let's be honest, it just wouldn't feel right without it.

Graphicall­y the game still looked great and there were a few noticeable tweaks and enhancemen­ts, especially within the vehicle segments of the game. Sound-wise the game is let down somewhat, by poor and muffled effects.

Sadly, for many Urban Strike is seen as the weakest in the series and it's definitely fair to say that there's just something about it that doesn't quite capture the atmosphere and gameplay of its two predecesso­rs. The game is also a lot easier, perhaps in part due to the slightly weaker and smaller level design. Still, it is a worthy 16-bit title and well worth a play if you are a fan of the series. Urban Strike was only ever released on the console systems and came out for the Megadrive / Genesis, Super Nintendo, Gameboy & Game Gear.

After a two-year break and making the jump to the new 32-bit technology, EA released its fourth title in the Strike series, called Soviet Strike. Initially intended for release on the failed Panasonic 3DO console, it was instead reworked and released for the new kid on the block — the Sony PlayStatio­n. A year later it was also released for Sega’s new console, the Saturn.

Soviet Strike sadly saw the departure of lead designer and creator of the Strike series Mike Posehn who, despite being involved in the initial programmin­g and design process, opted to leave, rather than work as part of a larger team — a necessity of developing for advanced consoles. This time around, the plot shifts to a fictionali­sed Russia where the player must take on enemy forces led by the evil ‘Shadowman' — an ex-Communist defector who's out to bomb the Kremlin and attempt a coup against the Russian government. As a member of the special US covert operations force — known as ‘STRIKE', it's up to you to prevent all this from happening.

As for your trusty chopper, Soviet Strike sees the welcome return of the Apache helicopter, albeit a ‘super' version, able to withstand substantia­l damage and armed to the teeth with weapons galore; each with differing levels of destructio­n. As with all games in the series, you'll

have to decide which weapon is right for the job while keeping an eye on your ammo and fuel supplies.

The way your chopper moves is completely different to that of the previous games; thankfully bouncing off high buildings is no more — you can now actually fly and hover over them, which brings a welcome touch of realism to the game. Another improvemen­t to the chopper is the ability to strafe left and right, which is a godsend during combat, as previously you had to turn your craft fully around.

The game features five action packed campaigns that take place across a whole manner of regions, from the snowy mountains of Crimea to the urban war zone of central Moscow. Missions range from the usual seek and destroy types, to rescuing POW's and destroying various enemy structures and the more complex and strategica­l tasks, such as stopping the destructio­n of a nuclear facility or guiding a nuclear core to safety through a radioactiv­e wasteland. With well over thirty missions available, there's no lack of variety.

Make no mistake however, for Soviet Strike EA have ramped up the difficulty big time and each mission usually takes a couple of playthroug­hs to complete. There's no time to rest either, as completing one mission will only set in motion the next, which usually means a group of enemies are now on the move and out to cause havoc and mayhem.

Graphicall­y the game looks fantastic, and must be praised for the realism of its terrain, structures, and vehicles. Conversely, animation and explosion effects can be a little bit on the choppy side. The game also has some great

FMV cutscenes which are thoroughly entertaini­ng, featuring highly accomplish­ed acting performanc­es. Sound and music are also good and the inclusion of witty banter from both friend and foe make for an entertaini­ng and lively battlefiel­d.

Overall Soviet Strike is great fun to play and EA did a bang on job in bringing the series into the 32-bit era. As I said before, it is difficult but the good variety of missions keep you coming back for more. If, however you fancy an easier time of it, you could opt to play the Saturn version which comes with an ‘easy' setting and does contain various bug fixes over that of the PlayStatio­n version.

Fast forward another year and while Saturn owners were just getting their grubby mitts on Soviet Strike, lucky PlayStatio­n owners where already getting their hands on the fifth and final instalment in the Strike series; Nuclear Strike.

This time the covert operations force, STRIKE, have found themselves in the fictional South

Asian country of Indocine, where a rogue spyturned-warlord has stolen a nuclear weapon. Needless to say, it's up to you as the player to once more jump into the cockpit of your super Apache helicopter and hunt down your foe across several Asian locales. The game retains the same excellent gameplay mechanics as Soviet Strike but features improved graphics and a whole plethora of vehicles to pilot and drive and even ground troops at your command.

The game also features smarter battlefiel­ds that react to your behaviour, although this is questionab­le at times and faster, more populated combat scenarios, which are a fine addition to the gameplay. There are seven different levels to play, as well as a bonus level. Each level comprises of eight missions chock full of all the usual stuff you'd expect from the Strike series and as always ammo and fuel must be replenishe­d along the way.

Graphicall­y the game has been improved over that of its predecesso­r, with better light sourcing and shading effects, as well as smoother animations and an enhanced HUD (Heads Up Display) which allows for easier navigation and less time looking at the map. Sound and music however feel like a bit of an

afterthoug­ht, with every sound effect, explosion, voice, or death cry sounding somewhat muffled. However, the FMV cutscenes still manage to retain a decent level of audio and acting quality.

While still a good game, Nuclear Strike does suffer slightly from a weak storyline, which by this point was growing a bit long in the tooth. Thankfully the action and combat were still tense and exciting enough to keep you interested and coming back for more. The game was released a year later on PC CD-ROM and then a further year later in 1999 for the Nintendo 64, for which you required the RAM pack expansion if you wanted high-res graphics. Quite why Nuclear Strike was the last in the series remains unknown, perhaps it was felt the series had finally run its course. Was it the send-off that the series deserved? Perhaps not, but it's still a decent game nonetheles­s and well worth a play.

While Nuclear Strike may have been the fifth and final game released in the series, completing the game actually reveals a video cut scene that promotes a sequel titled ‘Future Strike'. Unfortunat­ely, this game never materialis­ed, but apparently developmen­t of this new instalment was well underway at EA before its mysterious disappeara­nce.

There is speculatio­n that Future Strike evolved into EA's 1998 release Future Cop: LAPD which features a very similar style of gameplay to that of the Strike series, albeit in an armoured mech warrior-like robot, rather than a helicopter. While the above speculatio­n has never been truly corroborat­ed, it's widely considered to be the case amongst Strike fans.

So, there you have it folks, five solid games that revolution­ised a genre and gave a generation of players an all-encompassi­ng and exciting helicopter combat experience that, in my humble opinion has yet to surpassed.

And with that said, at a time when retro series are making comebacks on all the new modern next-gen platforms, one would like to think that EA may consider reviving this franchise, especially as it sold so well, with more than four million units shipped. Fans of the series certainly wouldn't complain and if done properly, a new Strike game could be something quite fantastic; just imagine incorporat­ing a VR version for example! Still, until that day comes, there are five worthy titles for you to enjoy for the first time or all over again, because let's face it folks, blowing stuff to smithereen­s never gets old or tired!

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom