Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf is an isometric helicopter shoot ’em up from Electronic Arts. The player is a fighter pilot who must take down mission-critical targets across a number of maps. The player is free to pursue these missions in any order, and must also keep an eye on the fuel, damage, and ammo gauges.
Desert Strike is the first of the prolific Strike series, and was followed with Jungle Strike and Urban Strike on the Genesis. Two more games, Soviet Strike and Nuclear Strike, were released later for 32-bit systems.
A year after the Gulf War, General Ibn Kilbaba takes over a small Arab emirate and plans to start World War III. Using an AH-64 Apache, the player must open the way for ground troops and finally take on the “Madman” himself.
The game is played from an isometric perspective in open levels that allow free movement in all directions by scrolling the screen with the movement of the helicopter. Each level consists of many varying objectives that range anywhere from destroying enemy bases and vehicles to capturing enemy troops or rescuing friendly ones. While bases and vehicles are simply destroyed, both friendly and enemy troops must be taken back to base for extraction. The AH-64 Apache has limited cargo space, so multiple trips to and from the base may be necessary. These objectives aren’t always linear, and can often be tackled in whatever order the player chooses. This combination of free movement and non-linear structure separated Desert Strike from many of the other contemporary shooters.
There are three weapons of varying strength and usefulness available to the AH-64 Apache: machine guns, hydra missiles, and hellfire missiles, which increase in strength respectively. Each of these weapons has a limited number of ammo which can only be replenished by picking up ammo crates on the mission or by resupplying back at the base. Similarly, the AH-64 Apache only has a limited amount of fuel that will drain slowly over the course of each level. If the fuel runs out, the helicopter crashes and the player loses a life. Refueling works exactly the same as restocking ammo.
Lives are lost when either the AH-64 Apache takes too much damage and is destroyed, or when it runs out of fuel. After three lives have been lost, the game is over. Due to the nature of the game’s freedom, each level requires a certain amount of planning and strategy in order to complete all of the objectives while still having enough fuel, ammo, and health to survive.
Due to its popularity on the Sega Genesis in 1992, the game was then ported to the Amiga, Master System, and SNES in the same year. Two years later in 1994, it was released on the PC. It was also ported to most handheld systems such as the Lynx in 1993, Game Gear in 1994, Game Boy in 1995, Game Boy Advance in 2002, and finally the PSP in 2006 as part of EA Replay.