Genre: Action Developer: Electronic Arts Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1 Released: 1993
Everyone and their dog has played Desert Strike, and rightly so. The isometric tactical combat game was an innovative combination of genres tied together by savvy mission design. And it let you blow up everything in sight. Needless to say, the game was a smash success and helped put EA on the map in a big way. A sequel was obvious. And in the gaming world of that era, a sequel to a blockbuster hit usually meant a ton of hype with very little substance actually delivered to the faithful. Jungle Strike broke the mold in both ways, resulting in an incredible follow-up that got an unfairly subdued launch. EA should have broken out the red carpet, but they didn’t. We were the ones who lost out.
So what’s so great about it? The fact that it’s Desert Strike 2. Instead of taking the franchise in a new direction, Mike Posehn and company stuck with what made the original so awesome. They adhered to the formula, merely adding on some well thought out extras. Namely better graphics graphics, more options, enemies, interactive environments (who knew that was possible), smoother control, and stuff to do in general. Oh, yeah, and you get to fly more than just a helicopter. You read that right. In Jungle Strike you get to switch off to multiple different vehicles in order to better dispense wrath upon your prey.
If you’ve ever played a Strike game, though, you know that reckless abuse of firepower will get you nowhere except six feet under. This isn’t one of those games where you can shoot anything and everything without penalty. The missions in Jungle Strike are more complicated than the tired “blow up the alien mainframe” scenarios. Granted, some are nothing more than assaults on enemy compounds, but the majority involve picking up some person or thing while taking out hostile forces and avoiding excess collateral damage. That’s a gross simplification, of course; Jungle Strike, much like its predecessor, almost never pulls the same trick twice. Variety is the name of the game and all the different combinations of gameplay elements will really keep you on your toes.
Is it a brilliantly realistic combat simulator? That’s a definite no. Your chopper is capable of taking far more punishment than any real aircraft could hope to absorb, and both crew and passengers are mysteriously unhurt by getting blown up. (You start off with three lives.) At the same time, Jungle Strike sports such a plausible mission selection and presents the game world in such a detailed way that it’s arguably more realistic than many of the combat “sims” of the day, like EA’s own F-22 Interceptor and M-1 Abrams Battle Tank. Those games, and others like them, limited themselves to search-and-destroy missions so severely that they can’t hope compare to the dynamic world of Strike and its Hollywood-style campaigns and storyline.
Desert Strike‘s plot was a purposefully transparent rehash of Operation Desert Storm, albeit with a decidedly cheeky spin. Although Saddam was never mentioned outright, it was pretty obvious who the Desert Madman was. Jungle Strike brings back the same generic Madman for round two, although this time with a gaggle of terrorist goons tagging along for the ride, making the game surprisingly relevant with their suicide trucks and hijacked tour buses… and tanks, missile launchers, jeeps, sentry towers, and all sorts of high-tech weaponry.
That list of opponents should clue you in to the fact that Jungle Strike is a hard game. Not unfairly so, but it contradicts what you might have learned with most other Genesis titles. Like I said earlier, a Rambo-style entry will result in a quick exit. You have to take your time, gauge every operation, conserve every scrap armor, use only what ammunition is essential for the job, and hoard fuel like, well, like it’s three bucks a gallon. If you stick with it, though, I guarantee you’ll pick it up fast. And when you do, there’s the reward of experiencing some of the best action sequences on the system.
Adrenaline will surge, tension will mount, your heart rate will rise, and you might just jump to your feet. Fuel, armor, and ammo will melt away in the face of withering fire from all sides; sweat will trickle down the side of your face as you jink and weave. Then comes that moment of awful finality when your chopper’s alarms begin to sound, even as your fingers are brushing victory. A heart-rending exchange of deadly gunfire follows, and then the glorious explosions indicating triumph. You leap for joy, sing a song, and dance around! End of first mission!
So is it all gravy? Mostly, yes. I think the game might be a little too long in between passwords, much like Desert Strike, and later levels are so tough that it might make you reach for your Game Genie. There’s also the glaring lack of any sort of soundtrack – outside of the cinematic sequences there’s no sound but the chaos of war. However, this last gripe can’t be labeled as a definite shortcoming as much as a matter of personal preference. I like to listen to something while I play, but I can see how others might actually enjoy the absence of music. The sound of gunfire is much more intense without anything to get in the way, and I suppose the quiet, however eerie it may be, is realistic. And remember how I said that you can take command of other types of craft? Well, there’s a teensy little problem with this feature. While your chopper handles like a dream, allowing you precise control in the stickiest of situations, the auxiliary rides, well, they’re a bit slippery. In fact, some of them are downright diabolically hard to pilot. (That means you, F-117A.)
But no matter what else you may have a problem with, no one can say that Jungle Strike is boring. It’s a thrilling ride from beginning to end, and you’ll want to see it through. End of story. So go out, buy the game for what little it commands, and cancel all your plans for next Saturday. Then sit back, take a deep breath, and push that start button. War is hell. But this game is heaven.
SCORE: 9 out of 10