Conflict: Desert Storm is a military-themed tactical third-person shooter that is set in the Middle East during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Operation: Desert Storm. It puts the player in charge of up to four troops at once, and while this squad element is a neat idea that opens up some interesting strategic possibilities, Conflict's problem-laden gameplay and run-of-the-mill presentation keep the game from succeeding on any level.
Desert Storm starts out with a brief optional tutorial segment. This training sequence teaches you the intricacies of movement, combat, and commanding your squad. From there, you're given control of one man and sent on your first mission. Halfway through, you'll rescue the second member of your squad. As the game proceeds, you'll work your way up to four troops, each with different specialties. Some are better medics than others, some are better marksmen, and each starts with a different set of weaponry, including an M-16, a sniper rifle, and other real-world weaponry. As you move from mission to mission, your troops gain experience. If one soldier uses a lot of medikits in a mission, he might become more proficient at healing. Other actions will improve your other stats, such as marksmanship, which is key considering how awful the game's auto-aim is at taking enemies out quickly.
Each level has a series of objectives that must be accomplished to move to the next level. Almost every mission suggests that you take a stealthy approach to your mission, but the game's definition of stealth is pretty loose. While you might think you've approached an enemy without being spotted, or even fired off a stealthy shot or two with a silenced pistol, most enemies automatically spot you as soon as you're in visual range, even if you're lying prone or ducking. Getting spotted will eventually cause the base you're infiltrating to raise the alarm, bringing more troops and other enemies to your location. Once your squad is at the four-soldier limit, however, dealing with enemy assaults isn't terribly difficult. Most objectives are usually as simple as escorting a diplomat through a dangerous area, destroying targets of military importance, and so on. Once you've completed your objectives, you simply need to get to the landing zone for extraction.
Everything about Desert Storm's gameplay is really, really clunky. The soldiers move in a very jerky way, and their movement speed varies wildly depending on which direction they're headed. While forward motion is, rightfully, the fastest of the lot, the side steps are extremely slow, making strafing pretty useless. The interface used to order your other troops around is weird and unintuitive. You'll get used to it over time, but some sort of onscreen indication of which button is assigned which task would have been helpful. Your entire inventory is accessed from one list of equippable items, and you must equip items in real time. So, if you're taking heavy fire and need to heal immediately, you'll have to hold the inventory button to bring up the list, scroll through the list until you find the medikit, use it, and then scroll back to your weapon. Same goes for planting explosives, using binoculars, or doing just about anything else. Breaking up weapons and other items into different categories or including the ability to set up quick access to important items would have been a much more straightforward way of dealing with the game's inventory. Instead, you'll find yourself fumbling for your detonator, wondering which soldier is holding the antitank rockets, or wasting medikits in the heat of battle.
Desert Storm features a multiplayer option that lets you and a friend make your way through its missions. This mode is nice, in theory. But it does little to make the game more entertaining, and it doesn't solve any of the game's interface and gameplay troubles.
The presentation of Conflict: Desert Storm fails to distinguish itself in any way. While this version certainly looks better than the ugly PlayStation 2 version, it has a generic style to it that delivers a smooth frame rate but not much else. Also, it's worth noting that even though you'll repeatedly see soldiers getting gunned down, there's no blood to be found anywhere in the game. In fact, your soldiers never really die from gunfire--getting another soldier over to the wounded guy with a medikit will fix up the fallen comrade quickly and easily. The game's voice work is all over the place. The in-game stuff is decently done, but the drill sergeants who train you in the beginning of the game are pretty awful. If you're going to spend time basing your drill sergeants on Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, you might as well just go to the source and hire R. Lee Ermey to do it.
Conflict: Desert Storm has a couple of neat ideas, and it's among the first Xbox games to attempt to deliver deeper, more tactical combat than, say, your standard first-person shooter. But the interface and poor control are bigger enemies than the game's Iraqi soldiers ever are, and in the end, this is a game you can surely live without.
Editor's note 10/08/2002: This review was originally posted with a lower than intended gameplay score. The score has been amended to properly reflect our view of the game. GameSpot regrets the error.