2002's Conflict: Desert Storm gave players squad-based tactical action with a tie-in to modern military history. As you'd gather from the name, the game was set in the Middle East during the early 1990s' Operation: Desert Storm--the famed military action against Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Its current-events context notwithstanding, the first Conflict game just wasn't very good. Scarcely a year later, we've received a direct sequel titled Conflict: Desert Storm II - Back to Baghdad. The hasty release of a follow-up was no doubt spurred by the political and military events of the last year. However, the new Conflict is quite an improvement over the extremely shaky first game. The PC version doesn't add anything significant to the mix, and, in fact, it's missing the console versions' cooperative play mode (and any multiplayer options). At least the PC version is easier to play, thanks to the wider array of control options offered by the keyboard and mouse.
Though there's been a more recent conflict in Iraq, and military action in the region is, in fact, ongoing, Conflict: Desert Storm II again places you in the thick of the 1991 campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime. There's not a whole lot of story to speak of in the game. You get a linear progression of 10 missions, each of which has its own setting and unique mission objectives and some of which are revealed in-game as you progress. You command a squad of four specialists in each mission, and, at the beginning of a new game, you can choose either American Delta Force or British SAS personnel. Your selection here slightly affects stats, appearance, and voice acting. Each of your team members is equipped with a weapon that gives him a unique function. There's the assault rifle-wielding team leader, the sniper, the demolitions expert, and the heavy machine gunner. The team members do have actual names and unique appearances, so you've got at least a little more attachment to them than if they were just faceless drones.
The core squad and combat mechanics in Desert Storm II are a little awkward at the outset, but with some practice you can get fairly proficient at playing the game. You can quickly cycle through your four teammates by hitting the first four number keys. Each of the four (whichever one is active) squad members can issue individual or group orders to the others. This can be done by holding down a key to enter command mode and then firing off orders with various other keys. You can tell your teammates to hold position or form up behind you, hit the dirt, advance on the enemy and fire at will, and so on. As long as you keep tabs on your teammates' health and actively switch between them regularly, you can progress through the game's missions without worrying too much about suffering casualties. Leaving three of your buddies in the care of the game's squad AI isn't always the best idea, though at least they'll be proactive about fighting enemies. They'll fire at their enemies but will often get themselves killed in the process. Of course, you can issue orders to bring them back behind cover, but that can be difficult when you're in the middle of a firefight and are worrying about saving your own skin. Overall, it would have been nice if the teammate AI was a little more adaptive when left to its own devices.
The actual fighting in Conflict: Desert Storm II is somewhat hit-and-miss, though less so than it was in the console versions of the game. That's understandably due to the fact that you can play the PC game with the mouse and keyboard, which is the perpetual favorite configuration of the first- and third-person action fan. Overall, controlling your soldiers, issuing orders, shooting at enemies, and so on all feel a little bit smoother and more responsive since you've got so many keys to map to each function. For instance, it's much quicker and easier here to cycle through your squad than on the Xbox or PS2. The console games' auto-aim function is gone since you've got the more-precise mouse control at your disposal, though strangely enough, the mouse aim in Conflict: Desert Storm II on the PC is a little bit swimmy and hard to get a handle on. This can be frustrating, but for the most part, the combat is reasonably well balanced and entertaining. You can also engage in vehicular combat with a jeep or tank in some missions, which breaks up the flow of things a little. The vehicles feel a little awkward and can be slow to respond to your controls, though.
Graphically, Conflict: Desert Storm II gets the job done but does it in a no-frills sort of way. The backgrounds are fairly devoid of detail, and the enemy character models look pretty simple. Your own squad models, however, are decent-looking. As you'd expect, this PC version of the game looks better than its console counterparts, but since the PC also has much higher visual standards these days, that's not saying a whole lot. The audio portion of the game is dominated by a lot of yelling, gunfire, and explosions, though all of these are rendered pretty well. The PC version of Desert Storm II also features Dolby Digital audio for those gamers whose PCs are equipped with the appropriate sound card and speaker setup. The music tends to fade into the background, though, since you're intent on finishing your missions. Finally, as in last year's game, the voice acting for the training mode's drill instructor is a poor attempt at sounding like Full Metal Jacket's tough-as-nails drill instructor, and it comes across as pretty awful.
In the final analysis, Conflict: Desert Storm II - Back to Baghdad isn't without problems, but it's not the worst squad-based game you'll ever play, and it's decidedly improved over its predecessor. If the game does float your boat, there's unfortunately not a lot of replay value. Unlike the console versions, this version can't even be replayed in cooperative mode, which is a real shame. Despite this omission, if you're really into squad-based military action games, Desert Storm II might be worth a look to tide you over until something else comes along.