Originally released last year for the PS2, Xbox, and PC, 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 problematic 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, or other real-world weapons. 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 attributes, such as marksmanship, which is key, considering how awful the game's auto-aim is at taking enemies out quickly. But even when your marksmanship is improved, dropping into the game's first-person manual aim mode is still much more efficient.
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, 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. Being 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, lateral movement is 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 to 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.
There have been a handful of changes made to the GameCube version of Conflict: Desert Storm that attempt to improve the way the AI reacts to your presence. Your teammates do, in fact, seem to be a bit better at obeying your orders and following you, when necessary, but the enemy AI feels mostly the same. Given the game's numerous other rough spots, the somewhat improved enemy response gets lost in the shuffle and doesn't make a terribly noticeable difference.
Desert Storm features a cooperative multiplayer option, and the GameCube version goes above and beyond the previous console versions by offering four-player multiplayer instead of just two. 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 looks a bit 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 base 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 the voice work.
Conflict: Desert Storm has a couple of neat ideas, and it benefits from being one of the only games of its kind to appear on the GameCube. 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.