Gulf War: Operation Desert Hammer Review

It's an arcade-style tank shooter that handles decently enough at first but winds up tripping over its treads after a while.

If you can get past Gulf War's rather paranoid premise, you'll find an arcade-style tank shooter that handles decently enough at first but winds up tripping over its treads after a while. You've been chosen from the ranks of the UN peacekeepers to pilot the powerful and agile M12 Hammer tank. Your mission is to forge a path through Iraq all the way to Baghdad to allow your cohorts to, as the publisher puts it, "go back and finish what we started with Desert Storm." If you succeed, you and your fellow freedom fighters will finally be able to put an end to the SCUD missile-hoarding, clandestine chemical warfare-researching menace of the Middle East.

If the story sounds a bit jingoistic, it is. The game begins with stock footage clips of tanks, fighter jets, and innocent Iraqi men, women, and children in the throes of terrible suffering, while a faux Walter Kronkite narrator decries the evil of the Iraqi dictatorship (or "the Beast," as your mission briefings refer to him/it). Presumably, the concept was chosen in light of the UN weapon-inspection debacle that took place earlier this year, though the emphasis on the political and moral evil of the regime seems a bit out of place in an arcade-style shooter. Upon completion of each mission, you'll be treated to a similar cutscene, but fortunately you can skip them with the touch of a button.

Once the cutscenes are done and the game begins, you'll find that the Hammer is equipped with an infinite-ammo chain gun and a limited cache of different types of missiles. It travels at a surprisingly brisk pace, and since aiming is performed entirely by a sensitive free-roaming mouselook, its turrets can rotate 180 degrees or more in the blink of an eye. The default control configuration uses mouselook both to aim and steer; simply point your turret in the direction you want to move and press the up or down arrow key to move forward or in reverse. Pressing the delete key unlocks your turret from steering and lets you turn using the arrow keys and aim with the mouse, a control setup that proves to be more practical since it allows you to circle-strafe your target.

Toss in some great graphics, interesting enemies, a killer soundtrack, and great level designs, and you'd have a winner. Unfortunately, Gulf War doesn't quite go that far. No doubt in the interest of wider accessibility, Gulf War's system requirements are nice and low, which means high-end users won't have much to look at. All tanks in the game (including your own) look decent enough but aren't very detailed, while buildings, radar towers, and oil rigs look similarly distinctive but comparably plain. Shooting up enemy tanks and structures will occasionally reward you with a nice-looking explosion of orange haze transitioning to smoke, but in most cases you'll only get a small and uninspired burst of flame. Since blasting an enemy usually doesn't obliterate it - a defeated enemy will usually collapse into a clump of gray polygons (which clutter up the landscape if not cleared away with more shots) - shooting up the bad guys is decidedly unsatisfying. And with the exception of a handful of dark-gray military buildings (which exist only for you to destroy them), the Iraqi theater of war is one big, monotonous yellow desert, with an occasional oasis that looks like nothing more than a patch of blue desert.

It makes matters worse that the in-mission music is similarly low-key, presumably so that you can focus on the action. At least the voice-over in the mission briefings serves its purpose well, though the in-mission effects are weak. Explosions are subdued and slightly muffled and your thoroughly unimpressive chain gun sounds like nothing more than drumming your fingers against sheet metal.

But Gulf War isn't about graphics and sound. It's about shooting up the bad guys. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of enemy tanks, an enemy chopper, and a manned bunker, and essentially all they do is fire continuously at you when you're in range. You can park right in front of an enemy tank, exchanging gunfire until it explodes (you're more heavily armored than most enemies, so you'll invariably win the encounter), and it won't make any sort of effort to evade or even move the entire time. Once you're done destroying all the enemies that can actually shoot back, all that's left are a bunch of immobile enemy structures and helpless targets like convoy trucks and grounded jets. Unless one of these is flagged as being a crucial target for your mission, you can choose to attack it or leave it; Gulf War's completely linear mission structure has no scoring system whatever, so it doesn't matter if you destroy it or not. Many of your missions will therefore be marked by an almost Twilight Zone-esque contrast; one second, you'll be in the middle of a firefight, and the next, you're all alone, futilely shooting at silent, defenseless buildings and vehicles that fold like cardboard.

Gulf War's 18 linear levels are as monotonous as the desert in which they take place. With one exception, in which you must defend a civilian news truck, every single mission requires you to drive around and blow stuff up, and that's basically it. Aside from whatever damage you'll suffer along the way from your lackluster opposition, the only thing that will keep you from heading directly to your mission objective are impassable landmarks, like tall mountains and less-tall hills, which your Hammer tank may or may not be able to traverse. However, attempting to cut across hills isn't strategically favorable, as the game's fixed, third-person chase view obscures the area directly in front of your tank when you're climbing an elevated surface, creating a blind spot behind your tank in which you can't see let alone aim.

Even so, Gulf War accomplishes its goal of offering simple, decent-looking arcade action with modest system requirements. Unfortunately, its linear missions make it a forgettable single-player experience, and its mediocre graphics and simplistic gameplay don't do much for it otherwise.

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    Gulf War: Operation Desert Hammer More Info

  • First Released July 1999
    • PC
    It's an arcade-style tank shooter that handles decently enough at first but winds up tripping over its treads after a while.
    Average Rating13 Rating(s)
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    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Animated Violence