Released: 4 March 1994
Developer: Granite Bay Software
Also Available For: Game Gear, Game Boy, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
A Brief Background:
After the conclusion of the the Gulf War, Mike Posehn took the air rescue mechanics of Choplifter (Dan Gorlin, 1982) and expanded upon them to create Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, a nonlinear, mission-based military title that placed players in a sandbox environment and did away with typical videogame mechanics like bosses and power-ups. When Desert Strike proved successful, producer Scott Berfield, game director John Manley, and associate producer Tony Barnes created a sequel that built upon the core mechanics of the original with new locations and vehicles. Jungle Strike: The Sequel to Desert Strike (High Score Productions/Granite Bay Software, 1993) was also was well received, despite criticisms of its difficulty curve, and a third entry was produced for the following year. Moving away from real-world conflicts and taking a slightly more futuristic slant, Urban Strike continued to refine the gameplay mechanics of the series while also mixing things up with sections that took place on foot, however many reviews reportedly found that the gameplay wasn’t innovative or different enough to be as interesting or engaging as it once was. Contemporary reviews echo this sentiment, criticising the game’s difficulty though none of this kept the series from continuing on for a couple more entries.
Like the first two games, Urban Strike is a top-down, isometric shooter, now set in the far-flung future of 2001 and primarily playing in control of a Mohican helicopter to undertake some familiar missions across a variety of maps now exclusively based in the United States of America. As ever, you can customise your control scheme to your liking – the default settings see A fire your Hellfire missiles, B fire your Hydra Rockets, and C fire your chain gun – but the game now supports the Mega Drive’s six-button controller, which is super useful for the new drop feature that lets you dispose of cargo or smart bombs at the touch of a button. You can again choose to control your helicopter either with or without momentum to increase or decrease the realism of the gameplay, and select from various co-pilots, with some being more accurate or trigger happy and some missing in action and in need of rescue. So far, it’s all very familiar but, like Jungle Strike, you now have the option of taking the controls of two other vehicles: the much larger Blackhawk helicopter (which lakes Hellfire missiles and seems a bit slower but can hold twenty passengers rather than the usual six, making it perfect for the game’s many rescue missions) and the Ground Assault Vehicle (GAV), a heavily armoured transport that might be slow as all Hell but it can take a beating and deliver massive damage. While the game technically only has five campaigns, this number is increased by the newest gameplay feature, which sees you abandoning your vehicle and exploring labyrinthine facilities on foot!
Unfortunately, the grid-like control pattern makes these sections rather awkward; you’re also limited to your MX9 machine gun and have far less armour since your only protection is a flack vest, and the zoomed in isometric perspective causes the game’s otherwise impressive presentation to suffer in these rare sections. Luckily, opportunities to switch to other vehicles are much more frequent than in Jungle Strike, though I can’t say I was too impressed by the new vehicles on offer here. Similarly, your missions in each campaign are painfully similar to what’s come before; you start off in Hawaii (with three lives by default and again without any in-game music accompanying the action) and are tasked with destroying radar sites and stealth ships, rescuing Green Berets, and blowing up a bridge. Objectives also include transporting telescope mirrors to a barge, which means your winch is taken up carrying the object; if you press a button to drop your cargo, it’ll be lost, so I’m not really sure why this function was included (if you could drop it, pick up an ally, and then grab the object again it would make much more sense). The first map is pretty open and linear, with an abundance of fuel, armour, and ammo crates to be found; those you rescue will also repair some of your armour when you drop them off, which is helpful, though it’s still advised that you plan on optimal route to avoid running out of ammo or blowing up from lack of fuel. If you’re down in this manner, you’ll respawn with twenty-five units of fuel and full armour but you’ll get full fuel if you’re destroyed be enemy fire (though your weapons can only be replenished by ammo crates, so be careful not to accidentally destroy them!)
From the pause menu, you can again see a pretty useful map of the area and cycle between mission objectives, notable highlights, and review your mission and current status. If you destroy the wrong targets or fail to rescue or secure others in time, you’ll be forced to return to base to restart from the beginning, so there’s again a fair amount of trial and error required to properly progress. Campaigns also include some hidden side missions, such as rescuing innocents from shark attacks and such, which will net you bonus points. While the first campaign is pretty simple stuff even without the helpful ten lives cheat code, campaign two takes its queue from the final level of Desert Strike and has you securing heavily-defended oil rigs, rescuing survivors from a sinking cruise ship (you’ll definitely need the Blackhawk for that one!), and securing a friendly Russian submarine. It’s a slightly tougher mission, made all the more challenging by the fact that some of your missions won’t appear on the game map until you complete earlier ones; you can’t swing by the cruise ship or fend off the gunboats by the submarine, for example, until you’ve secured the drilling platforms. Things get a bit tougher when you head inside an aircraft hanger and must navigate the maze, taking out turret columns and destroying fighter jets before activating a beacon. You’re then given 120 seconds to escape, but there’s no onscreen countdown, which is super annoying, and additional enemies pop up to obstruct you as you race for the exit ladder.
I believe this is my first time playing Urban Strike, but I went into it with a pretty fair idea of what to expect based on the last two games. Sadly, while the title screen is much improved and the explosion effects look a lot better this time around, things haven’t really progressed all that much; the graphics still have a fun, pseudo-3D feel but the cutscenes contain less animations than before and it feels like a bit of a step back from Jungle Strike in terms of variety and accessibility. Once again, there are no real bosses to speak of but you’ll counter more formidable and tougher enemy ships and helicopters as you progress; later missions have you commandeering a GAV to take out the heavily-armed militia or targeting bad guy Malone’s henchman as they speed away in cars, but you’ll face a similar assortment of turrets, jeeps, soldiers, and tank-like enemies as in the previous games.
While the on-foot sections are a bit ugly, the environments continue to be a vast improvement over Desert Strike, overall; the desert still crops up, naturally, but Urban Strike boasts cities, jungles, and even a pretty fun recreation of Las Vegas. Rendered in the black of night, the city is lit up by gunfire and explosions as much as the garish neon signs and let down only by the tedious objective of flying all over, avoiding enemy fire, to destroy a whole bunch of radar sites. After that, you’ll be struggling with your ammo as you’re forced to clear the Las Vegas Strip of enemies, and this mission proved to be too much for me in the end. But, truthfully, I’d tapped out in the previous mission; after destroying a bunch of guard towers and rescuing a bunch of prisoners of war in Mexico, the game required me to hack into the Gav to take control of one but, no matter what I tried, I kept picking the wrong fuse and was forced to abandon the mission. As before, the game is password-based; you get passwords to jump ahead to later campaigns, which is how I played the Las Vegas campaign, but you can’t input the ten lives code and then jump to a later level, and in-game extra lives are pretty scarce, so the difficulty curve was noticeably more like Desert Strike than Jungle Strike for me. It’s interesting for me, then, to learn that many reviews thought Urban Strike the easiest of the series so far; the missions are a little more tedious, often requiring you to rescue multiple targets, fend off waves of soldiers, or carry multiple objects from one point of the map to the other, which can be a drain on your resources. As ever, it’s thus important to plan your route and conserve your better weapons for when needed, but the shift towards more monotonous missions and the unsightly and awkward on-foot missions seems to have made the admittedly repetitive gameplay loop less exciting rather than injecting some variety to the formula.
So, again, I wasn’t quite able to finish Urban Strike; I did a lot better than with Desert Strike but I found the game to be a bit tougher than Jungle Strike, though I was surprised that I was even able to clear the second game. Although it’s just more of the same, with little in the way of gameplay or graphical progress or innovation, Urban Strike is still a really good game; the game is probably the smoothest of the three classics and the maps are all very distinct and much more interesting than being stuck in the desert but feel less visually interesting than in Jungle Strike. The two new vehicles area bit easier to control than those in the second game, but the Blackhawk is a bit too similar to the Mohican to really stand out and I really didn’t enjoy the on-foot sections, which were clunky and relied too much on maxes. Combat and gameplay are largely as exciting as ever, with lots to blow up and discover in each campaign; enemy fire can still destroy buildings and such, which is great, and it can be fun planning an optimal route to complete missions faster but, overall, this was just more of the same with little to really make it stand out from or surpass Jungle Strike.Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Urban Strike down in the comments or on my social media so please feel free to share your memories and opinions and check back in next Saturday for my thoughts on the fourth game in the franchise.