Released: 31 August 1997
Developer: Electronic Arts
Also Available For: PC and Nintendo 64
After almost six months of conflict and thousands dead, the Gulf War had finally ended in March 1991 but the bloodshed proved as much of an influence on developer Mike Posehn as the air rescue mechanics of Choplifter (Dan Gorlin, 1982) in the creation of Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf (Electronic Arts, 1992). Opting to eschew typical videogame mechanics and focusing on nonlinear, mission-based gameplay, Desert Strike became one of the Mega Drive’s top titles; its 16-bit sequels introduced new vehicles and locations and were similarly praised, though reviews sound found the formula becoming stale. By 1996, the videogame industry moved on from traditional 2D graphics in favour of 3D polygons, and arena Sony’s PlayStation was purposely built for and which upended the battle for supremacy between SEGA and Nintendo. Following an aborted attempt to continue the series on the 3DO, Mike Posehn got the ball running on a far more lifelike and much praised fully-3D entry on the SEGA Saturn and PlayStation. Following the positive reception of Soviet Strike (Electronic Arts, 1996), the same development team (minus Posehn) got to work on the fifth (and, so far, final) entry; Nuclear Strike reportedly built upon its predecessor’s game engine, increasing the frame rate, lowering load times, including lasting environmental damage, and adding additional camera angles and an in-game radar. New vehicles and weapons were also added, as well as helpful clues to make the game more accessible and address the franchise’s notorious difficulty, though reviews found the story to be lacking. The graphics and destructible environments were widely praised, however, and it was largely seen as a fun, if repetitive and derivative, experience.
Former spy Colonel Beauford LeMonde has stolen a nuclear weapon and joined forced with Triad leader Napoleon Hwong to threaten the safety of the civilised world. The player character, who pilots a Super Apache helicopter as part of anti-terrorist strike force STRIKE, is ordered to pursue the warlord, who kidnaps the world leaders and prepares to unleash chaos upon the globe!
In keeping with the new visual style introducing in Soviet Strike, Nuclear Strike ditches the illusion of 3D created by the isometric perspective of its predecessors and opts for a top-down perspective, with the camera sitting slightly above and behind the player’s vehicle. Like in the last game, you can change your viewpoint with the ‘Select’ button and this time I was actually able to notice the difference; one view kept the camera locked in place and the other saw it swing around with your movements, which I found quite disorientating. All of the movement and control options introduced in Soviet Strike make a welcome return here; there are five different controller layouts on offer, but I found the default button settings to be perfectly fine: X fires your rapid-fire chain gun, Square fires your Hydra Rockets, Circle the Hellfile Missiles, and Triangle will fire the super powerful sidewinders if they’re assigned to your wingtip. As before, you can “jink” (essentially a strafing option) with L1 and R1 to circle targets and avoid incoming fire more effectively, drop your cargo by pressing L2 and R2 together (though I only encountered one use for this, in the second campaign, where you can drop a powerful nitro-glycerine bomb to instantly destroy a fortified oil rig), remove the ammo, fuel, and armour and/or the compass from the heads-up display (HUD) with R2, and review the map and your mission status and objectives by pressing the Start button. A new feature added to Nuclear Strike is the ability to lock each weapon with L2; I thought this was some kind of targeting feature, or a way to restrict the use and wastage of your stronger weapons, but all it seemed to do was put a red border around the ammo box so I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of this function.
One way Nuclear Strike stands out not just from its predecessor but the last two games is the welcome return of additional vehicles; almost every campaign sees you commanding a different type of helicopter, and each one contains another craft you can switch to either by choice or at the behest of your mission objectives. You can hop back into a hovercraft, jump into a heavily-armoured harrier jet, and even roll around in a super tough tank or missile launcher, with the majority of your weapons still at your disposal (though the tank only has its main gun). When in one of these additional vehicles, you can hold L2 and R2 to initiate a self-destruct mode that will see it explode and your main chopper fly in to pick you up, which is handy when you’re stuck halfway across the map in the tank or hovercraft. All-in-all the game boasts it contains several playable vehicles, though as most are variations on the chopper this is a bit misleading but there are some key differences; your default chopper can only carry six passengers, for example, whereas the Huey (which also sports twin guns) can carry twelve. In campaign three, you’re placed at the controls of a smaller, feebler chopper than can only fire weak bullets and non-lethal rounds like smoke and tear gas and can only carry four passengers; you must use these limited options to flush out delegates and get them to safety and then blast parts of the environment (radio towers, petrol stations, and train barriers) to crush or destroy incoming enemy vehicles before switching to a more capable aircraft, which can be tricky as your little chopper is pretty pathetic. Two campaigns also introduce a degree of real-time strategy gameplay to the series; in one campaign, waves of enemies will come rolling across the map and you must fly to different bases to command ground forces to intercept them and form roadblocks. You can fly around trying to take them out yourself, but the sheer number makes this all-but impossible, though I found it equally difficult to find the bases and command my allies as you can’t do it remotely. This function pops up again in the final campaign, where you can direct some commandos to help you take out six radar towers, and your co-pilot will also help you to destroy a proto-nuclear missile and its launcher rig by jumping into her own chopper.
The game’s map system is exactly the same as the one seen in Soviet Strike but with some tweaks to the presentation; dialogue and onscreen notifications give information about your mission objectives, which you can read up on and cycle through from the map screen. I found that I was only able to tackle one mission at a time rather than reading ahead on a few of them as in previous games, though this might be because I played the game on the “Normal” difficult instead of the “Easy” setting. Either way, you can through your mission objectives, enemies, and notable resources and have each of these highlighted on the map to make it easier to plot an optimal route. Nuclear Strike also adds a helpful mini radar to the HUD and a green arrow to the compass that points you in the direction of whatever target you’ve selected on the map; the only thing to remember about the HUD is that enemy forces are highlighted in red and blue as blue indicates mission objectives so you might need to fire upon both. Even better is the fact that there’s finally a way to quick-exit a campaign if you fail or are in danger of failing; simply press Start and Select simultaneously and you’ll be returned to the main menu rather than having to slog all the way back to home base, though there’s still no option for analogue support. You are once again given a choice of a few loadouts for your chopper, though: you can balance out your ammo, focus on your missiles, or even fly into battle with just your chain gun; you can also customise the wingtip loadout to carry sidewinder missiles, additional fuel, or disrupt the enemy’s radar. As always, you get three lives (known as “attempts”) per campaign and will automatically winch up resources (fuel, ammo, and armour), targets (friendlies (your co-pilot and other agents), enemy commanders, dignitaries, and so forth), and cargo (nitro, cages) simply by flying over them and the new maps make it a little easier to accomplish this compared to the last game. Like Soviet Strike, you can no longer bash into buildings or mountains or parts of the environment, which is useful for reducing the damage you take, and you’re still awarded passwords after completing each campaign (though you must manually save your progress from the main menu) and at least one campaign even has a checkpoint, of sorts, that allows you to skip to a later point in the narrative after a nuclear device has exploded.
While many of Nuclear Strike’s mission objectives are very similar to those of the previous games, it definitely felt like things were a lot more varied and far less tedious this time around. At first, your doing familiar actions like firing upon burning smoke pits, destroy enemy forces to recruit and rescue targets, and taking out radar sites but there’s often a twist: when you rescue one target, you’re surprised by an ambush; other friendlies you rescue will fly into battle with you in choppers to help root out three enemy generals, for example. There are far more escort missions this time around; your ally and co-pilot, Naja Han, will lead you to target sites by driving erratically across the map on a motorcycle and will also need covering as she rescues diplomats from buildings. This results in two of the tougher missions, one where she’s driving a busload of work leaders through heavily-defended streets while you just have your piddling little chopper and another where you need to protect her as she drives a train to safety. The former can be quite fun as you blast barriers to move her down safer routes, watch her jump a gap in the bus, and listen to her passenger’s bicker and ask for ice cream; the latter is a little more stressful as you must quickly destroy or redirect suicidal trains and take out the heavy ordinance that can quickly make mincemeat of the train. While the second campaign is primarily about large-scale destruction of the enemy’s sea forces, you’ll also need to bribe a local mercenary by dropping off a crate load of treasure, drop him off to uncover missile sites that need destroying, and take out a fleet of Chinese ships before they escape. The final mission includes a huge electromagnetic pulse (EMP) in the middle of the map that disables all of your weapons except the chain gun and is heavily defended by cannons and massive tank-like Guardian Guns that can only be destroyed by having your co-pilot disable them first. You’ll need to take out the EMP by slipping inside and destroying the camouflaged trucks your co-pilot highlights and also investigate six Mongol-like structures trying to find and destroy three nuclear missiles. Overall, while the missions are very similar to its predecessors, there’s a lot less ferrying of passengers or repetitive tasks; the ability to command ground forces helps to mitigate a lot of the frantic flying about and there are lots of combat options available thanks to you and your co-pilot being able to command other vehicles.
Graphics and Sound:
Nuclear Strike offers much of the same as its predecessor in terms of its presentation, bringing its varied and ambitiously detailed environments to life using only the finest polygonal graphics of the era, but goes a step further in a lot of little ways. While you mainly pilot variations of an attack chopper, just the fact that there are several vehicles to use is a step up from the last game; each is a fully functioning 3D model with differing speeds and handling, which starts to smoke when they take enough damage and explode in flames when shot down. Thanks to the game not being restricted to the Soviet Union and instead taking place around China and Korea and other such locations, the game maps are far more varied this time around; there’s a decent smattering of water to show off the new splash effects from weapons and explosions, fields and villages, and fully 3D models of buildings to recreate cities and Mongol temples in later campaigns. Probably the most diverse location in the game is Pyongyang, which starts out as a bustling city with functioning train tracks and ornate buildings to liberate dignitaries from and ends up a nuclear wasteland following an explosion; radioactive pits, wrecked buildings, and smouldering ruins scatter the landscape and really help to sell the gravity of the situation. Not only did I not notice any of the PlayStation’s trademark texture warping and screen tearing this time around, but any damage you cause to the environment was permanent this time around, meaning you’ll always see evidence of your firefights and the destruction caused from your conflicts.
While the game is still limited to five campaigns, your missions are as varied as the environments this time around; the second and final campaigns probably offer the most visual and gameplay variety, with you flying across the map taking out missiles and fortified oil rigs in the former and both avoiding heavy artillery and trying to knock out the EMP in the latter. Campaign four is especially notable for showcasing just how powerful the PlayStation is compared to its 16-bit predecessors as the sheer number of enemy forces can be overwhelming at times; they’ll trickle down through narrow passes, burst out from holes, and come crashing into your bases disguised as supply drops and they all need fending off and obstructing with your ground forces. There’s even a bit of day and night action here as the mission progresses and it can get extremely chaotic if you don’t properly marshal your reinforcements. Like its predecessor, Nuclear Strike also includes some in-game music to keep the adrenaline pumping throughout your high-stakes missions; while it dips in and out more often that in the last game, you’ll get a bit more variety other than some thumping tracks with victory jingles and even “Ride of the Valkyries” playing at one point, which did make me chuckle. As before, there’s a lot of voice work on offer here, too; everyone from your commanding officer, your co-pilot, and those you’ve rescued will offer encouragement, reprimands, and reminders as you blast your way through enemy targets and the game’s story is once again told entirely through some of the cheesiest and overly-edited FMV sequences from this era of gaming.
Enemies and Bosses:
If you’ve played any of the Strike games before, particularly the previous game, then you know exactly what to expect in terms of enemies. Interestingly, I noticed that there seemed to be far less soldiers this time around; they’re still there, now sporting conical headwear and still shooting rifles and rockets from the ground and from trees, but they seemed less frequent than before. There are some variants here, too; after Pyongyang is devastated by a nuclear explosion, enemy soldiers wear haz-mat suits, and you’ll find a lot more armoured personnel carriers this time around. As is expect, tanks, jeeps, and anti-aircraft cannons are commonplace throughout Nuclear Strike; there seems to be a lot more missile launchers this time around as the stakes are much higher and enemies also barrel across the landscape of motorcycles to make for difficult targets. Occasionally, enemy helicopters will enter the fight and can also prove to be difficult to target; it’s therefore heavily advised that you destroy them while they’re grounded or make use of the “jink” feature toe strafe around them when they come flying in at high speeds. You’ll still need to check your fire as well; it’s all very well and good blasting away at enemy strongholds to free prisoners and such but you’ll screw up the mission if you kill or destroy the wrong targets and cost yourself some valuable resources if you’re too trigger happy, to say nothing of the greater number of enemy forces this time around.
For all the improvements and new features included in Nuclear Strike, you still won’t encounter any traditional boss battles. For the most part, the closest you’ll get to this is being tasked with destroying fleets and waves of enemies; the second campaign sees you defending a satellite from a missile attack, taking out an airfield and nine Hell Ranger choppers, destroying a fleet of chips, tracking down and sinking missile boats before they can launch, and raiding an enemy base. There’s also a heavily-defended oil rig here which pops up again in the game’s hidden campaign; if you don’t drop the nitro onto it, this can be quite difficult to destroy as it takes quite a beating and the target you’re there to retrieve even makes a getaway in a boat afterwards! After Pyongyang’s left a radioactive hellscape from a nuclear explosion, you need to safeguard an armoured train; enemy trains will come up from behind and ahead to try and ram and destroy yours so you need to take them out quickly, but the enemy tanks and missile launchers can’t be ignored either. The sheer number of enemy forces in the fourth campaign cannot be tackled alone; you need to give orders to your various ground troops to help you out as tanks, missile launchers, and armoured carriers can easily swarm all over the map and spell disaster for you. In the final mission, you won’t be able to put a dent in those Guardian Guns without your co-pilot disabling them first, but you also need to distract them so they don’t shoot or run her over, which can be a death sentence in itself. Finally, when the proto-nuclear missile is prepped for launch, you and your co-pilot need to blast it to smithereens to safeguard the civilised world, but you’ll also need to destroy the super-tough carrier it’s on and keep an eye out for any cannons, choppers, and tanks still roaming around the base.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
All the usual resources you’d expect from a Strike game are on offer here: you’ll find caches and crates of fuel, armour, and ammo scattered around the map, hidden inside buildings, and waiting at landing zones. Very rarely, you’ll also find an extra life that you can winch up and there are even some secret pick-ups to be found in certain campaigns, such as the aforementioned nitro, sea mines, night vision goggles, a faster winch, and a super cannon. Every campaign also has at least one vehicle you can switch to or drop your co-pilot off to use; there are often benefits to switching to a tank, such as being able to crash through buildings and obstacles, to say nothing of the additional and much appreciated power of the Harrier jet, though some, like the hovercraft, can be a little unwieldy to control.
As it still lacks any unlockables or even a scoring system, the main reason to revisit Nuclear Strike is to test out different loadouts, maybe try the “Normal” difficulty if you beat the game on “Easy”, seek out the hidden vehicles and optional objectives in each campaign, and try to complete your missions in faster and more efficient ways. The only thing you gain upon completion is a teaser for the next game in the series, apparently titled Future Strike, which obviously we never got, though STRIKE files are once again available on the main menu to add some extra context to the story. You can also still use passwords to skip to later campaigns or make your playthrough far easier and more enjoyable with some useful cheats; you can gift yourself stronger weapons, speed yourself up, disable enemy fire, or reap the benefits of unlimited fuel, invincibility, infinite ammo, and armour to make even the toughest campaigns a little easier. These can be entered in conjunction with level passwords, which is even better, and there’s even a password to access a secret campaign that appears to be some kind of test or training mission; here, you’re given three objectives (destroy hostiles to liberate allies, commandeer a tank or Harrier, and destroy a fortified oil rig) and basically given a little sandbox to mess around in.
Without a doubt, Nuclear Strike is leaps and bounds the best in the series since the second game; where Soviet Strike was quite a stripped back experience that didn’t take advantage of the PlayStation’s greater power beyond the 3D paintjob and other aesthetic features, Nuclear Strike adds a whole bunch of variety to the presentation that makes it a truly worthwhile entry in the series. Everything that worked from the last game returns as reliable as ever but has been improved upon; the additional vehicles that reskins of choppers are great fun to use and actually give an incentive for exploration and I enjoyed how varied the campaigns were to create a nice balance between frantic combat, rescue, and escort missions. Unfortunately, the real-time strategy mechanics were more miss than hit with me; not being able to figure out how to highlight the bases or command the troops remotely made it more of a chore than it needed to be, but these mechanics were still better implemented than the awful on-foot sections from the third game. The twist of lumbering you with a non-lethal and ineffectual craft added an extra level of strategy to one campaign, though defending that train proved quite tricky thanks to how fragile the carriages are. The music wasn’t much to shout about but I enjoyed the visual variety on offer, the increased stakes, ad the new graphical features such as lasting damage and improved polygons and explosions. Although Nuclear Strike is a vast improvement over Soviet Strike in every way, though, there’s still a distinct lack of replayability to the title that keeps it for being a five-star experience; I’d definitely recommend this one of the two and it’s a game I can see myself revisiting, but the difficulty curve can still be a brick wall at times and it’s not always massively clear what you need to do to progress even with the improvements to the map system. Overall, Nuclear Strike is well worth a playthrough, and you can easily just skip to this one form the second game, but don’t be ashamed to take advantage of the cheat codes if you’re struggling.
Did you ever own Nuclear Strike back in the day? How do you think it compares to the previous game and the other games in the series? What did you think to the vehicles on offer, and which was your favourite? Were you a fan of the new environments and the altered mission objectives? How did you find the real-time strategy mechanics and which of the campaigns was the hardest for you to complete? Whatever your thoughts on Nuclear Strike, go ahead and share them below or comment on my social media and maybe check out my other Strike reviews.