Review

Kung Fu Panda Review (PC)

So, here we are again. Me, my legions of adoring readers, and my next game Conflict: Desert Storm II Back to Baghdad. As some of my more intelligent readers may be able to discern from the II in the title, this game is a sequel to 2002's Conflict: Desert Storm. For the less intelligent, Desert Storm Aye Aye sounds like a seriously retarded naval game of some sort. Those same intelligent readers might also discern from the original game's name that the game was set in the Middle East during the early 1990s' Operation: Desert Storm. But don't get cocky smart guys. You might like to believe that this new Desert Storm game will take us into the most recent Iraqi Storm, but you'd be wrong. WRONG, I say! We're going right back to 1991 and the original Desert Storm. But rest assured C:DS 2 is a sequel, and one that improves on the original a great deal. And while I'm sure the release of a sequel so soon was prompted by the political and military events of the last year (you just can't pass up free marketing) I make this solemn promise to you on the lives on my grandchildren, Billy Bob and Lashwanda, this review, despite tying into an internationally serious hot topic, will remain 100% nonpolitical and completely inane. I also promise that there will be at least one typo where I spell Desert as Dessert. Hilarity will ensue.

So after all that jibber jabber you know pretty much nothing about the game. I'm the worst reviewer ever. Let me try and rectify that. Conflict: Desert Storm II is a squad-based tactical action shooter with a tie-in to modern military history, which is kind of rare and nice. There's not exactly a story in the game per se. You go to Iraq and shoot people. This insanely deep story is laid out by a linear progression of 10 missions. Each mission has its own setting and unique objectives where you kill people, then you kill some more people and blow some stuff up. Sometimes, objectives are revealed in-game as you progress, which, I guess, is an attempt at adding some depth and danger to the linear missions. Does it work? Well, not for me, but you may be different. Adding a little depth to the game are the characters making up your strike force. Since the real life Desert Storm was a Coalition affair your squad of four specialists can be either American Delta Force or British SAS personnel. Choose wisely, as you make this selection at the beginning of a new game and it 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. But wait, there's more! Order now and the individuality won't stop there. Each team member will come complete with his own name and unique appearance, just like real people! That should give you a little more attachment to them than if they were just faceless drones catching bullets for you. Graphically, Conflict: Desert Storm II gets the job done but in a middle of the road kind 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. It's really the standard graphical look of all the shooters developed by the small to medium game companies. All of which use a slightly modified version of the same game engine that is becoming rapidly outdated, yet is cheap and still effective enough to sell. Finally, I don't recall seeing sprays of blood exiting your enemies when they are shot, and that's disappointing, at least for a psycho like me.

The audio portion of the game is dominated by a lot of yelling, gunfire, and explosions, and I do mean a lot. When battle is joined all hell breaks loose audio-wise and all of the sounds are rendered pretty well. There's also Dolby Digital audio for those fancy people with fancy PCs and speakers. Not me though, because I'm poor and I spend too much money on beer and my shoelace collection. So basically I can't tell you how good the Dolby is. The music tends to fade into the background, though, what with all the gunfire and the mission at hand. And that's ok by me. Overblown music during a battle is often as annoying as a mosquito bite on your gooch. Also adding Happy Points to the audio portion of the game is the aforementioned voice acting. It's properly accented and suitably military. The only voice acting that doesn't come off very well is for the training mode's drill instructor. It's a poor attempt at sounding like Full Metal Jacket's wild eyed, psycho drill instructor Sgt Hartman, and it comes across as pretty much a cliché. R Lee Ermey this joker isn't.

Now here's where things can get a little squirrelly. The core squad and combat mechanics in Desert Storm II are a little weird at the outset and the training mission doesn't really help alleviate this any unless you play it like nine times. You cycle through your four teammates by hitting the first four number keys. Then each of the four (whichever one you control) squad members can issue individual or group orders to the others. So the chain of command in this version of the military is rather Borg-like. Orders are issued by holding down a key to activate command mode and then firing off orders with various other keys. You can tell your teammates to hold position, form up behind you, take cover, advance on the enemy, fire at will, and probably some other stuff my TV addled brain has forgotten. I know it may not sound too bad, but when the enemy starts blasting away, working those key combinations can be ungainly. But as long as you keep tabs on your teammates' health and switch between them regularly, you can progress through the game's missions without worrying too much about suffering casualties. Practice supposedly makes perfect so don't worry. In time you should be able to get fairly proficient at controlling your squad. Leaving your Three Amigos in the care of the game's squad AI isn't always the best idea. As a matter of fact it's a terrible idea. Kinda like leaving your children in the care of Michael Jackson. The AI might make them proactive about fighting enemies but it doesn't really protect them from getting killed. Of course, you can issue orders to bring them back behind cover, but, as mentioned above, 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. It sucks to have to jump between teammates in firefight.

The actual fighting in Conflict: Desert Storm II is somewhat hit-and-miss. Though strangely enough, the mouse aim in is a little bit jumpy and hard to get a handle on. For about 10 minutes I thought my computer didn't have the power to run the game, but, as it turns out, it's just a problem with the game. Needless to say, this can be frustrating. For the most part, though, the combat is reasonably well balanced and entertaining. Every now and then you can also engage in vehicular combat with a jeep or tank in some missions to break up the flow of things a little. Just like the mouse the vehicles feel a little awkward and can be slow to respond to your controls, though.

In the final analysis, Conflict: Desert Storm II - Back to Baghdad manages to walk right down the middle of the road between the Excellent lane and the Crappy lane. It 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 (which was two steps above a pile of junk in my opinion). Unfortunately, scoring major negative points for the game, it looks like we've got another crime against humanity. It has no multiplayer mode. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Nothing. Null. Empty Set. Zip. Undefined. Nil. That's unconscionable for a modern PC shooter. Especially considering (at least according to what I read) that the console version had MP (including a cooperative play mode). Co-Op mode would have been a nice little boost. As it stands, even if the game does float your boat, there's not a lot of replay value, especially without MP. Despite this omission, if you're really into squad-based military action games, and you just can't wait until another one is released, Desert Storm II might be worth a look. Maybe. Until next time...


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