Following the lineage of the Jungle and Desert Strike titles was going to be difficult. Both games had proven to be challenging, competently designed and overall fun isometric military action games. But somehow, like the missions that were imposed on the player, Urban Strike pulled it out of the bag and it was amazing, if not amazingly difficult. The game had a laughably contrived narrative, which only added to the underlying fun and focus on the gameplay, but Urban Strike was a solid title to the core.
The last 2D game in the Strike series of games, it immediately tossed players into the mix against media mogul H. R. Malone – a stereotypical millionaire villain who also happened to own a media empire, ran for president and had his very own cult. The guy comes off as pretty evil from the get go, attempting to assassinate the plastic surgeon who reconstructed his face after a terrible fire turned him into a pile of human effluence. But that just sets up for a later reveal.
The bad guy is actually the enemy from the previous title, Jungle Strike, who was thought to have been killed. Oh, that spoony, vile man – how did we never know?! Either way, he kills your partner at the beginning of the game, making the objective to stop him personal and reinforcing the message from the game developers that this guy is kind of a dick.
As stated previously, the gameplay in this is pretty solid. You jump in either a helicopter, tank or go on foot to take the fight across various locales of the United States. Starting in Hawaii, players jump into either a sleek, black helicopter equipped with both machine guns and rockets. Raining fury on the enemies is just one part of the entertainment. Players can strafe entire sections of a map, destroying just about anything in sight or singling out single enemy troopers and gunning them down. But just because you’re armed to the teeth doesn’t mean you’re invincible.
Whether on vehicle or foot, you have an armor rating that you have to be mindful of at any given time, primarily because if you don’t – you’re dead meat. Rocket launchers, missile launchers, machine gun nests, enemy helicopters, gun turrets, tank and jets will become the bane of your existence. And usually at the most inappropriate time possible
You see, an additional dynamic to the game that makes it more interesting, if not incredibly challenging and frustrating is the retrieval objectives. Picking up ground based allies or gear with either a lowered ladder or hook respectively. This may not seem like too big of a deal at first, but navigating a helicopter while attempting to move something across the map and being shot at is not a day at the beach by any stretch of the imagination. As if that weren’t bad enough, you have to avoid anything in your flight path that your helicopter might run into lest you destroy what you’re carrying, fail the objective and subsequently have to restart the entire damn level.
The same goes for picking up allied troops or VIPs on the ground. For instance, there is one objective in an early level where you must lower a giant bomb into the middle of the jungle and pick up a team of green berets. In this case, you have to swap from the sleeker helicopter to this bulkier, tan-colored helicopter that is capable of carrying significantly more people, but once you lower the bomb and clear the jungle – it’s on. The area becomes hotly contested as the 16-bit graphics recreate scenes in your mind from movies like Rambo, Apocalypse Now or even Tropic Thunder. Players must manage to pick up the team of troopers, fight off any opposing forces and survive to get them back to base. If you get shot down en route back, regardless of whether or not you have another chopper to use – the game counts the green berets as dead and you might as well restart the level.
While mission objectives like this might be cool in an isolated circumstance of a single level, Urban Strike piles on about six objectives per level on average and when things go wrong, there usually isn’t any turning back. No checkpoint system means that if you invest yourself in the time it takes to complete a single level by accomplishing all mission goals and you somehow bump into something on the way back to base or run out of fuel and crash – settle in, because you have to do it all over again.
Oh and yes, you can run out of fuel and ammunition. The only way for your helicopter to be resupplied is to pick up fuel tanks or ammo crates scattered across the map with the hook on your helicopter. Seems cool in theory, lending a bit of flexibility to the player in how they get things done, but when fuel tanks can be destroyed by enemy ground fire as you’re trying to pick them up and you have little to no fuel, it makes a huge amount of difference.
Speaking of difference, the on-foot sections of the game did seem original at the time, if a bit sluggish. Arming players with a machine gun and rocket launcher, just like your helicopter, you would have to run into facilities, clear them out and retrieve a particular item as quickly as possible. While it added a bit of spice to the experience, it wasn’t anything that stood out as something particularly innovative when compared to the rest of the proffered gameplay.
Nonetheless, the game does have a hidden gem quality to it that makes it stand out amongst the other games in the Strike series. It takes place in 2001 and ironically has you trying to stop the main villain from destroying the World Trade Center with a super laser, which while eerie is someone kitschy in it’s presentation. But the gameplay reeks of arcade-style play where you really have to try and stay alive – the game gives you nothing and really couldn’t be more enthusiastic to try and rob you of everything you spent a significant amount of time trying to accomplish – so it feels very reminiscent of early shmups like Lifeforce or 1942 in certain aspects.
Overall a difficult, if not completely obtuse, Urban Strike has a bit of glimmer left in it for the people who really enjoy it when a game tries to hand their ass to them on a silver platter. And believe me, Urban Strike will try time and time again. If you haven’t had a chance to give this a shot, but have been exposed to any other title in the Strike series – then without a doubt – you’re missing something pretty awesome here.