Leveling third world villages was never so much fun.
Wow. This game completely took me by surprise. Nuclear Strike, the umpteenth installment of the 'Strike' series from Electronic Arts continues the tradition of mass destruction, helicopter style. For those unfamiliar with the series (Desert Strike, Jungle Strike, Soviet Strike), Nuclear Strike is an action/shooter with a little strategy mixed in. The game is played from a three-quarters overhead perspective.
Once again, you command a Super Apache attack helicopter and fly missions in order to save the world. This time around you're in search of one Colonel LeMonde, a warmonger who has control of a tactical nuclear weapon. Each level is played on a giant map that you remain on until you complete all the sub-missions. The plot quickly develops as you finish sub-missions, where you are informed via radio and video of your next goal. Missions include search and destroy, air support, rescues, dropping off supplies, and many others. There are also opportunities to fight alongside friendly troops and to command troops. As if that weren't enough, 15 different vehicles, ranging from hovercrafts to harriers, are available for you to pilot throughout the game.
The gameplay in Nuclear Strike is well done on the whole, but some areas could use tweaking. The main problem with the game play is the inability to aim at times. There is an auto-targeting system employed, but it often misses enemies as you swing back and forth. It is also horrible trying to fight over hilly areas, because the weapons fire at the wrong distance, missing 90% of the time. This usually means you have to circle your target to hit it, which ruins the element of surprise. Other than that, the controls are intuitive and very responsive. After some practice anyone can become an ace pilot.
The player interface in Nuclear Strike is very user friendly. The heads-up display shows all necessary information (fuel, ammo, a compass, etc.) and when you press pause to get mission information, a wealth of knowledge is at your fingertips. There are video clips, text, vehicle information, and an indispensable map that tells you where mission goals, enemies, armor, fuel, ammo, friends, and extra vehicles are located. The game screen is a bit small and can be annoying when you're shot at from off screen. Most of the time this isn't a problem though if you use your radar, which tells you the location of every nearby enemy.
How much did they spend on all those cut scenes? Although some were obviously filmed for a couple of bucks in someone's back yard (seriously), the majority of them (and there are plenty) are pretty decent. This keeps you hooked to the game in order to find out what will happen next. My only peeve with the full-motion video is the stereotypical, annoying, postmodern, 'Generation X' (sorry I had to say that), MTV-like editing they pound into your head. It serves little purpose, and the only point I saw in it was to cover up some of the bad acting and backyard scenery. Speaking of acting, I was fairly impressed with the low-budget performances in Nuclear Strike. It really shows that Electronic Arts spent the extra five minutes to hire decent actors, instead of dragging people in off the streets (ahem... Resident Evil).
This is definitely the best-looking 'Strike' game yet. The maps are all gorgeously rendered, and all the vehicles and buildings are highly detailed. What really stands out is the ability to interact with everything. When you shoot water, you see and hear the splashes. You can blow up almost anything that they've put on the map, including bridges, docks, trees, towers, and tons of buildings. Destroying things is where the realism falters a bit. Unless this game is based on an alternate reality of Earth where there is less gravity, then I don't believe that huge frigates should launch 50 feet up out of the water when destroyed. It's pretty funny, but it does detract from the believability factor. My favorite thing is when you attack people hiding in the bushes and they scream this god-awful noise and then slide half way up a mountain.
The difficulty and length of the game is perfect. You have the option of playing the five major levels and one secret level in either normal or easy mode. The missions aren't too frustrating but still provide a challenge. My only gripe with the levels is the fact that if you screw up on a mission somehow, you have to start all over. This is known to cause the banging of the head on a hard surface.
Overall, Nuclear Strike is a winner. Electronic Arts put a lot of work into this one. I must admit I was skeptical at the sight of yet another 'Strike' game, because come on, how much could they change it? But I was pleasantly surprised and found myself addicted to saving the world from nuclear disaster. There are a few problems with the game, but they're all overshadowed by its strengths. It's also true that this is basically the same rehash of the its predecessors, but it stands as a great game on its own. Nuclear Strike is a definite buy for fans who haven't tired of the series, and at least a 'rent me' for those who have been locked in the closet and haven't played any 'Strike' games.