N64th Street

Nuclear Strike 64

Posted by: Kevin C. on: November 23, 2012

If you saw the title “Nuclear Strike” and thought GEE WHIZ, I WONDER IF THIS GAME IS RELATED TO [Jungle/Desert/Urban/Soviet] STRIKE, it is! If you’re not familiar, the Strike series is basically about giving you a heavily armed helicopter and setting you loose to either rescue or blow the crap out of people, more or less depending on if they shoot at you first.

Just please, try not to accidentally shoot the president.

The series seems to have been mostly forgotten today, much like another once-mighty EA property- Road Rash. And like Road Rash, the fact that they’ve been more or less forgotten is actually pretty sad. Difficult, frustrating, and occasionally arcane at times though they may be, they were usually pretty thoughtfully designed for what they were- a mission based isometric shoot ’em up. Unlike most shooties, the levels are completely free to be explored, meaning you are typically can fly around and discover secret items. You have limited fuel and occasionally missions have some kind of urgent goal, so you can never just totally relax and cruise; however, it’s rarely too terribly stringent either.

Just be sure to  expect more hit and runs than a Grand Theft Auto game.

With the exception of perhaps Urban Strike, all of the games  were somewhat topical and modern at their release- 1992’sDesert Strike was essentially a Gulf War game, Jungle Strike was all about taking down a South American-y drug lord, and Soviet Strike dealt with the post-USSR power vacuum in Russia. Nuclear Strike, at its original 1997 release for the Playstation, was limited in terms of its topicality- and still not terribly topical in 1999, when this version came out.  Playing it in 2012, however, it almost feels strangely predictive- it starts out in some unnamed Southeast Asian area, kind of a Vietnam-y setting, but that’s not the interesting part. At about the game’s midpoint, you’re thrust right into Pyongyang, where the fictional caricature of Kim Jong-il has the nukes mentioned in the game’s title. After all the nuclear scares of the past decade or so of the not-fake North Korea, I truly doubt this game would have ever been made today- at least by a major publisher. It’s actually pretty awesome, in no small part because they went so far as to model the some of the city and its landmarks.

Let’s see, North Korea’s Arch of Triumph, Kim Il-Sung statue,
and uh… pseudo-White House north face? Help me out here.

Of course, none of this would matter if the game itself blows- which I’m happy to say it doesn’t. In fact, it’s actually some of the most dumb fun that I’ve had with a game that I’d never played previous to starting this review project. It’s challenging without being frustrating, the battles are visually and aurally satisfying, the action is fast but never to the point of getting overwhelming, and the controls have depth without being confusing or otherwise frustrating.  These are actually all pretty big improvements over the previous Strike games, at least the ones that I’ve played- especially the controls, since I usually I just found myself feeling like I was trying to guide a heavily armed bipolar ferret with only a wooden stick. I’m sure that’s something that one can get the hang of given enough time, passion, and more patience than someone that’s still holding their breath for a sequel to Kazaam. That person is not me.

Or perhaps the amount of patience and passion it would take to hack a “NASA mainframe,” like this member of your team.
Also, why the heck would you hack NASA?  To get the plans for authentic astronaut cosplay?
Was hacking this planet not enough? 

Don’t get me wrong, though, this game is definitely not perfect. First off, the levels themselves (at least to the point I’ve played, and not including Pyongyang) are 95% really visually boring. Admittedly, I’ve never flown over Southeast Asia, but Nuclear Strike gives me the impression that it all looks like flying over the American Midwest in the summertime- just a lot of nondescript patches of green, yellow, and brown. Basically, were it not for the Asian-y gates near bridges and the like, you’d never even know it was in an Asian country. The other 5% is actually pretty cool, with large unique landmarks and other totally acceptable frippery. I understand that there’s limitations, both in terms of storage and technical limitations, but I kind of doubt that these levels had to be so spartan overall. And even if some of them did, why did I have to play to the halfway point just to get a large amount of awesome and totally pretty scenery?

Although the octopus-patterned courtyard in this non-Korea level  is pretty amazing.

Another small gripe- previous Strike games (not named Soviet Strike) had a selection of co-pilots that effected your helicopter’s gunnery effectiveness and winch speed. Nuclear Strike, like its predecessor Soviet Strike, completely lacks this detail. It’s a simplification that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a detail from the previous titles that I actually liked quite a bit. Also a disappointment- the levels often have alternate vehicles that one can drive, but all the times I used them had my vehicle near-instantly torn to shreds by the enemies. I looked at a walkthrough to make sure I wasn’t missing something, and while the only one on Gamefaqs is for the fairly different Playstation version of the game, it seemed to make clear that optional vehicles like the Harrier Jet were insanely overpowered. Considering I had no issue keeping my helicopter alive for long periods of time, I have to imagine that this means that the secondary vehicles in the 64 version were nerfed to the point of uselessness. I’m all for re-balancing faults in gameplay, but making the player feel weaker despite putting them in a vehicle that’s usually hidden, rarely available, and logically speaking more powerful… that probably means that you’ve done something wrong.

Everyone knows that Chinese Junk boats are the natural predator to Harrier jets, right? 

Despite these faults, I still found myself totally in love with this game. In fact, the only reason that I stopped when I did was because I only had one good day last week to play games for this project, so I pretty much had to force myself to move on. It’s probably also worth noting that this game is VERY inexpensive, currently going for just slightly more than your average sports title.  So, if this sentiment isn’t already obvious, rest assured that this price doesn’t reflect on the quality of the game in this particular instance. Pick up a copy now while it’s cheap, before people start to realize just how awesome of a game that they’ve been missing.

CONCLUSION: 

Napalm Facial | Please Hit Eject | On Strike | Hit and Missile | Average | Mildly Explosive |  Chopperific | Heli of a Time | Duke of Nukes |  Nuclear Superpower

Choppers: Easy to pick up and play, inexpensive, challenging but rewarding gameplay, extremely fun (if kind of dumb)
Floppers: Early levels are often very visually boring, no crew customization, weak alternate vehicles

If you like the concept of the Strike series but found them virtually inaccessible when played today, don’t assume that Nuclear Strike is more of the same. The learning curve is comparatively minimal, the North Korean plot is still fairly relevant, and generally feels thoughtfully designed even if the visuals don’t always seem that way.  It’s also just plain fun, to use the most accurate possible word to describe it. This may be the fifth Strike, but don’t assume that means that it’s long since out.

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