Conflict: Desert Storm II - Back to Baghdad is a third person action game that emphasizes squad level tactics between four operatives of the U.S. or British armies. Back to Baghdad is a follow-up that uses the same graphics engine as its predecessor. It manages to eliminate some but not all of the inconsistencies and annoyances from the former title.
For those of you who are deciding whether or not to run for the presidency in America, this was the war you should support; the recent one is the one you should be opposed to. While Back to Baghdad doesn’t deal with the material that we see every day on CNN or BBC, it is still a poignant reminder of what happens today. And no doubt, its release is rather timely. The original Conflict game sold well merely on the rumors of a war with Iraq. But now that nations are war weary, Back to Baghdad has to deliver more than just desert sands and laser guided bombs.
The game starts before the Gulf War even begins. Special operations forces are dropped in to lay down the groundwork by eliminating SAM sites, neutralizing communication centers and disarming SCUD missile launchers and warheads. Because you’re behind enemy lines, support will come in the form of helicopter rocket attacks (you can paint targets using a laser designator) or the odd tank or APC. For the most part, though, you’ll be gunning it alone. Alone might not be the exact term I would use as you duke it out alongside four team members: a rifleman, a heavy machine gun expert, a demolitions man and a sniper.
The action in Back to Baghdad is of the arcade variety. Undoubtedly, you will die if you run headlong into a machine gun nest, but each team member is able to take a significant amount of damage. A tank round, RPG or grenade will kill instantaneously so it’s best not to group your entire squad in an enclosed area. After their initial health meter depletes to nothing, a soldier is incapacitated until you revive him with a medikit. There is a limited supply of these kits but one can reverse any injury. Expect the medikit to be the most used item in your inventory. One squadmate must be alive to administer the medikit (you can’t heal yourself if you’re incapacitated) so it necessitates some strategy on your part.
Back to Baghdad also features vehicles. I found the jeeps to be of little use and more of a liability especially if you have to preserve it to extract from the mission area at the end. The tank was definitely something worth driving but there are few missions with it.
In terms of difficulty vis-à-vis some recent tactical action games, Back to Baghdad is harder than SWAT: GST but definitely easier than Rainbow Six 3. Much of the difficulty you’ll encounter is simply from sheer numbers and firepower. You only have a squad of four soldiers. Each outing has you pitted against (what seems like) a hundred combatants or more, including enemy armor and sometimes enemy helicopters. They get progressively harder not through being smarter soldiers but through being better armed. In the beginning of the game, you’ll face Iraqis who are armed with AK47s. By the end of the game, many will lob grenades, fire RPGs or storm you by the dozens.
The Iraqi locations are constructed such that they seem barely functional. There are many dead end hallways that lead to nowhere. Doors are barred for no reason at all. It’s no wonder it’s so difficult to find any weapons of mass destruction. Enemy soldiers simply wait in their barracks until their cue to spill out and start attacking you. However, the action can be fun even if the unrealistic locales are frustrating at times. During some points in the game, you’ll want to pull your hair simply because there must be a better way to go about completing your objective than running a gauntlet of two tanks and twenty Iraqi soldiers.
Enemy armor is the most devastating foe you’ll come to blows with. Some take two or three anti-tank rockets (RPGs or LAWs depending on what you scavenge) before you are able to destroy them. They’re artificially made difficult because the auto targeting likes to aim at marauding infantry around the tank at the most inopportune times. You might think you have the tank in your sights only to have one guy run by and attract your projectile.
Humorously, I was able to take out a helicopter by slowly firing at it with a pistol. In lieu of any anti-armor weaponry, my favorite tactic turned out to be a suicide C4 bomber who would creep up to the tank, plant the C4 and detonate himself and the tank with him.
In spite of long winding corridors that go nowhere, the game can be entertaining. Sometimes you’ll get lost and will have to backtrack. A door you thought was welded shut might suddenly be open-able. The developers could easily rectify this with big bold arrows or flashing icons, but they choose not to and you might find yourself clearing the extraction area and completing none of the objectives you were supposed to earlier.
Thus, this title would have been better if the design was more polished and the controls were more sophisticated. I usually tolerate bad music in games but Back to Baghdad’s five-minute military brass was simply too much for me to bear by the second mission.
A welcome relief is the co-operative game. It enables up to four players in front of a single television to fight in the Gulf War. I enjoyed this part the most and while it can be frustrating at times, the opportunity to save mid-mission is a blessing. One further note, the mission where your friends are all trapped in their jail cells except the one guy (Player 1), makes its reappearance. I guess the developers thought it was fun that everyone wait around for the one player to finish a quarter of the map.
Still, Back to Baghdad has its moments. During one mission where I commandeered a tank, I had a fellow human player with me inside the vehicle who kept dying from RPG rockets. The dead men would then be ejected from the vehicle and we’d have to exit, set up a perimeter, heal the wounded and get back on the road. That was a frustrating achievement, but in a gratifying type of way. It’s too bad there weren’t more of those.
Take Two recently acquired the rights to the next instalment in the Conflict series, Conflict: Vietnam, so it’s good to hear this won’t be the last tour of duty. It’s had a good run, particularly on the Xbox and GameCube platforms where there are few comparable titles. But the preceding year has turned the tables a bit. The trip back to Baghdad certainly doesn’t look as rosy as it might have seemed earlier on.