It's been a year since Conflict: Desert Storm first charmed its way into our hard drives. When it arrived it already looked a bit long in the tooth, but some tense gameplay managed to save it from being consigned to the dusty teetering heap of promos in the corner of the office threatening to be sent out as competition prizes.
The more recent GameCube port, however, showed off some of the title's more glaring flaws and we were hoping, nay praying, that Pivotal would be able to pull something special out of the bag for the sequel. The new single-level demo of Conflict: Desert Storm 2 is our first opportunity to find out if the boys have done good.
Not a pretty face
Well it still looks as rough as old boots, sadly. Improvements to the engine appear vague at best; character models are the worst off, as lumpy, almost Quake-era rejects with blobby textures wrapped around their bodies and heads. There is some new animation work, however, with enemy soldiers flopping to the ground a lot more realistically than we remember.
Of course, the lack of sparkly effects and detailed textures means that the game runs like a dream on all but the most out-of-date gaming rigs but frankly, CDS2 simply does not compete visually, particularly when compared to the likes of Raven Shield. In fact, we seem to recall comparing both series' predecessors visually as well, and it's a shame that Pivotal hasn't been able to pick up the pace in the graphical stakes.
The single street-based level in the demo is huge and busy - a great contrast to the sparse desert levels of the original. The streets are littered with rubble, twisted metal and abandoned cars and, despite the simplistic rendering, the requisite detail is still there to provide a tense combat atmosphere. Interiors seem to be much improved, and the demo has you in and out of houses and buildings for cover, up stairs and across rooftops as you work your way through the mission, making for team-based tactical antics that are far more interesting last year's big sandy plod.
Stop saying "objectives"
There are multiple objectives strewn across the map, but these are positioned in such a way that you progress straight from one end to the other. Objectives involve typical army-type stuff - you know, destroying armour, blowing up mortar posts, calling in air strikes and destroying hordes upon hordes of respawning Iraqi soldiers. You still have your three pals to lend you a hand along the way, each with their individual talents for general and heavy assault, demolitions and sniping, and you can still hand out orders to them individually or as a team.
In fact the command interface is still exactly the same, much to our annoyance. That Pivotal hasn't picked up on the issues raised with the interface and made some cosmetic changes at least is really quite baffling, and so we're still stuck with awkward keyboard shortcuts. This would be fine if there were an alternative - text-based point-and-click menus would be a massive boon - but having to learn the combinations again from the outset makes the game neither intuitive nor accessible.
Still, despite its shortcomings, the demo still managed to win us over a little by the time it was all over. The sprawling street layout and town skyline offered plenty of opportunity for enemy sniper nests and hidden ambushes, and the sense of threat as you make your way between checkpoints is palpable. Keeping an eye out for hidey-holes and ducking into them in the face of fire reminded us of some of the finer moments of the admittedly rather shaky Delta Force: Black Hawk Down.
What is it good for?
By the end of the mission, your battle-weary soldiers are still fighting, staving off relentless incoming forces. Constantly at risk of losing it all reminds us that yes, war is shit, but as long as your enemies respawn and your squad-mates can be revived by rubbing a green box on their head, then it's a-ok. Back to Baghdad then, chaps.