It wasn't too long ago that I reviewed the first Conflict: Desert Storm, and at the time it seemed like a pretty unique, creative game—the kind of sleeper hit that's overlooked in the wake of the biggest system-sellers. I was, and still am, impressed with the simple to understand yet deep squad command interface that is still superior to many of the better-known tactical shooters out there. Well, apparently the developers were also pretty impressed with the game, so they made it again. Back to Baghdad does boast a few very minor tweaks and improvements, but for the most part it feels exactly like its predecessor—a fact that both helps and hurts the final product.
The problem is that after the previous Conflict game was released, another tiny little game edged its way onto consoles. You may remember that little game as Rainbow Six 3. Oddly enough, there were times when I wished that I could do some of the things in Rainbow Six that I can do in Conflict. But overall the tactical action in Rainbow Six is so superior to that of Conflict that Back to Baghdad doesn't do nearly enough to be a contender.
The core of the game, and still the best reason to play it, is the absolutely superlative squad command interface. Through very simple button combinations, commands can be issued to each of the four squad members. A sniper can be sent to an overlook, told to look in a specific direction and be told exactly when to open fire. Meanwhile, a heavy gunner can be strategically placed to set up suppression fire while the rifleman flanks the enemy, clearing the path for the demolitions expert.
As in the first game, squad members can exchange any item in their inventory, including items just picked up. So, for example, if the medic happens upon a rocket launcher that he has no skill to use, he can simply hand it to the heavy gunner. As in the previous game, characters gain experience from level to level (much like Ghost Recon), so it is always within the player's best interest to leave given weapons and items in the hands of the soldier best prepared to use them.
Where Back to Baghdad falters is in the action itself. For such a beautifully designed squad interface, the action lacks any sense of realism. Soldiers can take a multitude of shots and simply pop a medkit (which are abundant) when health runs low. It is in this respect that Back to Baghdad falters in the shadow of the vastly superior action of Rainbow Six 3. The graphics and sound, though purportedly improved, leave much to be desired. The artificial intelligence is also supposedly improved, but enemies are so comparatively easy to dispatch that if they are indeed smarter, they don't get much chance to show it off.
It's not a bad game by any stretch, and indeed the big guns of Tom Clancy's games could stand to learn a thing or two from the flexibility and depth of the squad command interface. But it still feels too much like the same game I played the first time, and with the vastly superior action in Rainbow Six 3 having evolved the tactical shooter on consoles, Back to Baghdad simply fades into the background as an also-ran.
- Demo roundup — Batman: Arkham Asylum, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, Dawn of War II, Darkest of Days - August 18, 2009
- Why isn’t PC gaming pushing technological boundaries? - July 23, 2009
- ARMA II quick impressions: I’m really trying! - July 3, 2009