Persian Gulf Inferno - In-depth Written Amiga Review With Pics
*Game played/shown in NTSC mode with 4:3 aspect ratio, designed in PAL
Did you ever have any games scare you when you were growing up? Having already watched movies such as Child's Play and The Terminator I can't say too many video games brought me chills, though I do recall a few which were able to bring jump scares via loud noises during the introduction scenes. These games kind of frightened me into thinking perhaps I'd be waking somebody up, bringing an end to my time at the computer before it had begun, though the games themselves didn't tingle the spidey senses within. When it came to the movies what usually ended up scaring me most were moments which caused deep reflection on real world possibilities, and nuclear war tended to be high on that list for me.
Born during the tale end of the Cold War, the end of everything seemed a distinct possibility to this old soul. Adding onto to the Soviets were various conflicts in the Middle East, along with the occasional raid from terrorist organizations. Nothing spelled reality check to me more than the visual of a mushroom cloud in an artistic medium. The resulting devastation need not even be seen, it could be felt in the mind. From the introduction voice sampled chant, to the accompanying music and the game over nuclear explosion, Persian Gulf Inferno managed to be a rare game which terrified me.
Fear wasn't enough to keep me away from a video game, especially when it was a rare Amiga side scroller. Rare at least on the American side of the pond. While I loved them on my Nintendo and Sega consoles, American computer gamers in general, including my father buying the games, did not tend to purchase for their computers what were better seen on consoles. When I did play one on the Amiga, they bore little resemblance to what I had been playing on the NES, making me love the computers all the more! Uniqueness is a quality I tend to value in a much higher regard than many others, and in all facets of life. It is with uniqueness in mind that we come to this title today.
^Onto the oil rig
The story which finds you upon this rig would not be what makes the game unique, I'd call it standard and laughable actually. You're the only volunteer in a hopeless suicide mission! I couldn't say it was common to find worthy reading material in most side scrolling or platforming games of this era. But just the fact that there is some text to read means they went a bit further than most, and it at least sets the scene for you prior to entering the main game. The premise of the gameplay is what I find to be unique. Persian Gulf Inferno sets you at the corner of a large oil rig with the goal of ending a terrorist threat through saving various hostages and disarming a nuclear bomb. You have but a 9mm pistol with five rounds, and two explosive charges upon starting.
While you'll find no shortage of enemies with which to dispatch, the game manages to present you with the feeling that you're undertaking a stealthy covert operation. There might be a prolonged period with no encounters as you jog along one corridor, while the floor above you features a shower of enemies which could be difficult to avoid taking damage from. Numerous doors indicate a room which can be searched. While it could be empty, these rooms are where you'll find essential resources such as ammo, guns, and hostages. Most rooms are locked and can only be entered with a keycard or explosive charge. It's a game of exploration, but you won't have the luxury of exploring the entire world in a single playthrough. You've come aboard this oil rig at 23:35, and you have until midnight before the whole thing goes boom.
Certain ways are stealthier than others, but you'll still need guns, collecting items is a necessity, but you must be fast. I would not welcome these contradictions of gameplay to most games, but when you dare to be different, you run by your own set of rules. Generally for games I feel you can't get much more loathsome than to feature a timer, but I'm alright with it here. This isn't two or five minutes, we will be presented with a chunk of time to explore. Running out of time can incentivizes us to check the corners we didn't peek around before, lest it feature an upgraded weapon, or an alternative and faster option for a keycard.
^Combat with the pistol
What will that next floor bring you? Should we sneak in from the roof or climb up from the basement? There's a constant and subtle musical track playing in the background, the bass drum filling the air with anticipation. The atmosphere is palpable. Graphically it appears most of the effort went into the title screen, with most in-game closeups paling in comparison to that image. The main gameplay world is not graphically impressive, though it is quite detailed. Crates and barrels line some hallways, pipes twist around corners leading to large tanks in the basement. As you enter the office portions of the rig, freight containers give way to bathrooms, mainframes, dining rooms, even lockers which lead to a basketball court! Many rooms are complete with unique paintings on the wall, and there's even a Coke machine (though any resemblance to actual people, places, or products is not intended according to the credits). The animation of your actual characters and the terrorists are the most impressive part of the graphics, appearing to have been rotoscoped and thereby moving quite fluidly.
Despite the combat being a simple matter of if you see someone, shoot them; it can prove to be rather difficult. When one or two pop up, the main issue is that several more will usually come from behind at that point. Upon taking care of those in front of you and turning around, the animation will suck up valuable time leaving you vulnerable. Meanwhile they'll be more coming from the original direction you faced, and surely several shots will be fired upon you before you turn around yet again. The trick is don't ever turn around. Kill the ones in front of you and then move forward to wipe the enemies behind you off the screen. Moving forward seems to move those enemies from behind to in front, so you'll still have to face them, but you're in a far better position of protecting yourself this way.
While the enemies may seem like they're popping up out of nowhere, they in fact always show up at the exact same locations. Once you've taken that group out, you'll find that area clear for the rest of the game. In this way you can eventually anticipate when combat is approaching, to find a way to bypass that group, or to be ready to face them head on. Different guns have different effects, with the pistol requiring three shots to take out one enemy. You'll want to pick up the shotgun as quickly as is feasible, because that only takes one shot for death. A machine gun can also be found which will tear up an entire group in second or two. Even with these more powerful guns ammo may at times come at a premium, causing the need to revert back to a previous weapon.
^Explosive charge, hostages, the riffle
But you'll have to find them first! You must familiarize yourself with this large world, and you're destined to die many times prior to accomplishing that. I've been playing this game since it was new and you're looking at the first times I was able to beat it, some thirty years later. As a kid I was able to feel myself around enough to where I knew where to find the first keycard, the shotgun, and the first group of hostages. That group would then point me toward the next, which also happened to be nearby the Uzi. So I did get a nice chunk into the game just feeling my way around back in the day. I remember coming back to it ten years ago knowing that I used to know where those things were, but for the life of me I kept passing them by. Re-exploring anew during my time with the game here, I located the rifle again but decided to take a different approach for the rest of the game.
I wanted to win this thing finally, and I wanted to do that without getting to a point of frustration. Taking a page from my RPG background, I decided to map a side scroller for the first time in my life. Figuring out when to mark a new screen on the graph paper is an exercise of guessing combined with reason. Numbering which doors contain what allowed me to strategize an efficient route which would not take me too far out of my way, while still collecting enough ammunition. Even after accomplishing this I still finished the game with less than five minutes remaining. Taking this into account, there would surely be those who are wanting to complete a game and would view the need to map as unforgivable.
Well, it didn't stop me from enjoying the game from when it was brand new onward to this very day. I watched my father play it, beyond rare to see him playing and enjoying a side scroller. I can't recall if he ever ended up winning it, but I know I certainly didn't! You don't sit there with it for hours on end, weeks at a time, but for brief bursts of interesting adult oriented gameplay, you can have a lot of fun with the time you do put into it. Play it on that odd occasion once or twice a year, and I see no reason to become frustrated with the fact that you're not winning. It's only with a determination that you must win, and therefore must continue to play a game over and over again which was not meant to be consumed in that manor that you'll get frustrated. If you gotta win, I say map it, and much like my time with role playing games, mapping is incredibly rewarding to the few who are bothered to attempt it.^My map of the game, beyond 600 individual screens
You can still get incredibly far into this game without mapping it. Really all you need to do is stumble upon one group of hostages, and realistically the keycards which allow you to open the doors housing them. Once you find one group of hostages, they will point you toward the next group fairly accurately, some ridiculously so. "Take the elevator down four floors and turn left, take the stairs up two floors and turn left, there you'll find Dr. Feelgood." Others will just point you to the general vicinity but you'll have to explore that area a tiny bit. Just go where they tell you to go and eventually you'll find the bomb, along with the method to diffuse it. I find it highly unlikely you'll make it to where they're pointing to without exploring elsewhere to find ammunition and weapons, but at the very least this will allow you to feel some progression.
Technically you don't even have to save the hostages. Find the guns and some ammo and should you know where the bomb is and how to stop it, you can speed your way there. I'm not a fan of this, I believe saving the hostages should be a necessity to completing the game. Thankfully the speed running method is at least presented with a harder difficulty. Going directly to the bomb without an elevator card means you'll have to take the roof, presenting you with a virtual army of almost non-stop enemy presence. Even with all of the guns and a ton of ammo, this is not an easy method for victory. No matter how you cut it, it's a challenging game to complete. It's a game for adults or teens with adult situations, and the challenge is worthy of an adult.
Your character can take a maximum amount of ten hits before dying, though a close up shot to the head will end things instantly. I found it to be a decent amount of damage, with enemies toward the beginning of the game being fewer and taking some time between shots, meaning even new players won't be destroyed instantly. You are able to roll and duck while shooting, though it's not always apparent these actions are helping you. Much of the time doing anything which takes time will end up giving the enemy a free shot, so it's often better to stand and shoot as fast as possible. However, if you can roll forward while scrolling the screen away from the terrorists coming in from behind, this method can actually be helpful to get them off the screen where running forward may not have been quick enough. There is one opportunity to heal yourself in-game through finding the doctor, he will bring you back to full health.
^Game over man, the machine gun
Personally I'd call the sound effects excellent, though I can see a couple issues with the voice samples. They're excellent sounding and absolutely give the feeling of fighting terrorists, with the samples sounding like what you'd hear from an Islamic group demonstrating against America. While I do not know the language, my feeling is that the samples are gibberish, mimicking the tones. Thus, I can certainly see people being greatly offended. Even if the samples were accurate to the language, a game about terrorists is going to offend some for the simple fact that it exists and dares discuss the topic. I like all kinds of games featuring all types of situations, including real life scenarios exaggerated or not. I've also come to note a certain type of old school gamer who has little regard for the technical sounds that they hear, and seem to be easily agitated by repetitive samples. I'd tell them to go to DOS and try out the PC speaker, that these sounds are simply impressive for any machine in 1990. Nevertheless, contrary to all reviewers who looked at this when new, I could see a certain type today being annoyed that a lot of the samples repeat.
The controls take some getting used to. When I came back to this game ten years ago, I remember having all kinds of troubles going up and down the stairs. When I see people cover this game for the first time, bad controls are often a highlight. Coming back I couldn't understand it because I don't remember having issues playing as a kid. It's rather simple once you figure it out, hit up or down on your joystick when you're on the arrows painted next to the stairs. Do it too soon or too late and your character ends up rolling when trying to go down, or just continuing past the stairs trying to go up. Rolling when you meant to duck can also be an issue if you're already moving in a direction and move the joystick diagonally down, instead you'll want to center it and press down. In my video review for the game I believe I accidentally rolled a total of one time, if you can get used to them, they're not bad. They may not be great, but they are not bad.
Persian Gulf Inferno was developed by Parsec Software in Denmark, it was an Amiga original and ported to only the Atari ST and the Commodore 64. From what I've seen, the ST version is visually identical, but plays unforgivably slow. The 64 version has a different graphic set, and alters the gameplay enough that I could see some preferring that one. It was originally published by Innerprise in America, followed by Magic Bytes in Europe. Innerprise was an offshoot of Discovery International, one of the Amiga's most well known publishers in the 1980's, and this title was among their first releases. Magic Bytes actually ended up altering the European release of this game in various ways. Overall I'd call it a much easier version, but that's through weighing it as a whole. You can only take five hits before you die, however there's no instant death head shots and there are multiple rooms with medical supplies to heal you.
^Found the girlfriend, NorthSea PAL version
Your pistol kills with only two hits instead of three, and enemy placement and numbers are altered to be easier. Most of the items are in different locations, including the bomb. I couldn't even find the Uzi and still managed to beat it, though you're actually required to free all the hostages in this version. The gameplay is much less dependent on knowing where everything is at, as your explosive charges come into play more. In the original American release you start with only two explosives which can open a locked door, and there's only one room which contains more. I mostly used them when mapping before I had found the keycards for the doors. With the Magic Bytes version most rooms with ammunition will also contain charges, meaning keycards are not required.
The music has also been altered, I'd call it different having no real opinion on which is better or worse. The winning and death screens have been altered as well. In Germany the game was renamed to North Sea Inferno, removing the gore and having the dead bodies disappear instantly instead of lingering on the screen. It was of no use there, effectively being banned unless asked for specifically. I could point people toward the Magic Bytes releases if they're seeking an easier challenge, as it even gives you an extra ten minutes on the clock. However, I'd plead with them to play it in NTSC mode.
The main complaint from those looking at this title these days is that it's slow and boring, something I'd point to being entirely the fault of playing it in PAL mode which all emulators default to. It was actually designed in PAL, made obvious by the clock ticking faster than real life seconds in NTSC mode. In fact due to that clock, you really only have twenty minutes to beat the game in NTSC, however it's more than made up for by the increase in overall game speed. I can walk faster than this character jogs in PAL mode, and when going up and down stairs it can be rather painful to endure, so I'd recommend NTSC for this title despite being designed in Europe, regardless of the actual version you're playing.
While numerous American magazines made note that the game had been released, only one actually reviewed it. Amazing Computing called the game a disappointment "when compared to Innerprise's other major release, Battle Squadron." While they did compliment the games sounds and graphics and said that it can be fun to play despite its failures (the only failure being that it's not Battle Squadron), they concluded that you shouldn't pay full price for it! Slap in the face awfulness right there. In a review for the side scrolling Persian Gulf Inferno, they couldn't stop mentioning a space shooter from the same company because although it's good and fun, it's not as good and fun as this completely separate game!
European magazines were all over the place. Computer and Video Games said it was "spiffing little game", "packed with shoot'em up action aplenty". They noted the characters being small but well animated, with the samples working well. They did note the long term qualities as being questionable, but that they've enjoyed playing it. An opinion which matches well with my own. The Games Machine called the backgrounds drab and the sprites poorly defined "although animation is okay". They called the sound effects "brilliant" but then misquoted some lines as "Destroy the ali-fell'off" and "Do you want a tomato juice?!", which I believe speaks questionably about that reviewers state of mind. They finished by saying the gameplay was slow and monotonous, "worth playing for the laughs, but not worth buying." giving it a 65%.
CU Amiga called it a clone of Impossible Mission (it is not) and that the beat 'em'up Hammerfist was a better clone. They called it "thoroughly unremarkable. The action is slow and the strategy limited." while noting there were no sound effects for the enemies when shooting. There are indeed sound effects when the enemies are shooting... They concluded by calling it band wagon jumping on middle eastern issues despite admitting that it will always be a hot spot for such issues, calling it "reconstituted matter" but somehow giving it a 72%. The German magazine Amiga Joker covering the North Sea Inferno version, seemed to like it quite a bit, which I based off some image translations. They gave it an 82%.
I can see this game being a perfect licensed tie-in for a movie franchise. Alter things slightly and this game would fit perfectly as Rambo III or Die Hard, and it would have been much better than the actual games released for those franchises at that time. A favorite of mine for the Genesis would end up being the game for the movie True Lies. Take away the side scrolling and replace it with a top down view and this has the basics of that games gameplay several years before it! There's multiple levels there instead of one big world, but you need to find the guns and items and it has a similar stealthy atmosphere to it. A feeling of the Commodore 64 classic Impossible Mission flows through as well, with some of the stealth factors, and elevators featuring prominently. I've been playing this one for thirty years and while I'd never sink a ton of time into it, I've always enjoyed myself when I do play. It's one big large world, it's atmospheric with nice pacing, and it's a challenge with a unique premise.
Hope you'll check out my video review, where I go more into my gaming memories and even conduct a bit of research to conclude the game was released in 1990, despite several online sources claiming 1989. I'll read from most of the magazines mentioned here, giving my response to them all, and show off some extras like the game's box. If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in my looks at Hostage: Rescue Mission (Amiga), North & South (Amiga), or Sword of Sodan (Amiga).