The player controls an Apache gunship and undertakes several missions for the US government as they attempt to thwart the actions of the mad dictator, General Kilbaba.
Played from an isometric perspective, the game is more tactical than an out and out shooting game.
Coming so soon after the end of the war it depicts the game was initially thought to be in bad taste. Ultimately the quality of the game won out and it was a huge seller, spawning a number of sequels. Soviet in particular alludes to Desert in one mission suggesting the events of that game were retconned as a STRIKE mission, which could mean that STRIKE had a part to play in the other two games.
Contains examples of the following tropes:
- Cavalry Betrayal: The American soldiers and pilots, who are stranded behind the enemy lines and waiting for the player to rescue them, aren't exactly immune to friendly bullets.
- Critical Existence Failure: Your chopper can be shot full of holes from all manner of rocket and AA gunfire, down to 5 remaining hitpoints and still keep fighting just as well as it does at 100% health, but one stray bullet from a soldier's rifle, and...
- Easy Logistics: What luck that our helicopter can instantly replenish ammo, fuel and even armor just by winching up supplies that just happen to be scattered all over the battlefield!
- Fast-Roping: Sporadically, the player's co-pilot will use this method in order to perform a certain task on the ground (e.g. entering a building and freeing an important prisoner).
- Hammerspace Hideaway: The real Apache helicopter doesn't have passenger seats, so this must be where (up to 6 of) those rescued hostages and co-pilots sit. On the other hand...
- Hyperspace Arsenal: Averted, the Apache's weapons load-out is 100% accurate. (Yes, it can actually carry 38 Hydra rockets, 8 Hellfire missiles and 1200 20mm Chaingun rounds at once.)
- Inertia Is a Cruel Mistress: It certainly makes hovering over various pickups trickier.
- Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence: Your chopper can't change altitude, so you have to fly around two story buildings or mountains.
- It's Up to You: The whole story, a mix of The Gulf War and a generic action plot that ends with saving the world from World War III rests on one pilot and co-pilot and the co-pilot has to be saved in the final mission.
- Just Plane Wrong: The final mission of Desert Strike features a C-5 Galaxy cargo plane as a "nuclear bomber".
- Made of Explodium: Every vehicle and building will come apart in a nice shower of fragments and orange fireballs.
- Made of Iron: Though not invincible, your helicopter can take a lot of missile hits and keep flying.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- General Kilbaba (who invades a small but wealthy Arab emirate) is basically Saddam Hussein. The camouflage-wearing man giving the mission briefings resembles General "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf.
- In the ending, the player character and his co-pilot are honored with a ceremony at the White House. The President of the United States and his First Lady resemble George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush, respectively.
- Qurac: The actual country involved in Desert Strike is never named.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The Gulf War.
- Side Quest:
- You're given bonus points for going above and beyond the mission parameters. If your mission is to take out a power station, take out the electrical towers with it; if you only need to capture one enemy commander to fulfill your objective, get the other three anyway; and so on. This game, in particular, has an unadvertised mission to locate and rescue the MIA co-pilot during the second campaign.
- In the third campaign, you can find the EANN news crew and hover-lift them back to the TV station. The landing zone disappears immediately upon drop-off, so if you left some behind and grab them, they're stuck taking space inside your chopper until you complete the campaign or get a game over.
- Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: One of of your copilots has to be rescued by you.
- Turns Red: Inverted. At the start of each campaign, the enemy has various radars and electrical systems in operation which, while active, make their units target you faster, hit harder and have significantly more armour. Naturally, these radars/power plants will be among your first objectives to level the playing field.
- 24-Hour News Networks: The EANN (Electronic Arts News Network).
- Weapon of Mass Destruction: Chemical, bio and nuke weapons.