It Came From The Desert is an adventure/strategy game developed by Cinemaware and released in 1989 for the Amiga and later ported to various other platforms. Set in June of 1951, the game follows Greg Bradley, a geologist living in the remote town of Lizard Breath in the United States. After a meteorite falls in the outskirts of town, a large army of mutant-ants begin appearing across town and the player is the only one who can stop it.
It Came From The Desert is a non-linear adventure game with elements of strategy, action and horror. The game is successful in creating a haunting atmosphere, where the player won't know what will happen next. There are multiple ways to play the game with many different endings, both good and bad. Each scene can branch off into an entirely different story path, depending on the player's actions and thus multiple playthroughs are required to see everything the game has to offer.
The player moves from location via an overworld map, each trip taking a certain amount of time depending on the distance. The game plays out in real-time, with each second equating a minute in-game. In certain situations, the game allows the player to travel across the town of Lizard Breath in a top-down perspective, from flying planes to access the ant army or even driving a tank. The game features day/night cycles, with some locations and story triggers only available at certain parts of the day. For example, a player can choose to meet a reporter who will require him to be at the town's quarry at 10 AM, failure to arrive at the specified date will effectively end that sidestory. This requires the player to keep track of all their tasks, as no in-game journal exists.
When the player encounters an ant, the game enters a first-person perspective shootout, where the player must shoot off the ant's antennae. This mode is very intense, and there is little room for error, as the player's gun has a limited amount of ammo and only several seconds to react. If the player is incapacitated, they will end up in the hospital. There are several other ways to end up in the hospital, from crashing their car, exposure to smoke, or sexual exhaustion (yep). The player can choose to accept treatment, which can be from one day to several, or escape. The player can attempt to escape the hospital by making their way down to the ground level, which involves a top-down mini-game where the player must use stealth, such as hiding in beds or in rooms as well as using wheelchairs to outrun doctors, nurses and guards. If the player is caught, they are strapped down and they have no choice but to accept recovery, losing precious days of gametime.
Throughout the game, the town will progressively succumb to the ant invasion if the player fails to act against the ants. Ants will start to appear throughout town, buildings will be deserted and some of the townsfolk will begin to transform into mutant ants. The player has just 15 days to repel the ant invasion. In order to do so, the player must first find sufficient evidence to convince the Mayor of the threat. The player can find clues from townsfolk, such as liquid trails or tissue samples. One piece of evidence requires the player to fly a cropduster with a built in sound recorder over the ants and record their sounds. The player can also get evidence from Ants themselves if they successfully disable them, but this is far riskier. When the player finds evidence, he must take it to the town's University Lab, where it can take several days to compile results. If the player has more than one sample of evidence, this time is significantly reduced.
When enough evidence is found and the Mayor is convinced of the threat, the player is put in charge of mobilizing a defense at the town's police department. This brings up the Situation Map, where the player can allocate the army, police, construction and townsfolk to the town's various locations to aid in fending off the ants. Each unit has a special trait: Army units will deploy tanks to battle ants and construction workers can repair buildings destroyed by the ants. The Situation Map must be checked frequently to find out where ants are coming from, so the player can move units to that location. The player can also take the fight to the ants themselves, which can be far more effective and less resource-intense, but can still be far riskier. In order to drive them off, the player must first defeat an initial ant in a shootout then defeat ants in the area using grenades. When the army has been drawn back, the player must find the location of the ant's nest, enter and plant a bomb and escape, destroying the source of the ant army and saving Lizard Breath.
A version of It Came from the Desert was produced for the Genesis/Mega Drive but scrapped due to a game-breaking glitch. In 2014, Cinemaware announced that it was working with retro developer Watermelon to fix the glitch and finally release the Genesis version on cartridge.