Platforms: PC | XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: Most Wanted Entertainment
Publisher: bitComposer Games
Thunder Wolves is a game about blowing things up in an awesome helicopter.
No, really, that's it. If you're looking for deep storytelling and intricate character arcs, you'll be sorely disappointed, because Thunder Wolves is a game about blowing things up in an awesome helicopter. Brutal authenticity and tactical nuance? Revolutionary gameplay systems? Sorry, you'll have to settle for blowing things up in an awesome helicopter.
However, if you rather fancy blowing things up in an awesome helicopter to a pulse-pounding hard rock soundtrack, chances are you'll be in for a ton of fun with this obscenely OTT arcade flight sim.
The year is 1991 and the Middle East is mired in yet another poorly-explained clichéd conflict. Arms dealers and terrorists thrive in the deserts and jungles, peddling their vile trades with merry abandon. Into the chaos steps the Thunder Wolves: a team of hardened mercenaries who steer the world towards a brighter tomorrow by blowing things up in awesome helicopters. As you can tell, the premise is as hootingly idiotic as its intentionally overbearing protagonists, but Thunder Wolves makes a decent fist of arming you with a selection of impressive gunships and pointing you at things to blow up.
Thirteen missions across some large 3D maps offer a range of objectives, such as defending ground troops, pursuing speed boats, beach assaults and submarine hunting, but the basic mission parameters are always the same: if it moves, kill it. Levels teem with enemy structures, infantry, tanks and turrets, all of which need to be shredded into matchsticks with your chopper's withering firepower. Each unlockable helicopter sports a powerful chaingun and a selection of regenerating missiles (many of which split into clusters, offer rail guidance or home on priority targets), which you'll use to bathe the terrain in a neverending sea of roiling explosions. Everything you see can be destroyed, right down to non-essential buildings, and the raw thrill of bringing the rain is amplified by a scoring system that rewards you with hilariously rad epithets as you chain explosions together. "You got this, bro!"
Imagine a high-octane version of Desert Strike that swaps out strategic engagements for all-out, ridiculous carnage. It's incredibly straightforward to the point of being slightly simplistic, but as the riff-tastic heavy rock soundtrack blares out and the missiles pour down, you'll realise that your facial muscles are aching from a permanent grin. Thunder Wolves may in fact be one of the most fun and cathartic games you'll play this year.
Helicopters are notoriously difficult to control in real life, and their simulations frequently alienate gamers with arcane control schemes that require practically every key on the board. As an arcade flight sim, however, Thunder Wolves has thankfully strimmed down to an immediately accessible minimum, tasking you with simply handling movement, velocity and altitude. Anyone familiar with the genre will take to it instantly, while most shooter fans will only need a few minutes to adjust. You'll soon find yourself swooping over the scenery, circling around vulnerable targets and loosing truly implausible amounts of firepower against your hapless foes as you dance around their missiles, all while that soundtrack keeps elevates your blood pressure to dangerous levels. There's even a limited co-op mode that lets a second player control their own turret reticle, basic to a fault, but you will high five.
Better yet, should you need to strafe around a target or avoid an incoming missile, holding down the left bumper engages an insane speed boost that sees your chopper pull off aerodynamically-implausible manoeuvres that would make a Harrier pilot blush. It is literally impossible to not hum the Airwolf theme tune while doing so. These ridiculous turns of speed allow you to cover huge distances quickly or keep an enemy installation in your sights while mitigating damage, and come thoroughly recommended by the Dealspwn editorship.
I genuinely wish that I could stop writing this review now and fire up Thunder Wolves for another silly session, but unfortunately there's more than a few surface-to-air issues headed straight for it.
Perhaps in an effort to provide a pinch of variety, Thunder Wolves breaks up the core 'blowing stuff up in an awesome helicopter' gameplay with a selection of short diversions. The most enjoyable of these naturally involve bringing the rain in a slightly different helicopter, but otherwise they fall completely flat. Driving an APC, peering down a sniper scope and hopping into an AC-130 may all sound like welcome changes of pace, but in practice they're all incredibly primitive and fudged together in an engine specifically designed for arcade helicopter action. At best they're forgettable and over far too quickly to offend, but at worst they force you to view the murky textures, embarrassing enemy unit animations and other woeful cut corners from a zoomed-in perspective that we should never have seen.
More to the point, in a game with such a simple high concept, any moment not spent bringing the rain is a moment wasted.
Sadly, Thunder Wolves also doesn't cover itself in glory when it comes to the presentation. It's no looker, sporting fuzzy texture work and primitive models, with the occasional frame rate hangup during objective changes and some interminable checkpoint load times (some of which may be down to my knackered Xbox 360 hard drive, mind). Macho pilot banter is knowingly idiotic enough to be funny, but voice samples are constantly repeated and recycled every few seconds to the point of earache. At least the crunchy rock soundtrack can drown them out from time to time.
And then there's the age-old quantity chestnut. Though the thirteen missions are replayable at multiple difficulty settings and feature hidden collectibles, a single playthrough will take you less than four hours. Personally, I'm enjoying replaying the campaign for the sheer silly fun of it all, but you might find yourself with some serious buyer's remorse if you're savvy about raw value or not entirely sold on the premise. That said, it only costs £6.80... and most of its flaws will fade into insignificance after the umpteenth gratuitous explosion.
- Outrageously cathartic high-octane helicopter gameplay
- Accessible controls and Airwolf-style boost
- Epic hard rock soundtrack
- Truly, madly, deeply fun
- Some primitive and pointless (though short) minigame sections
- Drab visuals, inconsistent performance and embarrassing enemy unit animations
- Foolish storyline, aggravating incessant voiceovers
The Short Version: Thunder Wolves lets you blow things up in an awesome helicopter.