I’m old. Not to the point where I need devices to assist my daily functions old; but I am old to the point where I listen to music that people born in the ’90s can’t seem to easily identify. This means that I played a lot of video games that would fall under similar circumstances. NES, Genesis, and Super Nintendo were definitely the main sources of my entertainment in my developmental years, and I still take the time to indulge them. This is particularly true of my Genesis which gets a month tour of duty thanks to a couple of great games that I never seem to grow tired of, no matter how old I get. Those two games are Jungle Strike, and Desert Strike. Suffice to say, Thunder Wolves grabbed my attention from the moment I caught wind of its existence via Steam, if only because of its similarity to those two games.
Thunder Wolves is fairly straight forward, and doesn’t pull any punches. You pilot a helicopter and you will be blowing lots of things up. From the outset, things are pretty sharp. The controls feel tight, responsive, and are plenty easy to learn; and the game itself is sharp looking, with a great art style, and powerful little engine. Much like most retro titles, Thunder Wolves is built around completing levels at different difficulties. While there is no reward beyond an in game accolade, and a placing on an online leader board, it is still pretty cool to see old gameplay mechanics like this. In this way you can see that the meat of the game isn’t in revolutionizing anything, it is just going to try to deliver it’s experience better than others. In that regard the game completely succeeds, and sometimes this is in spite of itself.
The levels themselves are superbly designed for the most part. You will be given a clear objective, and oftentimes be given a specific amount of time to complete it. The levels allow for smooth navigation to these markers, and give you a decent sense of verticality to be able to take accurate stock of any situation. Decent being the operative word here though; the vertical ceiling seems to vary from level to level, and isn’t always as high as one would think. There gets a point when you would want to just get a few feet higher, and find that you’re unable to because of a level ceiling. This may seem like minutia, but it does become something that undermines the experience at certain points. Especially in tight dogfights with other helicopters where you could benefit from zipping over them, and the spinning around to dish out death.
The complaints of height limits aside, the other elements of the levels are all in place, and work to tremendous effect. You have a bevy of helicopters that will unlock as you continue to complete levels; and each helicopter has their own unique weapons and capability. Destructible environments, and a range of enemy infantry types, and vehicles all keep you on your toes and changing up your tactics. Dealing with certain land vehicles will obviously be a different experience than taking on an enemy chopper in the sky, and it is nice to see the game reflect that in the different strategies that you will consistently need to employ to deal with all of them.
In fact the game does a remarkable job of handling in-game monotony in a general way. While Thunder Wolves could probably get away with being a one trick shoot ‘em up, and not wear out its welcome, it isn’t content with that. So the game will have you performing escort missions, defense missions, straight out attacks, and quite a few surprisingly good on-rails sequences. Thunder Wolves addresses the problem of gameplay fatigue in a way that a lot of larger developers completely miss, in a way that frankly surprised and blew me away. Of particular note is a sitting turret sequence that takes place inside your crashed chopper, where you’re using one of the side guns as a mounted turret. That type of creativity within the context and framework of the game is pretty smart and agile.
Thunder Wolves is a game that knows what it wants to be, and cuts through any of the other filler to give an experience that is as pure as possible. Plenty of games miss this, like missing the forest for the trees. Solid mechanics with superb delivery will always produce a quality game, no matter the scale or the budget. By focusing on what makes flying a helicopter fun, and making that a varied and rich experience, the crew behind Thunder Wolves have not only created a great game, but a great blueprint for other developers to follow when they think about working on their own helicopter projects. Just please, fix the vertical ceiling and ditch the cheesy nu-metal soundtrack.
Version Reviewed: PC