If you took the best helicopter action sequences from over-the-top B action flicks, infused them with the banter of action stars, and mashed them into a video game pulp, you would walk away with a copy of Thunder Wolves. It’s a game that breaks away from any semblance of a storyline and takes flight towards an endless array of explosions that engage the primal side of your brain.
Thunder Wolves’ main storyline feeds off of the beating macho heart that fuels the over-the-top action. Players assume the role of Blister, who happens to be playing wingman to another mercenary named Max. Together they toss around witty action banter as they blow pretty much everything in their conceivable path into ashes. Toss in a bare bones plot about a mysterious villain and you have all you need to know about the game’s placeholder storyline. However, this is a thing of beauty because it allows players to constantly be in the action.
Eliminating enemy forces can be boiled down into a simple formula of endless streams of missiles and machine gun rounds, which can be used to tear into basic enemy types like foot soldiers, tanks, and helicopters. However, the limited variety of enemy forces is hardly noticeable through the fireworks display of explosions that litter the ground around them.
After you’ve annihilated every enemy in sight, Thunder Wolves attempts to challenge you with a boss fight, but it ultimately becomes a test of precisely how much firepower you can accurately deliver in the fastest amount of time.
There’s no denying that this formula borders the line of boring repetition, especially when the pounding heavy metal soundtrack combines with a never-ending stream of explosions. However, Thunder Wolves manages to deliver enough variety in its mission objectives to keep you engaged over the course of its four hour campaign. Whether you perform rescue landings, defend convoys against waves of enemies, or simply destroy an entire outpost, there’s enough variety to continue pulling the trigger and displaying the true superiority of your arsenal.
Progressing through each of the game’s 13 missions provides players with unlockable choppers that can be utilized in future missions. Each of these helicopters has its own unique set of stats such as increased armor or maneuverability, but the best thing about them is their varied missile types. While this mechanic isn’t going to add a whole lot of depth to how you approach a mission, it is nice to have options in how you approach decimating your foes.
Rocking your enemies into their eternal sleep with a symphony of rockets is given an added dimension of enjoyment by the freedom Thunder Wolves offers players in controlling their helicopters. Maneuvering through the skies is handled beautifully by utilizing L3 to descend and R3 to ascend, which frees the right analog stick for aiming. This is important because often times you will find yourself swarmed with enemy forces where sheer firepower is not enough.
Additionally, pressing the left bumper initiates a “hyperdrive,” which allows incoming fire to be avoided easily. Feeling the pressure from your enemies? Be sure to capitalize on your flare ability, which draws the attention of incoming missiles and offers up a secondary approach to survival.
Surviving the campaign in Thunder Wolves never truly feels like a challenge unfortunately. I was able to breeze through the campaign on Normal difficulty, and venturing through on Expert rarely had my palms sweating as I spammed hyperdrive and flares for survival. In fact, as I played on the higher difficulty I noticed a substantial increase in lag, which drastically affected the crucial flow of the arcade style combat.
During these occasional lags in frame rate, it’s hard not to notice the game’s simplistic graphics. Thunder Wolves doesn’t look terrible by any means, but it does not quite feel like a current generation title. With the game existing as an arcade helicopter shooter, the graphics work fine, and understandably what Thunder Wolves is going for doesn’t really require the graphical fidelity of a AAA budgeted release.
Flying through the game’s missions offers a variety of scenery to keep the stages fresh, but once you’ve finished the campaign there isn’t much of an incentive to replay again, unless of course you’re an achievement addict. If your achievement addiction drives your desire to complete a game then it would be wise to grind your way through each of the game’s difficulty levels and achieve the best score possible.
With each mission offering the opportunity to earn 9 stars (3 per difficulty), there will certainly be incentive to max out your star ratings and unlock the “Star Wolf” achievement. Many of the included achievements are based on collectibles or grinding through completion based goals. Players can expect to collect 25 hidden crates, or even people stealthily tucked away in each level. These achievements are typically annoying ventures, but the sheer enjoyment of flying your chopper makes it a simple extension to the game’s lifespan that will appeal to a particular set of gamers.
If being a completionist isn’t your thing, then you can always check out the local co-op mode in Thunder Wolves. It’s a bare bones offering that drops the first player into the cockpit as he pilots and shoots like normal while simply allowing your co-op partner to provide additional machine gun fire. It’s an admirable effort, but ultimately feels like a tacked on gimmick to preserve an illusion of a grand scheme of longevity.
Thunder Wolves is a game that captures your heart with its arcade style helicopter action, macho bravado and insane amount of explosions. The over-the-top gameplay remains fun and engaging through a few play sessions, but tackling the same enemies with the same attack patterns can only last for so long. Yet, in spite of Thunder Wolves’ short term appeal, it will easily become a guilty pleasure for many gamers. It knows exactly what it is and never tries to be anything different. One day in the future, when the craving for rampant destruction arises, you’ll find yourself loading up Thunder Wolves to unleash the war hounds one more time.
This review is based on a XBLA version of the game that was given to us for review purposes.
Thunder Wolves manages to overcome its one-minded approach to helicopter destruction by providing a brief campaign that never outstays its welcome, and allows players to enjoy over-the-top action in brief spurts of missile anarchy.