QCF: Thunder Wolves

elicopters! Hell yes! Nothing beats a game that lets you lay down constant fire against your unsuspecting enemies, especially when you can do it hovering motionless in the air. Or so it would seem. I dig chopper-based games as much as the next guy: Desert Strike, Choplifter, and Under Defeat HD all come to mind as vastly different cousins with a central helo-based theme. So I was genuinely excited when Thunder Wolves was announced for PC, XBLA and PSN.

Alas, some things are just not meant to be, and Thunder Wolves ends up coming in a bit short. Yes, it pains me to say it, but it's true.

First, there's the gameplay itself. Thunder Wolves has two different modes: The typical free-roam-shoot-whatever-you-want-with-guns-and-special-weapons mode, and an on-rails-move-the-reticle-and-fire mode. The gameplay will shift mid-game between these two play styles, which helps keep things from dragging too badly. At your disposal are a number of special rockets and missiles, which help in taking out the heavier enemy units and hostile aircraft and ships, anti-missile countermeasures in case you're being tracked my incoming enemy missiles, and of course, infinite ammo in your main cannon.

Thunder Wolves is played over the course of 13 stages and with multiple difficulty levels, I'm sure there's a lot to play here, but the plain fact of the matter is, Thunder Wolves doesn't do much to keep the action fresh. Aside from shooting the complete crap out of everything onscreen and snagging a few score multipliers here and there, there's only a few places where the action breaks up a bit and you'll have to grab friendlies or pick up a crate, then drop them off. In fact, my favourite gameplay moment throughout the entire game was when I got to drive a tank.

On the whole, the gameplay in Thunder Wolves isn't especially bad, but it's also pretty unpolished and a bit obtuse. The control scheme makes sense, but I'm not entirely sure it's the best way to go. Still, it works in the end. After a bit of practice, controlling your helicopter isn't as much of a chore, so long as you play the tutorial stage a couple of times to get the hang of things, and level progression isn't especially difficult, though you never really get the feeling that you're in complete control of your craft in particularly tight areas. This is especially evident when you're trying to grab something with your winch or landing in a tight spot to rescue hostages a-la-Choplifter.

Gameplay is one thing, but the presentation of Thunder Wolves bothers me the most. I'm not sold on the character portraits and a lot of the in game elements are stiff, robotic, and lack the kind of animation that make them more believeable (such as static tracks on a moving APC, for example). But worst of all is the wanton, gratuitous vulgarity that spills forth at all times while your guys speak. In fact, 66 words into Thunder Wolves' first mission's spoken briefing, the word “pussy” is rather uncomfortably forced out by your CO -- your female CO. It's also used again about halfway through the first stage. There's just no need for that. Thankfully, the helicopters in this game are rather nicely modelled, and there's a bunch of them to unlock for free-play missions. There are also a number of skins to unlock as well, which make your ride look even more slick.

Thunder Wolves is one of those classic instances when you realize that a game you've been looking forward to is actually something totally different than you expected. In this case, what appeared to be a cool rail shooter with helicopters is actually just a mission-based arcade action game that tries hard to be the helicopter segments from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon with a sprinkling of Choplifter, but doesn't quite measure up. The closest analogy I can think of is hearing how cool someone is, only to have them turn out to be a supermassive ass-blackhole/douchebag quasar.

But, on the whole, I still found myself moderately enjoying Thunder Wolves past its juvenile, gratuitous profanity and slightly boring gameplay. I'm not sure what it was exactly, but there were times that I would be taking out swaths of foot soldiers with a guided missile and I would growl, “FUCK yeah,” and other, rare times when some of the in-game banter was genuinely funny. It also features two-Player co-op, so if you dig the asthetic or like blowing shit up with a friend, here's your ticket.

I'm sure there's a better use out there for $10, but if you can't figure out what that might be or if you have everything else, you can still do worse than Thunder Wolves if all you want is a shallow, profane blastathon. Thunder Wolves is also available on PSN and Steam.

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