STAFF REVIEW of Thunder Wolves (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Friday, June 28, 2013.
by Adam Dileva

Thunder Wolves Box art After playing Thunder Wolves it kind of dawned on me that the action helicopter games full of explosions and humor have been long gone for quite some time. I’m probably wrong, but I think Thunder Blade for the Master System might be one of the oldest 3D chopper games, at least that I remember playing, but when the Genesis era came around, a new helicopter game series was released in the early 90’s and spawned a few successful sequels along with it. The Strike series started off with Desert Strike and Jungle Strike on the Genesis, and even eventually got three more sequels all the way up until the PS1 era. These were the chopper games you wanted to play, as they were filled with explosions, action, and was a fantastic game for a young kid back in those days.

Here we are today and it’s been quite some time since I even remember playing a helicopter shoot-em-up (schmup), though Thunder Wolves is trying to remedy that void with its dose of nostalgia, music, explosions, and swearing, all wrapped in a 80’s B-movie vibe. Make no mistake, Thunder Wolves knows what it wants to do, allow you to blow up everything in sight, but there’s not much more in the offering outside of that.

Thunder Wolves does have a main campaign mode complete with storyline, characters, and plot twists, but honestly, it never got interesting and in a game where you’re just expected to blow everything up, it was a little difficult to follow. Thunder Wolves is completely about annihilating everything and anything you can of the enemy forces while it tries to put a smile on your face with the constant barrage of explosions. So yes, there’s a plot line included about you being a new pilot for an elite group, but you won’t care due to the gameplay nature and the short length overall.

Split into thirteen missions, what Thunder Wolves does do surprisingly well is vary its mission structure, as you will primarily be in your chopper blasting enemies for the bulk of the game, but there are quite a few sections to break up the monotony with missions like steering guided missiles, sniping enemies, and even using a tank. As you progress further into the missions, levels do become more challenging as you go, as you’ll have to deal with more than simple foot soldiers and the odd vehicle or tank, you’ll eventually have to combat anti-air missiles and other choppers themselves that will require you to dodge and use your flares to survive. While the games difficulty isn’t inherently difficult (as I played on normal, and would suggest starting right on hard), the times you do die will be because of the slippery controls and the poor escort / protect missions.

As you progress, you’ll earn new helicopters to use, each of which has their own arsenal included and different types of missile (each chopper has the standard machine gun with unlimited ammo and no cool down). Some missiles are homing and lock on, while others are much more powerful and widespread but have a longer delay in reuse time. You’ll eventually find a favorite or tow and stick with them solely for their specific weapon set.

You’re not limited with any general ammo constraints aside from your missiles that need to recharge so that you can’t spam them constantly, although you’re constantly be holding the Right Trigger down as it’s your machine gun and has no cool down or ammo or reloads. At first it’s awesome not having any limitations to your firepower, but it quickly grows old, as it never feels difficult because of it. The main issue I had was with the sloppy controls, as your movements never feel precise, especially trying to shoot down an moving target. Luckily there’s a lock on to remedy this, but it just means you’re also holding down the Left Trigger the whole time as well because it’s the only reliable way to take down your enemies quickly. You have a Boost button to get out of the way of danger quickly (along with Flares to distract incoming enemy missiles), but when it wears off it’s as if your chopper is sliding on ice briefly. Since you’ll constantly be using the Left and Right Triggers and Bumpers, the other issue comes in as soon as you need to start quickly cycling your different missile types with the D-Pad. This results you holding the controller in an awkward and unnatural way and will cramp your hands quite quickly. I’m not sure why it wasn’t defaults to one of the other face buttons.

For a game completely about destruction and explosions, I would have expected the explosions themselves to look great, but alas, they do not. Sure they look better than the Strike games of old, but if you look closely, it’s not by much; the same goes for ground troops that are animated very stiff. Eventually the screen is so overcrowded with explosions, crumbling buildings, incoming missile indicators, combo announcements, your own firepower, and more that it becomes difficult to focus on anything specific at all. A few missions in you’ll quickly learn that Thunder Wolves boils down to a point and shoot, as you’ll simply aim at the big red target indicator while strafing and shooting missiles. I eventually just shot at the red indicators and stopped questioning, as I couldn’t’ tell what it was anyways.

The game does include a local co-op mode should you have someone to play with, but sadly I did not as of the time of this review submission, so I was unable to test it firsthand, though apparently the first player plays like normal while the co-op friend just gets their own targeting reticle to help you shoot down enemies for more destruction.

In a game that’s primarily a third person helicopter shooter, I actually enjoyed the side missions much more when you weren’t even in your chopper, especially the entertaining Tank mission. Also, I’m not one to care about swearing in a game or movie, but when it’s so overdone that you actually notice it, it’s just not as funny. Thunder Wolves is full of humor, jokes, and swearing, though the focus on swearing seems to go a tad overboard even though it’s trying to mimic the old 80’s and 90’s movies that were full of it.

You’ll finish Thunder Wolves in a single sitting, as it only took me around three hours or so to do so. Sure there’s local co-op, leaderboards, and a few hidden collectables to squeeze out a few more hours if you really try, but with no online co-op or competitive multiplayer, you’ll finish it and basically be done with it after. It doesn’t help that the gameplay is repetitive and shallow at its core either though.

Sometimes you just want to come home, relax on the couch, turn your brain off, and blow things up. That’s exactly what Thunder Wolves is here to do, satisfy that itch of explosions and shooting things. While it won’t last you long, it’s fun in short quick bursts if you simply don’t care about the rest. I was really hoping I could end this review with something funny like “Get to the choppa and buy this game!”, but honestly, wait until it’s on sale (or if you have some spare Microsoft Points you’ve been itching to spend) as its short length and lack of replayability may have you swearing alongside the Thunder Wolves.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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