Less Than Meets the Eye
The balance between being an earnest, violent game and being completely on the nose and clever about said violence is hard to achieve. Thunder Wolves, while harkening back to an age of cheesiness and gratuitous violence, definitely gives off the vibe that it’s trying a bit too hard comedically and in terms of gameplay. On the surface, you’ll find a relatively well-treaded path of helicopter combat games, but once you delve through the missions, you’ll have enough firepower to take out the Death Star.
The premise of Thunder Wolves is about as deep as a kiddie pool, but for these types of games, a simple premise works. Thunder Wolves features the foul-mouthed antics of the very loud and generally unfunny mercenaries, essentially sent all across the planet to just blow sh*t up. The only real bits of story come between chapters, of which there are few. Playing the game is generally a good time. The controls work like a third-person shooter from the perspective of the various helicopters you’ll acquire over the course of the game and didn’t give me a lot of trouble.
As you are deployed, Thunder Wolves appears to be open world. However, as you traverse the garish landscape, there are plenty of spirit barriers of sound that let you know you’re going the wrong way. From there, it’s all about the explosions. Like a lot of other vehicular warfare titles, you’ll have your machine guns and rockets on two separate buttons, while also adding flares to your helicopter to avoid oncoming missiles. Over the course of the game, the amount of carnage you’ll dish out is enough to make the Hulk crack a smile.
Gameplay can get a little stale at times, but the stages move by so fast that you won’t have a lot of time to let the monotony sink in. Everything’s very loud and fast-paced, so much so that it can almost be bothersome. Constant heavy metal music, explosive sound effects, and garbled voice overs make it hard to hone your senses on one aspect of Thunder Wolves. At the end of each level, you’ll receive an Angry Birds-esque rank for how quickly or thoroughly you completed a level, but Thunder Wolves doesn’t offer large amounts of incentives to improve.
While the overall gameplay is unique enough to merit playing, some of the other types of gameplay leave much to be desired. Various mini-modes of sniping, machine-gunning, or missile dropping are thrown at you at seemingly random parts of the game. They aren’t terrible, but they are way less satisfying than exploding everything in your site in Thunder Wolves‘ main campaign. The various explosions look fine and dandy, but the overall aesthetic of the game is a little lacking. There are lots of browns and grays that litter the field, though you’ll blaze through the environments so fast that it doesn’t have a lot of time to get particularly stale. This also leads to the environments having difficulty distinguishing themselves from each other, though your objective is usually in your immediate field of vision anyway, so it’s not too much of a hindrance.
Thunder Wolves is going for a unique spin of comedy, though it definitely tries way too hard at various points. Many moments drop pretty bad wordplay, and puns almost warrant a cricket sound effect after the punchline is delivered. You don’t feel any stakes for anything you’re doing because the plot is strung together so loosely, and things aren’t taken seriously in any manner whatsoever. Again, this is part of the game’s design, harkening back to an age where games were a lot simpler and even more explosive then they are today, so some of these flaws can be overlooked. However, that doesn’t make the jokes any funnier.
Thunder Wolves is extremely short, even for an Xbox Live Arcade title. You’ll be able to breeze through it in around four hours. Multiple difficulty modes prompt you to go through the game multiple times, though I’d be hard pressed to after the first go-around of campy nonsense. However, the game has a co-op mode where player one takes the controls of the helicopter while player two is stuck on a turret of said helicopter. It’s not fantastic, but it’s a good touch for a game with offerings that leave a bit to be desired. $10 Xbox Live Arcade titles are hard to come by, and for what it’s worth, Thunder Wolves is definitely worth the $10 it’s asking for. You’ll just have to keep in mind that Thunder Wolves will wear out its welcome a little quicker than most.
Thunder Wolves is a game where a decently implemented gameplay concept ends up hampered by a whole bunch of little issues. Things like the dispersion of sound to a meager aesthetic to unfunny comedy make a good game not so good. But for the price, it shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly, as you’ll have a fun time, provided you shut your brain off.