Thunder Wolves – PC
Publisher: bitComposer Games
Developer: Most Wanted Entertainment
Release Date: May 15, 2013
Genre: Action
Reviewed by Mark Smith

Review Score: 4 of 5

Thunder Wolves could be one of the best kept secrets on Steam this summer. Blending elements of Ace Combat and Choplifter with the machismo and mischievous banter of the Expendables and the A-Team, Most Wanted has created a fantastic homage to classic arcade aerial combat shooters with all the trimmings of a next-gen production.

The game opens with a lone dune buggy driving onto a remote mercenary base just as a C-130 touches down on the tarmac narrowly avoiding the large 3D title logo hovering above the airbase. This is the home of an elite band of mercs; experts in aerial combat who hire themselves out as needed wherever trouble is brewing around the world. You are the new recruit who has just shown up for pilot training, so show ’em what you got…

For an arcade game with seeming limited potential Thunder Wolves impressed me with its range of missions and objectives. Sure, much of your time will be spent in a cool attack chopper with a fabulous paint job, but over the course of the 3-4 hour campaign and the nearly 20 missions you will get to fly drones, drive a tank, operate the side-mounted chain gun in some very cool and cinematic on-rails sections, and even man an AA turret to shoot ICBM’s out of the sky. You engage in combat in the desert, in the mountains, over the ocean as you assist the Navy SEALs in taking down a Typhoon class submarine, and even underground. There are attack missions, escort missions, and in one of my favorites, you must insert and then protect a commando as he makes his way from the rear of a speeding train to the front to stop a runaway nuke.

The opening tutorial gets you up to speed on the intuitive controls – in my case I went with the Xbox 360 controller which is fully supported and highly recommended as it offers the best and most realistic method of control. At any given time you might have up to three types of rockets to complement your main cannon, each with their own cool-down timer before they can be fired again. Some rockets lock on while others are dumb fire, and you also have specialty weapons like swarm missiles and napalm rounds. For some missions you’ll even have guided missiles and bunker busters that you can fire and then control from a first-person camera to lead them precisely to their target. What they don’t tell you and what you will soon learn is that your chopper is totally vulnerable during this time.

You cycle rockets with the D-pad and fire with the RB, which can be slightly annoying since your cannon fires with the RT. With no cool down on the cannon you never not want to be shooting, so I ended up mashing the trigger with my middle finger and used my index for the rockets. LB offers up a brief moment of turbo that you can use in combination with countermeasure flares to avoid incoming rockets or a boost in speed to reach your next objective. Turbo also has a cool down. The Y button cycles through thermal and night vision modes that definitely prove useful on later missions.

Your chopper’s damage will repair itself as long as you can remove yourself from the action long enough, and even though there is a fuel gauge there is never any danger of running out of gas except in one annoying mission near the end that starts off with you having to do a midair refuel. You’ll rack up scores for your kills that are boosted with combos for quick successive attacks, and carnage bonuses will flash on the screen with cool titles. Your mission performance is graded on thoroughness and time and you are awarded up to three stars for each mission, giving you plenty of incentive to return later and best your previous effort and post higher scores on the leaderboards. There is also a nice selection of skill-based achievement to obtain.

In the spirit of cooperation there is some two-player support that will allow a local pilot and gunner team to occupy the same chopper, which is fun and frustrating. Anybody that has ever tried to operate a turret while somebody else drives will know the issues that can arise. It’s hard enough to line-up your targets without your view constantly and uncontrollably shifting at the whim of your pilot, yet ironically, some of the best fun you’ll have with Thunder Wolves is in the shared co-op experience.

Thunder Wolves has a unique look that delivers classic-style arcade graphics, but if you position the camera just right they can border on near-photo realism; at least in the some of the textures. The terrain sprawls naturally like a high-end RTS game with great textures and details. Everything is destructible and collateral damage can be an issue in some missions. To go with the explosive destruction is an epic score that at times seems almost too much – like the Chariots of Fire theme playing at a middle-school track meet – but it is cool to go from hard core rock and roll to this massive orchestra mix with chanting choir as you’re blowing the hell out of everything on the screen.

Thunder Wolves is pure arcade action; the type of game you would definitely find in a 21st century arcade if they still existed, and I could easily see myself shoveling a lot more than $15 in quarters into this game to reach the final mission. Packed full of intense action, explosive graphics, challenging boss fights, and an unexpectedly half-decent story with witty (and sadly repetitive) radio banter, Thunder Wolves is the 2013 summer popcorn action game that is just dying to be made into a movie.