Crash! Boom! Pow! Catchphrase!: A Review of Thunder Wolves
The most important thing you need to know about Thunder Wolves is that it’s a game called Thunder Wolves. It is a game that overflows with flame decals and hair metal guitar riffs and one-liners and stupid action movie callsigns. It’s a game that uses, in totally unironic ways, words like ‘pickupable’ (as in, certain items are) and ‘epic’ and ‘wicked sick’ (as in, you totally are, bro). It’s a concentrated shot of 1992 in a can.
There is a fine line between camp and trash, and it tends to rest upon intent. Camp’s primary quality is its self-awareness, constantly mugging the camera and laughing along with us at how ridiculous it is. Trash, on the other hand, lacks that self-awareness, presenting itself as serious while we laugh behind its back at how ridiculous it is.
The question, then, is what side of that line does Thunder Wolves fall on? Were developers Most Wanted Entertainment looking to provide us with a campy action movie parody, or were they simply trying to let off some prepubescent steam?
Thunder Wolves is a game about action helicopter combat (think about that for a second). It presents itself as though somebody were asked to make a movie about the A-Team after only having it described to them by an overly-enthusiastic fan. In Thunder Wolves, you shoot things. More specifically, you blow things up; enemy vehicles blow up, enemy bases blow up, even enemy soldiers blow up.
I’d like to classify Thunder Wolves under the self-aware camp category, but the fact is it tries way too hard to make you feel Totally Awesome all the time, in all the most annoying ways, and ignores all the good ones.
For example; Thunder Wolves is very fond of telling you how great you are by flashing messages up in the middle of your screen like ‘EPIC’ and ‘YOU A BADASS.’ It casts you in the role of obnoxious, too-cool-for-school mercenaries with obnoxious, Top-Guny callsigns like “Blister.” It swears, a lot.
Thunder Wolves is not an action game so much as it is an ego stroking device. The game’s balance makes failure a rarity. It is a game with no consequences; your missiles are infinite, your machine guns don’t overheat (there’s really no reason not to go through missions with the R-trigger held down the entire time), and, while enemy vehicles seem to be made out of gasoline and dynamite, your own helicopters seem to be diamond-coated adamantium (throughout my playthrough, and in several cases despite my best efforts, I have yet to die). You’re meant to hover over the battlefield raining death on your enemies while messages about how much you rock flash in front of your face every few seconds.
Annoyingly, while Thunder Wolves is spending all its time telling you how awesome you are, it fails to ever just shut up and show you; so much time is spent on superficially heaping praise on players that the game’s actual systems and built in feedback mechanics fall flat. The game’s wealth of explosions are dull and impotent, lacking any of the satisfying punch or pop that you would expect from a game as combustible as this one.
Thunder Wolves presents itself as a game that wants to do nothing more than deliver shit tons of explosions. If it actually did this, that would be totally cool; there are lots of games like that and they’re pretty all right. But if you’re going to put all your eggs into one giant explosive basket, you had better commit. In other words, Thunder Wolves had exactly one job, and instead of giving me tons of ‘splosions, I got a bunch of weightless ‘visual effects’ and ‘pyrotechnics’ presented as a cheap way to draw me in. In reality, I was lured in by the explosive carrot its title screen dangled, but as soon as it became obvious the game wasn’t going to deliver, there’s little reason to stick around.
A game predicated solely on aerial combat should by all rights make damn sure that combat feels good. Thunder Wolves missed this memo too. Enemy units often appear as little more than dots on the ground below, obscured by the red targeting reticule. It has the effect of rendering much of the game’s setup useless; it may as well be Geometry Wars; shapes shooting shapes on an abstract field (in fact, Geometry Wars features much meatier explosions than this game). To the game’s credit, it does its best to offer new scenarios, pulling you out of the cockpit of your helicopter to put you in the gunner seat of a gunship or behind the wheel of a tank or, occasionally, even behind the scope of a sniper rifle. But these change-ups are largely superficial, failing to address the real problem; the game’s action lacks any real weight.
I can understand the whole power fantasy thing. I can get wanting to make players feel grand and important. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do that. To feel important, I want to feel like I’ve overcome insurmountable odds, stared death in the face, and come through scarred but intact, leaving behind a smoking crater. Don’t just tell me I’m cool; show me how cool I am. This is the ultimate failing of Thunder Wolves, and why I can’t give it the benefit of being well-produced camp. It’s too busy trying to make me feel important to acknowledge its own ridiculousness.
Pixels or Death gives Thunder Wolves power chord out of flying-v, divided by pi.