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Hands On: Thunder Wolves

Prequel to Earthquake Dinosaurs

In case you're wondering what name to call your game, the wrong answer is something like: "A Delicious New Pizza Topping For The Whole Family To Enjoy". A good name, however, would be "Thunder Wolves". Sadly you can't have that one, as it's already been taken, and by entirely the correct game. Most Wanted Entertainment's in-development arcade-them-to-bits helicopter shooter evokes olden days arcade cabinet blasters, without hammering on the retro button.

It wasn't just the name that drew me to check this one out. It was also the promise of blowing stuff up with helicopters. Perhaps it's for the sense of revenge against the ever-more common scourge of having to shoot down helicopters in achingly scripted sequences in every FPS game EVER SINCE TIME BEGAN. But mostly it was the name.

Google it and you'll immediately find information about the latest scores between the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, at the basketballs. (Timberwolves won 101 to 93 - sorry Thunder fans.) Dig a bit further and you'll eventually learn that this is from the same people who brought us the definitely okay Joint Task Force in 2006, and the Paradox-published, definitely okay Defenders Of Ardania from last year. With Thunder Wolves, they're aiming at yet another genre - a top-down-ish arcade shooter, deliberately reminiscent of those 80s movie tie-ins and grrr-shoot cabinet conversions.

I've played a few levels in a feature-incomplete version, and I think my positive experience is likely very much based on my hopes going in. Not wanting simulation, not wanting something incredibly tough, but instead always hoping for another game that will evoke memories of the glorious Attack On Pearl Harbor. (Er, let me emphasise I mean the game, not the event itself. I'm not a monster.) Something gloriously arcadey, floaty and fun, designed with idiots like me in mind rather than those with pilot licenses. And while it's far too soon, and I've not yet seen enough evidence, to associate Thunder Wolves with The Great Game, it certainly does tick a lot of those boxes.

Right now the controls are only optimised for a controller, with mouse/keyboard still being worked on, so your helicopter is raised up and down by pressing down on the analogue sticks, locking on and firing on the triggers, pretty much as you'd expect. Missiles are on the shoulders, and BLAM BLAM BLAM! Because here missiles are a recharging resource, as real life really ought to copy. This is a game where even on Normal difficulty you can bump your helicopter into things, which to my understanding is not entirely an accurate simulation. But it's exactly the sort of thing you hope to see in the all-too rare games that exist to entertain through being ludicrous, rather than real.

Pleasingly, pretty much everything can be destroyed. While the game will start nagging you with arrows to head off to the next mission marker, you can hang back and destroy every building, vehicle, industrial tower and hiding shooty human at your leisure, with things crumbling rewardingly. If you're the sort of three year old like I am who has to constantly knock down the towers of blocks, there's plenty in there already at this stage.

And yeah - it works. That seems like a fairly flat compliment, but in such instances I think it's the most important thing. You're not worrying about balancing your helicopter's lean, or budgeting your precious few homing missiles. You're bouncing off mountains and spamming the ground with ultrabombs. It's just letting you have fun.

There's clearly still work to be done. The more difficult to kill enemies' health bars seem to slip in and out of existence, and are very tricky to see, and a little more busyness to the combat is probably essential. As for the characters and voice acting - while they're terrible beyond words, just utter drivel, I think that's kind of the point. It's half of what helps capture that 80s vibe.

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The game should hopefully be finished by the Summer, and will feature local co-op for people with two seats at their desk. I have a sneaking suspicion it'll be a Steam release, but no word on a price yet - with a game like this, getting that right could make all the difference.

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