Thunderhawk (Second Review)

Title		Thunderhawk (Second Review)
Game Type	Flight Sim
Company		Core Design (Summer 1991)
Players		1
Compatibility	All (Sound quirks on faster amigas)
Submission	RJP

This is flight simulation reduced to its essentials. No need to plough
through long winded manuals or assimilate technical details, no tedious
navigation, just pure action.

The game is divided into 6 scenarios, set around the world. The scenarios
are of varying difficulty and may be tackled in any order. These are in
turn broken up into bite sized missions, each introduced with a slick
animated briefing sequence. From there it's on to the weapon selection.
There's a good variety of rockets, missiles and bombs with which to arm
your Thunderhawk helicopter, but if you can't wait to get started you can
just select "auto" and the computer will provide you with an intelligent
assortment. Then you're straight into battle.

The aircraft is controlled entirely with the mouse. You point in the
direction you want to fly and the helicopter banks and moves accordingly
with a realistic time lag. The right mouse button cycles through available
weapons, causing target sights and lock-on messages to appear on a
head-up-display, and the left mouse button fires. To adjust the
"collective" of the rotor blades and thus vary height, you hold down the
right mouse button and move up or down. This system is a little fiddly at
first, but soon becomes intuitive. Keyboard control allows external views
with adjustable camera angle.

Your base is typically positioned a stone's throw from the enemy, so
there's no time to catch your breath before you're under fire. Although
there's much talk of tactics and strategy in the briefings, the missions
are rarely more complicated than destroying everything in sight with
air-to-ground missiles, rockets and the occasional bomb, fending off air
attacks and landing again.

What really makes the game great is the slickness of the 3D graphics.
Ground detail is fairly sparse but objects like gunboats, oil platforms,
tanks, aircraft etc are pleasingly realistic. There are some lovely
touches that add hugely to the realism, like animated explosions,
buffeting of your Thunderhawk when you're under fire and transparent smoke
clouds that rise high into the sky when a plane is shot down. Most
importantly, the whole thing moves with a beautiful speed and smoothness,
even on an A500, that no other flight sim of the era came close to.

Enemy helicopters are intelligent, closing in on you if you're not
careful, and turning in tight circles so you can't get a lock-on with
missiles and are forced to dogfight with cannon and rockets. They move
with a real grace, banking and swooping in a very lifelike manner. When
you manage to shoot one down it tumbles smoothly from the sky, stricken
and spewing smoke, giving you a real feeling of achievement. Fast moving
Mig 29 jets are harder to deal with; you have to take advantage of their
large turning circle and bide your time until you can get a lock on. As
you sustain damage, the Thunderhawk's optics system and radar becomes
progressively more unreliable, eventually making missiles unusable, so
it's imperative to get in quickly with a lightning strike.

Flight sim purists might argue that the whole thing's far too simple but
this misses the point. Thunderhawk is a brilliant amalgamation of 3D
graphics and arcade game immediacy and playability. Definitely one of the
best games to emerge from the classic Amiga era.

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