It’s telling that when Kelly snuck up on me playing a preview build of Thunder Wolves, he immediately thought of Just Cause 2 when I’d spent the whole time thinking of Electronic Arts’ old Strike helicopter action games. Originally cute isometric affairs in which arming up with a bunch of ammo and leveling your objectives explosively was your call of duty, they stopped making the games years ago, but not before the switch to 3D with Soviet Strike and Nuclear Strike. Thunder Wolves brought those memories right on back.
Playing a lot like those games, but similar in theme to 2011’s Renegade Ops (also by Just Cause 2 developer Avalanche Studios), you’re a rookie hotshot pilot brought on-board some PMC’s payroll to handle things. As such, after a thorough tutorial level, you’re carted off to the Middle East to protect your employer while your colleagues exchange witty banter worthy of the best B-films.
The action of Thunder Wolves is fast and smooth, even on this older PC I played it on. If you have an Xbox 360 controller lying around, you’ll definitely appreciate the console controls because they’ve been finely tuned to make you a dual-sticking helicopter macho man in no time. (Your keyboard and mouse will work just fine, but eh.) Your left stick moves you laterally, forward and back while the right stick aims you. Your left trigger zooms and locks on targets while the right delivers the bad news. If you’ve played Call of Duty on a console in the past few years, you’ll snap into this real quick with one exception: clicking in either stick manages your altitude.
The game mixes in some other elements to keep things fresh. On-rails segments pop up from time to time that will let you relive all those Rebel Assault memories you’ve kept in the trunk while subterranean jaunts test your agility. Just like the Strike games or SimCopter, you’ll get to ferry passengers in a few points and I definitely want more of that.
Thunder Wolves is due out on PSN, XBLA, and PC this Spring, which technically means between now and the end of June.