Your Sinclair1st December 1989
Published in Your Sinclair #48
It's big, it's mean, and it's as tough as my granny's sponge cake. What is it? Only Operation Thunderbolt, the most eagerly awaited shoot-'em-up sequel since... um... the second series of Moonlighting. And is it a corker or what?
Similar in plot to its big brother Operation Wolf, your mission in Thunderbolt is, of course, to rescue the hostages. This time round though there are eight levels ahead of you (or nine if you count the final hostage scene), the baddies are bigger and tougher and more numerous than before, and you also get the option of taking a chum along into the tray with you if you want - 'cos just like the arcade version, this game has a spanky two player option.
As in Wolf, you begin the game armed with a complete energy level, an Uzi, live magazines and three grenades. The aim of the game is to shoot everything in sight. But, pumping away at the fire button, it's difficult to suss out exactly where you're firing at first, 'cos in Thunderbolt there's no large cross hair a la Wolf. Instead the only sight you have for your gun is a one pixel cursor which gives you a minimal idea of where your shots are falling. You can lose a few shots to get the feel of your weapon (oo-er). but your best bet is to keep your eyes peeled for the laser sight icon which appears near the beginning of every level. This'll give you a laser sight on your gun for the rest of the level. Not as big as the Oppo Wolf cross hair, but still very handy.
Once you've sussed out the firing system it's down to business. On each level you have to take out a certain number of baddies, tanks, dinghies and helicopters in order to move on. Unfortunately, though, you only have a limited amount of ammo with which to do this, but there are extras to be found. Keep your eyes peeled for the following icons - body armour, which'll reduce your damage level by half for the rest of the level, extra ammo, in the form of magazines, grenades and shell boxes, and a power drink and medicine box which'll revitalise damaged energy supplies. Cats (of the bewhiskered variety) are also unlikely providers of extra weaponry and energy.
Your first task is to make your way down a terrorist-infested road towards a church where a spy with vital information is hiding out. Blammo! The first screenful of baddies hits you like a kick in the teeth. 'Cos unlike Wolf with its left/right scrolling (but just like the arcade game) Thunderbolt opens up with an into-the-screen scrolling level and a barrage of big, big baddies leaping out of the screen towards you, unleashing a veritable hail of bullets, grenades, rockets, and helicopters. Blasting your way down the road takes some doing. The terrorists can be dispatched with one bullet, but the helicopters need a lot more shots before they can be destroyed! But waste your quota of baddies and make it to the church without sustaining too much damage, and it's onto Level Two.
This is a left, right horizontal scroller and takes place in the enemy's ammunition depot. Destroy the depot, pick up some more magazines, bullets and grenades, then jump into your jeep for Level Three. Make it through this (another into-the-screen scroller with you in a jeep) and you'll reach the hideout where the hostages are kept in Level Four. This is another left right scroller, but, apart from blasting everything that moves, you've also got to release the hostages from the huts where they are being held. Do this by shooting the locks off the doors. Once the hostage moves off screen they are rescued, but if you shoot one by mistake you'll lose a life. Lose them all and it's end of game for you, matey. So beware of that itchy trigger finger.
Into your boat for Level Five, and another into-the-screen scroller. Make your way across the water to the enemy headquarters where the other hostages are being held. Then battle on into the headquarters in the left/right scrolling Level Six. Right in the thick of the enemy camp there are terrorists coming out of the ceiling as well as the floor. Rescue the hostages being held here and then it's on to the into-the-screen scrolling Level Seven, where you must hotfoot it down the runway after the terrorists.
Level Eight is yet another front view scene. This time you are inside the plane where the terrorists have taken refuge. Pick off the terrorists without shooting the passengers already onboard. As in the hostage levels, lose a passenger and your energy will drop. Get this far (and it'll take some that's f'sure) and there's just one more task to complete. The pilot of the plane has been taken hostage by the terrorist leader. You must take careful aim before trying to kill the dodging terrorist without harming the pilot. Rescue the pilot and you complete the mission and end the game. Lose the pilot though and it becomes impossible to fly the plane, so the game's over. Aww, and just as you were doing so well too.
Operation Thunderbolt is one of the most slickly programmed games I've seen in a long time. It's fast, smoothly scrolling and a blast a minute. The basic game may be much the same as Operation Wolf, but with Thunderbolt's longer length, bigger and more numerous sprites, varied scrolling, extra final showdown shoot-out and two player option to boot, it's more than worth shelling out for. Go get a copy now.
A brilliant shoot-'em-up with enough variation from the original to stand as a separate megablast all in its own right.