AH-37M Thunderhawk (Core Design) Review | Amiga Power - Everygamegoing

Amiga Power


AH-37M Thunderhawk
By Core
Amiga 500

 
Published in Amiga Power #5

AH-37M Thunderhawk

After a couple of disappointing time-fillers, Core finally get round to releasing a real game - and it's perhaps the most user-friendly flight 'sim' ever!

Dawn breaks over the Bolivian rainforests, and a truck makes its way along the dusty track that passes for a road in these parts. The driver whistles a cheerful tune, but stops as his co-driver taps him on the shoulder. He thought he heard something, but shrugs and returns to his newspaper. Suddenly, with a deafening roar and a blast of wind, a helicopter gunship appears from below the horizon directly in front of the truck. The driver swerves as a volley of 30mm shells pounds into the ground around him. The windscreen shatters, the tyres are shredded, the radiator bursts. Then, inexplicably, just as all seems lost, the helicopter wobbles about a bit and crashes into the ground.

If you thought planes were a tricky proposition, you ought to try flying a helicopter. Blimey, it's hard. Far too hard for you and me to manage certainly - and that's before you throw us into a combat-type situation. Happily, that's just the problem Core Design have tried to address in Thunderhawk, which is being billed as 'more of an arcade game than a boring flight sim'. This means no long flights with nothing happening for ages, no constantly worrying about running out of weapons and fuel and, most importantly, no horrible keys to wrestle with when you ought to be concentrating on flying.

The Helicopter Sim That Isn't

Instead, Thunderhawk has been pared down to the very minimum necessary to get a flight sim off the ground (as it were), with the emphasis placed on fast, slick graphics and plenty of action. And, boy, are those graphics fast and slick. In fact, they're probably the fastest, slickest 3D graphics ever to hit the Amiga (although I wouldn't stake my reputation on it). There's no cheating either, so you won't see landmasses suddenly appearing out of nowhere (sorry, F29 Retaliator), or mountains that look more like chunks of Toblerone (eh, F-15 Strike Eagle II?).

You won't catch Thunderhawk skimping on 'views', either. As well as the standard cockpit view, you can also do an external view from all possible angles (including underneath, which is a bit scary), a view from the current target looking up at your helicopter, and - best of all - a view from your weapons as they speed to their target. This last one really is a corker - much better than F-15 II's half-hearted effort. Travelling in a helicopter is one thing; travelling on the front of a guided air-to-ground missile as it leaves its launch-pod, streaks down to ground level and hugs the terrain while homing in on its target is something else altogether. Following a machine gun shell to its target is better still.

Talking of targets, that's one thing Thunderhawk provides plenty of. As soon as you arrive on the battlefield the screen fills up with missile locks, so all you've got to do is pick a weapon (there's one for all occasions, from bombs to air-to-air missiles) and fire away. Once hit, the enemy erupts into a shower of sparks and catches fire, with a column of smoke rising to mark its final resting place. All this is accompanied by some throaty explosions and things - once again some of the best on the Amiga.

So it looks like the mission objective of a flight sim without the 'sim' has been achieved. Thunderhawk is, it has to be said, hugely enjoyable to play.

Just because it's fun though, doesn't necessarily mean it's going to easy. Most of the normal flight sim elements have been sneaked in somehow, such as head up displays, radar jammers and chaff dispensers (for distracting enemy missiles), but not so that they intrude. The inescapable link sequences are all there too. As well as the animated intro, which comes on a whole disk of its own, there game's 'arcade feel'. All very well, but I reckon they've gone a little too far. Putting the cyclic under mouse control is fair enough, as is using the left button to fire off weapons.

But to alter the collective you're got to hold down the right button and move the mouse up and down. It just doesn't work, believe me, especially when you consider that the right button is also your weapons select control, and the program never seems quite sure which function you're after. And then, on top of all that, there's the 'rotation' control, which only comes into play at low speeds, and again when you press the right button. I reckon they'd have done a lot better to have forsaken their 'arcade feel' in this instance and put the collective controls at the very least on the keyboard, and maybe the rotation control as well.

There's another thing too, while I'm at it. Again, presumably as part of Core's drive towards an arcade game, you can only tip your helicopter up to about fifteen degrees in any direction. This is fine for everyday flying around, and means you won't find yourself going into any fatal powerdives or sideslips, but it's pretty annoying to have your chopper hovering just in front of a big, juicy target but being unable to take it out because it's just below where the program says you're allowed to aim your guns.

But enough of this fuming and ranting - I'd gate you to get the wrong idea. Thunderhawk really is a jolly impressive game, and one that continues to be fun to play even once you've explored all its possibilities over and over again. I'd hesitate to call it the best flight sim ever, simply because it isn't really one, but if it was it definitely would be.

Um, hang on, I'll try that again. If you took F-15 II's, erm, 'simulation-ness' and sellotaped it onto Thunderhawk's everything else, then you'd have the best flight sim ever. What we've got instead is the best not-quite-a-flight-sim ever, and a cracking way to spend 30 quid. Got it?

The Bottom Line

Uppers: Fantastic graphics and sound, easy to get in to, enormously playable and addictive - everything you could hope for in a game, really.

Downers: Well, I don't like the controls, but I seem to be on my own there. Apart from that it's pretty blooming hard to fault.

At last, a flight simulation for the layman. It's hard, but in a decent, honest sort of way, and at least it makes it easy for you to give as good as you get.

Jonathan Davies