Here's a hypothetical scenario. A guy walks into a bar. He sees a buxom blonde with obvious assets and little in the way of a story, a chunky smart chick with a Viking helmet and buckler, and a plain, dark-eyed girl in whose sour shadows may lie untold sophistication and rewards borne of difficulty and ardor.
If you're the kind of guy that would buy the plain girl a drink and risk her dull speeches about the Balkans for hours and hours, I salute you. I am not that man, nor am I that gamer. And that's exactly why I would leave Eidos' Thunderstrike: Operation Phoenix on the rack and spend my money on something a little more tantalizing
Breaking the ice for Thunderstrike is a scatterbrained training arena that teaches you nothing about the actual game or its strategy. For a game where strategy and planning are essential, the training mission seems off-color with an emphasis on violence and pointless destruction. Definitely an awkward and misleading introduction to a cryptic, scatterbrained game.
It's easy to notice that Thunderstrike's architecture is thin and underdeveloped. The campaign mode, which is literally the entire game, covers four campaigns in four different regions (the Balkans, Africa, Alaska and the Middle East). Each campaign spans approximately seven missions, but without a healthy plot to tie the missions into a fine figure, Thunderstrike is reduced to skin and bones.
Before beginning a mission, you get to arm your chopper with whatever weapons you think will be necessary to address the forces that the enemy will throw at you. Outside of your typical rockets and heat-seeking missiles you're presented with three types of cannons, several brands of bombs, and even some torpedoes to penetrate those murky depths which hide all sorts of dangerous issues.
While weapon selection is a very important aspect of the game, you can never go wrong with heat seeking missiles, which usually leaves one type of specialized bomb to take care of whatever specialized target you find on the horizon.
Most missions have to be carefully felt out by trial and error before you can discover exactly what Thunderstrike wants to hear from your chopper. In some campaigns there are a ton of targets, but only a couple worth addressing, while the others only serve to confuse and mislead. The game itself isn't helpful at all, with lousy mission briefings. While there are only a handful of ways to complete each mission (blow that up, blow this up, go here), there are practically limitless ways to fail. Talk about frustrating.
As a result, the game must be played very carefully if you don't want to spend all your time shuffling through menus or staring at loading times. However, varying vision modes and a zoomable camera along with three different view modes are helpful in surveying the area and its threats.
But when it comes to eliminating those threats, Thunderstrike stutters. The best way to take enemies out is to whack 'em from afar with a heat-seeking missile. When armed with these missiles you can see an image of the current target type in the corner of the screen, even if you can't see the actual enemy. Then you just pull the trigger and ker-plow! The enemy is a quivering pile of steel and despair.
However, some enemies must be strafed with guns or nailed with rockets, and this is where Thunderstrike begins to lose its composure. First of all, strafing is pathetic. You can turn right and left easily enough, but circle strafing a la first -person shooters is fairly difficult and not effective. The dual-analog control scheme seems crammed, with one stick combining both a look function and an altitude function, while the other controls thrust. This baby dances about as good as a flying whale.
If it's beauty you're looking for, look somewhere else. Thunderstrike is a graphical plain Jane of a game, especially since so much of the action takes place at a distance. Still, while most of the objects are a bit pixelated and the explosions are mediocre, the overall aesthetic of most of the settings gets the job done. I just wish the chopper looked a little more deadly.
Thunderstrike's audio is inseparable from thousands of others, making future phone calls a real hassle (Alexis? Sarah? Thunderstrike?). However, nothing sounds bad, and the repetitive military drum beat fades into white noise almost instantaneously.
If you crave action and excitement, then you should have stopped reading this review after the first paragraph. However, if you're looking for a game to study and fret over, then Thunderstrike: Operation Phoenix might just be your speed.