The whirly bird awaits...
Distributor: Core Design Price: £30.99
It's been a long time coming but finally a really sensational helicopter simulation has arrived - well almost, it should be released about now.
In the past, many a programmer has tried to master what is perhaps the trickiest form of flight, usually with mixed results.
In the case of Thunderhawk, Core Design have produced what many a flight sim fanatic has been waiting for: a playable, and more importantly a believable, chopper simulation. Probably the best comparison to Thunderhawk is the Electronic Arts classic Intercepter which never claimed to be the ultimate in realism but is one of the most enthralling action sims on the market.
The comparison between Thunderhawk and Intercepter is mainly inspired by their similar approach to gameplay. As a result Thunderhawk isn't for the aeronautical purists, but if you want action, excitement and a real feeling of being in the cockpit, it's breathtaking.
The key to the program's success is its excellent mouse driven controls. In the past, control of the chopper has been the element which let down some otherwise excellent programs. In Thunderhawk the three essential elements which make up the control of any whirly bird are condensed, along with other commands, to a series of simple click-and-drag combinations.
For example, the first element of chopper control is the collective, which basically refers to the angle of attack adopted by the rotors; the steeper the blade angle, the greater the lift.
Within the sim it's controlled by clicking the right button and dragging the mouse up and down. The part of the equation is the cyclic which acts just like the joystick on a normal sim. This particular bit of manoeuvring doesn't require any buttons, just a steady hand and some gentle adjustment.
The final part is the anti-torque rotor controls which on a real chopper are at your feet but in the sim are adjusted by holding down the RMB, while the mouse is pushed either left or right to spin the machine on its axis.
So, when all of the above are combined a take off would mean holding down the right button and push forward to get some vertical lift. Next, a second click and a drag to the right would spin the machine a full 360 degrees so you could spot any possible bandits. Lastly, a gentle push forwards dips the nose and you're on your way to the next objective.
Once on the move you can double click to flick through the weapons and select your targets, all without a single keypress. If you happen to be a keyboard person the option to fly without your furless friend will be incorporated into the finished version.
The game revolves around six campaigns each of which takes place in seperate theatres of operation, such as the Middle East, Asia, Russia and so on. The campaigns consist of a series of missions and your success in each of these is important. Once a campaign is secured you receive orders and it's off to the next war-torn part of the planet to deal out a bit more death and destruction.
Things usually happen pretty fast. With flax and tracer flying up from the ground and enemy gunships closing in for the kill, you have to duck the radar,
avoid the bullets and still destroy your objective - whether that be a convoy, an airbase, a radar installation or any one of the many possible targets in the
Amiga Computing, Issue 28, September 1991, Pp.50-51
Wieviele verheissungsvolle Pilotenkarrieren sind wohl schon an den wahnwitzigen Tastaturbelegungen gescheitert, mit denen jede zweite Simulation aufwarten kann? Unzählige! Dabei geht's auch ganz anders...
Core Design hat es geschafft, bei dieser Hübschraubersimulation alle wichtigen Funktionen auf die Maus zu legen, ohne dass deswegen auch nur ein Quentchen Spielspass verloren ginge! Steuerung, Motorleistung, Feuern, Waffen- und Zielauswahl - alles wird komfortabel mit dem Nagetier kontrolliert, die Tastatur benötigt man lediglich fur seltener gebrauchte Funktionen (Karte, Aussenansichten, Schadenfeststellung, Infrarot, diverse Stormassnahmen wie ,,Radar Jammer").
Ängste, dass die Geschichte deshalb zu simpel oder actionlastig geworden wäre, sind dennoch unbegründet: Starts und Landungen spielen zwar eher eine Nebenrolle, doch sobald der Vogel mal in der Luft ist, hat man es mit einer absolut vollwertigen Simulation zu tun. Natürlich kommt die Action deshalb trotzdem nicht zu kurz; schlieslich wollen über zehn verschiedene Waffentypen ausprobiert werden, und die Radarstationen, Eisenbahnen usw. stehen bzw. fliegen ebenfalls nicht nur zum Spass in der Gegend rum.
So, jetzt wird's aber Zeit, sich mal mit dem eigentlichen Hauptdarsteller zu beschäftigen: Der AH-73M Thunderhawk ist durch seine spezielle Nachtausrustung wie geschaffen für Einsatze am späteren Abend, er hat keinen Heckrotor, kann aber trotzdem sehr tief und sehr schnell fliegen, er bietet eine konkurrenzlose (Waffen-) Lade kapazität und - er ist ,,made by Core Design", hat also gar kein reales Vorbild (allenfalls eine gewisse Ähnlichkeit mit dem amerikanischen LHX).
Im Auftrag eines Spezialkommandos der United Nations treibt sich dieser Super-Heli in sechs verschiedenen Szenarien herum, die Missionen führen von Mittelamerika über Europa und Südost-Asien bis nach Alaska. Zur Einführung gibt's jedesmal eine spielfilmmassige Vorbesprechung mit Diashow, Videoaufnahmen vom Zielgebiet und Erläuterung des geplanten Einsatzes. Dann darf man das Ganze erst noch- mal im Simulator ausprobieren, mit unendlich Sprit und Munition, einstellbarem Schwierigkeitsgrad und einem Flugtrainer; der erklärt, was man denn nun schon wieder falsch gemacht hat.
Bliebe nur noch zu erwähnen, dass die superschnelle und detailreiche Vektor grafik fast ,,F-29 Retaliator"-Niveau erreicht, dass der Sound (Musik & FX) ebenfalls spitzenmässig ist und sogar an ein aufwendiges Intro gedacht würde. Fazit: Im Vergleich zu Thunderhawk ist die Heli-Konkurrenz ,,Gunship" nicht nur uralt, sondern sieht auch so aus! (mm)
Amiga Joker, October 1991, p.39
If you're a person who thinks that yokes belong with eggs and a turbo-prop is an old biddies go-faster walking stick, chances are you've never played a flight sim. Most people are put off computer flight games after taking a look at the hugely complicated controls and incomprehensible manual jargon. Thunderhawk from Derby-based Core Design attempts to break this mould with a mix of slick graphics and a simple control method.
Thunderhawk is based around a crack American helicopter team of the future who are kitted out with all the latest ass-kicking hardware. Their job is to right wrongs, kick dictators where it hurts and battle for truth, justice, glory and mom's homemade apple pie.
On loading you receive an excellent animated intro with the President of the USA informing his chief advisor that the forces of evil are at work, and that it's got to be sorted. So it comes down to you and your Thunderhawk colleagues to rid the world of moustachioed despots through a series of into foreign countries.
The missions are divided into six groups of ten. Each of the six campaigns have an overall objective such as rescuing a Russian double or attacking drug barons in Latin America. The sub missions all contribute to the success of the campaign. In the rescue mission communication centres have to be knocked out, raids have to be executed against enemy strong-points to confuse them as to your overall objective, and a Chinook helicopter has to be escorted to the battlefield to make a dummy pick-up, confusing the Russians even further.
Each mission starts with a briefing from your commander-in-chief, who tells you what needs to be done and why. Then it's on to the planning room where you get a run through of the mission in true home movie style, complete with flickering projector.
After sussing out the mission, its onto the arming screen. Tooling up with really hard weapons is simple. Select the weapon you want, then click on the pylon where you want to install it. Most of the time a mixed payload is acceptable, but some weapons, such as bombs, have to be carried in pairs as a 1,000 pound bomb strapped to just one wing doesn't do the helicopter much good.
Because Thunderhawk is set in the future, its programmers have been able to take slight liberties with the weapons. The AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles which are currently used by the USAF have been upgraded to AIM l0B and AIM-11F models, which are lighter and more powerful. Up to 188 unguided FFARs (Folding Fin Aerial Rockets) can be carried at one time or 46 Firestorm laser guided missiles. Other weapons include depth charges, fire and forget air-to-ground missiles, 500 and 1000 pound bombs, MWAR unguided missiles which spilt into four small warheads before hitting their targets, SMARM radar seeking missiles, anti-runway weapon, Penguin air-to-ship missiles and a 30mm cannon. Most of the weapons are based on actual equipment used by airforces today, although those in Thunderhawk have been redesigned to be smaller so more can be carried.
The control system is very simple. The mouse is used to fly the 'copter, select and fire its weapons, alter the engines' power and designate targets. The left button is used to fire weapons while the right one is used to select them. Holding the right but ton down, then moving the mouse forward or back, increases and decreases the power while pressing both buttons together changes targets. The keyboard is used only to launch flares, chaff and switch jammers on and off. Initially it seems a lot crammed on to the mouse, but once you can remember what's what this turns out to be one of the most simple, but effective control systems on any Amiga flight sim. Attention to detail is incredible. As enemy jets come in slow to pick you off with their cannons and turn to fly away, their engines glow as the reheats are switched on. Drop a depth charge into the ocean and there's a splash as it hits the water and a further, larger, splash as it goes off. Enemy bullets can be seen as they streak towards you, a rare occurrence in any flight sim. Most of the extras aren't noticeable at first, but help give the game far more depth.
The enemy come in all shapes and sizes. Surface-to-air missile batteries are a constant hazard, but they show up on radar and can be circumnavigated. Optically guided flak guns, however, don't show up on any of your instruments. The first you know about them is when they open up with their 57mm cannons. Missiles can be jammed, or decoyed with flares or chaff, but this isn't guaranteed to stop them as the operators have visual guidance systems for backup. Your helicopter can only sustain limited damage, and, as the hits build up, bits start going. The radar jammers are usually the first thing to go wrong, followed by the avionics and the machine gun. If the wings get blown off you lose all the weapons that were stored on them, and too many head-on impacts results in bullet holes in the canopy and knackered instruments.
Throughout its development, Thunderhawk has been geared towards action, and it shows. There's plenty to kill and avoid, the missions are varied and it's very easy to play. This is without a doubt the best helicopter simulation to hit Amiga, you'd be mad to miss it.
CU Amiga, August 1991, Pp.60-61, 63