The whirly bird awaits...

Thunderhawk logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

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.

0K, I know it sounds complicated but it really isn't that bad, and when the subtle controls are combined with perhaps the smoothest graphics on any sim, the effect is excellent.

So what's it all about? Well, to say the Gulf War influence is strong would be a bit of an understatemt. The Apache's part in that conflict has not gone unnoticed, although your ship is supposed to be the next generation machine.

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.

The various missions and campaigns combine to make up a total of about 60 different scenarios. As you progress the tactical element grows, and to complete a campaign a little brain-power will need to be added to the awesome fire-power of your ship.

Each mission has a predefined set of objectives which can be tackled in any order, but if you re to proceed all mission objectives must be met. The usual familiar flight sim elements are used such as head up display, electronic counter measures, multi-display radar, and just about every aeronautical acronym you can think of, most of which require the odd click on the keyboard to activate or adjust.

Unlike Intercepter, Thunderhawk is awash with little extras which add to the involvement and atmosphere. For example, you have your very own Stormin' Norman who, for reasons of security, is known as jack. At the beginning of each mission good old Jack gives you the low down on the next objective as well as a reasonable helping of some rather dated cold war rhetoric, such as: "Those dirty pinko Russkis are at it again Bub. You've gotta get up there and kick their ass".

After old Stormin', it's off to the briefing room where you get the complete picture of the next mission. This is my favourite silly bit, complete with a Star Wars style attack briefing which is piped up on the main screen and occasionally punctuated with essential bits of info from the boss.

Once all the necessary mission selections are complete there's an armament scene where you can experiment with your own flair for ordnance. After a couple more scene setting animation sequences you finally take to the skies.

As soon as you become one with your machine and its radically different controls it's time to find the enemy. Unlike most sims Thunderhawk doesn't insist on the usual 10 minute flight before you see your first opponent.

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 campaign.


Thunderhawk logo

Thunderhawk is trying to blast Gunship from the Amiga sky and grab the mantle of the top chopper sim. Can a revolutionary control system and 60 sequential missions give it sufficient lift?

'Sir, Thunderhawk has been undergoing test flights and the findings are outlined below. The opinion of all test pilots is unanimous, this bird was born to fly. There's one thing all Amiga-based airforces will want to know before procurement takes place though: does it clip the wings of MicoProse's Apache Gunship?

Rotary club
Once you take a look at the spec, it becomes obvious this is not a real aircraft, but has been built by the programmer (Mac Avery) as a combination of both current design and projected military technology. It's a fictional helicopter that must fly realistic missions in a bid to hold together a fragile peace.

Flying 10 themed missions in six scenarios, the Thunderhawk has to live up to its billing as a multi-talented attack chopper. Its roles encompass that of bomber, rescue craft, flying missile platform and submarine killer. Each campaign starts out as a single mission which opens a 10-flight story: a tale you have to see right through to the end.

As each mission unfolds the pressure is slowly upped. Raids go deeper into enemy territory, new information alters your objectives and retributive strikes turn simple missions into a hardware hell.

Collective responsibility
The control system of a chopper defies accurate simulation: the cyclic joystick and collective are two totally separate systems which traditional methods just can't mimic effectively. This is where Thunderhawk's triumph card is played. It uses a custom system that pushes chopper sims further than ever before, by uniting all the disparate elements of helicopter control into a single mouse system which adds to the accuracy and playability.

With a crafty combination of button clicks and holds, the helicopter can be flown almost entirely via the mouse. The keyboard commands that remain are for chaff, flares and the 'toggleable' systems, such as night sights. The main guidance comes from the mouse so there's always a free hand available to stab at the necessary keys when the missiles start to rip. Effective control is never lost as hands transfer from joystick to keypad. Panic, when under fire remains the only problem.

The weapon systems need practice before they can be used effectively, and many Thunderhawks will tumble before it's mastered. Competence comes quickly and then the game changes from a futuristic helicopter simulation to a deadly battle for survival.

Thunderhawk is all about action: a non-stop shooting war where there are only the quick and the dead. Missile batteries have to be blasted or avoided, radars ducked or destroyed, while fighter planes and hunter-killer helicopters of the opposition prowl.

Using the mouse, the Thunderhawk soars smoothly with a reassuringly realistic lag between command and response - a factor good Thunderhawk pilots will quickly assimilate and build into their flying technique. Flexible and fast, the mouse system allows a thorough exploration of the helicopter flight experience, which is just as well because the 60 missions test the Thunderhawk well outside its performance enveloppe.


Thunderhawk is a non-stop shooting war where there are only the quick and the dead

Slick stuff
Any flight simulation has a limited appeal if the world it inhabits presents no threat or challenge. Thunderhawk doesn't suffer here, if anything it overdoses on action. You've hardly time to orientate yourself on the first flight before unpleasant things start hitting the fan. Unpleasant things like anti-aircraft fire and missiles, the fan being your rotor blades.

Slick polygon work and graphic effects ensure that the feel of flight is dramatically retold. Rolling smoothly with every command the world can quickly become a swirling mass of HUD lines and hills if concentration and control is lost. Yet even when the deadly yellow triple-A fire pierces the night sky, and you're using the night-sight, everything remains clear. The HUD and computer-control screens relay flight information calmly, readable at a glance, just the way they should.

The polygons used to create the actual world over which Thunderhawk hovers are solidly constructed and move well. Mountains and vehicles are nothing new, but the effects are. Explosions are a swirling sphere of stippled red and yellow spots, that fade to grey when the fire burns out. A small effect but it adds vastly to the realisation of the situation.

The atmosphere is usually supplied by the craft it copies, but Thunderhawk, being an object of fantasy, has to build and maintain its own mystique. The clever animated briefings and reports that fall between each mission help to establish a mythos. There's even a cartoon intro sequence explaining the unit's inception, a dressing that only arcades or adventures have had to date.
This package is a complete one, establishing Thunderhawk as the hybrid it really is.

Really?
The biggest problem is that it plays for keeps and it plays fast. There's no flying to-and-from missions, you're delivered within striking distance at the start. So, good pilots will find themselves progressing rapidly through the 60 missions simply because each sortie tends to be a short, swift exercise; a factor which limits lesser pilots' progress.

Reality fans may claim Thunderhawk lacks 'serious military credibility'. This is a mistake: sure, everything isn't accurate down to the last rivet, but in terms of playability and speed it's leagues ahead. Gunship now looks its age and can't hope to match state-of-the-art 1991 3D work. If there is one thing that hasn't been simulated, though, it's any flaws. Even the best modern technology has at least one foible - a 'flight characteristic' - that has to be worked around, but Thunderhawk has none.

Thunderhawk creates a thrilling 3D environment, filled to the brim with bullets, blasting and battles. Its unique control system promotes fast learning and allows the game itself to start at a sprint. Trick flying and quick firing are the only routes to survival from the word go. Segmented well with animated briefings, each campaign is a story that you create with brave deeds and hot flying.


Thunderhawk logo Amiga Joker Hit

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 nochmal im Simulator ausprobieren, mit unendlich Sprit und Munition, einstellbarem Schwierigkeitsgrad und einem Flugtrainer; der erklärt, was man denn nun schon wieder falsch gemacht hat.

Kommt es schließlich zum Ernstfall, springen vor allem zwei Dinge ins Auge: Das hervorragende Flugverhalten der Kiste und (leider) das deutliche überwiegen von Nachtmissionen. Ansonsten gibt's so das übliche - manuelle/automatische Bewaffnung, Orden, Beforderungen oder auch 'nen Ruffel vom Boss, je nachdem.

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)


Thunderhawk logo

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 pound 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 vary 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 the 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.

Thinking 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 have 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 be 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 on its own, there are scenario and mission briefing which go on for ages and contain some convincing film clips to explain your mission objective. They're great the first couple of times, but, well, ahem.


The emphasis has been placed on fast, slick graphics and plenty of action

COMING BACK DOWN TO EARTH
And now, after heaping all that praise on the game, I hope you'll bear with me while I have a bit of a go at it. Don't get me wrong - I think it's an absolutely brilliant game and everything - but there's just one aspect I'm not entirely happy with.
It's the control system.

Much has been made of the way all Thunderhawk's controls have all been crammed onto the mouse, keeping the keyboard out of the arena for most of the time to maintain the game's 'arcade feel'. All very well, but I reckon they've gone a little too far.

Putting the cyclic under the mouse control is fair enough, as is using the left button to fire off weapons. But to alter the collective (check out the 'Helicopters' box if you're not sure what I'm on about) you've 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 in to 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 15 degrees in any direction. This is fine for everyday flying around, and means you won't find yourself going into any fatal powerdrives 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 hate 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?


WHAT IT IS YOU'VE GOT TO DO
It's not all fun and larks being a helicopter pilot. Thunderhawk comes with 60 missions, set in various theatres of operation - Europe, The Middle East etc - all set out in a sort of chronological order, so completing a mission a naturally leads into mission b. There're countries to liberate, drug dealers to wipe out and so on.
Thunderhawk: Explanation user interface
  1. Protecting a defecting Russian in Europe.
  2. Protecting Middle Eastern oil platforms.
  3. Eradicating chemical weapons from East Asia.
  4. Keeping the Soviets out of snow-covered Alaska.
  5. Taking on Communists in Central America.
  6. Turfing out a drugs cartel in South America.
Thunderhawk: World map
  1. Oh dear, it's around here that everything starts to look a bit complicated - or, at least, it does if you're not actually familiar with the game. In fact, 'cyclics', 'collectives', and the likes - all explained in the 'Helicopters' box on the next page - aren't all that tricky to get your mind around at all.
  2. Your common or garden speed is indicated here...
  3. ...while rate of climb (or vertical speed) is over here.
  4. Here's your compass- the triangle indicates the direction of your mission.
  5. Here's your gunsight - it can, of course, move anywhere around the screen, though the limited angle of your copter can tip limits things a bit.
  6. Yes, it's your radar screen...
  7. ...while next to it are chaff/flares and so on.
  8. Wow! All your weapons are indicated in the middle here.
  9. Numbers, numbers, numbers - it can only be... your altitude!
  10. This bit indicates your current weapon and the number remaining.
  11. This big, empty space is actually your target computer.
GETTING BEATEN UP NO1
Thunderhawk
Ooh, look - another helicopter. Do you think he'll want to be my friend?
Thunderhawk
Oh dear, apparently not. (That big blob firing is him at me, by the way).
Thunderhawk
Better show him who's the boss, eh? This'll take some clever manoeuvring...
Thunderhawk
A-ha! Thanks to our cunning green(!) camouflage, he doesn't suspect a thing.
Thunderhawk
And look at that - he turns tall and runs. This helicopter laugh is easy!
Thunderhawk
Now I think I'll go and burn his house to the ground, heh heh...
REVEALED! EVERYMAN'S GUIDE TO HOW HELICOPTERS WORK!

Helicopters are tricky little devils to control, and your first few attempts are likely to end in a confused tangle of metal. (That's if you're anything like as incompetent as me, anyway - and I'm assuming you are). The secret is to know exactly what going on up there on the roof.

The first thing to be aware of is the 'collective' - the angle each individual rotor blade makes with the air. When this is zero the rotor blades are flat and the copter will sit on its landing pad (no matter how fast they're going round). Increase it and the rotors start to generate lift. The result? You take off.

As your chopper rises into the air, you'll probably be wondering how to move it around. For this you'll need to use the 'cyclic', which tilts the whole rotor, generating a horizontal force on top of the vertical one. Your helicopter now moves in whatever direction you tilt the rotors.

Just to complicate things, when the helicopter's at a standstill - or moving forwards slowly - you can rotate it on its axis by varyng the speed of the tail rotor, pointing the nose towards the ground, up in the air, or wherever.


GETTING BEATEN UP NO2
Why won't they just leave me alone? This time it's a MiG that's after me. All I want to do is protect a few measly oil rigs - it's not too much to ask, is it?
Thunderhawk
Oh, great. Not only is there a MiG 29 zipping by every five seconds, I've also got a helicopter gunship to contend with.
Thunderhawk
Hey, this guy's getting a bit too close for comfort! (It's that grey explosion thing again).
Thunderhawk
And there's another one. This is all getting a bit hairy.
Thunderhawk
A bit too hairy for me in fact. Let's wait until he's overshot me again (like so)...
Thunderhawk
...and then run like hell! (Though seeing as that MiG's so fast, the only way I'm going to really escape is to switch the Amiga off!)

Thunderhawk logo CU Super Star

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.


BEE GEE
The intro, briefing rooms, and other non-polygon graphics were produced by artist Jason Gee. The scenes where first sketched to paper then redrawn on the Amiga using Deluxe Paint 3. Despite Jason's aversion to digitised graphics he ended up scanning a picture of the Whitehouse to use on the first screen of the intro.
CODE IT BE MAGIC?

All the coding was done on a 286 PC using Realtime's SNASM compiler. This allows graphics to be imported and the whole program to be dumped onto an Amiga.

Most of the graphics and effects were produced with home grown software written by Thunderhawk's coder Mark Avery.

These allow 3D objects to be drawn, coloured and spun through a ridiculously high number of angles so that details can be checked and the overall look (as the picture in a SCUD launcher) is correct. Another useful routine used in the design of Thunderhawk was a mapping program, which was used to place all the objects in the game world.

Thunderhawk: Work In Progress Thunderhawk: Work In Progress
Thunderhawk: Explanation user interface

Thunderhawk logo Zero Hero

Core Design - the very kernel of the software industry. The pith. The cortex. The soul. Its latest game, Thunderhawk - the asprey circling the heart of the gyre of human existence. (© McCandless-Fforbes-Smythe Pompus Intros Plc).

So the American army needs another ace supremo, hot dog commander, top gun, ninja pilot (um... you, in fact) to pilot their ace supremo (etc) helicopter on a variety of campaigns over enemy terrain. The enemies and their terrain present a good cross-section of world culture: Eastern Europe (Russkies), Alaska (more Russkies), Middle East (Arabs), Latin America (Cubans), South East Asia (Russkies?) and Northern Europe (marauding bands of backpacking Swedish tourists)..

Each campaign is split into ten missions, each one contributing to the overall success of the campaign. So if you get a gold star for nine out of ten missions but a 'quack quack oops' for the remaining one, the entire operation may well be scuppered.

You get a quick cine-film briefing, followed-by a brief stop-over at the ammo hanger to stock up on phallic symbols for your chopper, and then - whoosh! - out into the battlezone.
Well... actually, it's more like 'hmm... out into the battlezone, as your helicopter takes off about as sedately as is humanly possible bar actually falling asleep. But that's just the lull before the storm. Witness: MiG, SAMs, gunships, subs, Apaches, Chinooks, mountains, bridges, etc etc etc.

Amiga reviewMacca: There are flight sims and there are flight sims. Some will have you know that the maximum firing range of an SA-14 shoulder-launched SAM is 16 kilometres or that a MiG-29 has two Tumansky R-33D Turbofans providing 36,000 lbs thrust.

Whereas the others will just present you with a fire button, some missiles and a few enemies with 'Kill Us - We're Polygons' written on them. Thunderhawk is one of the latter. It does away with all the difficult knobs, dials and buttons and leaves you with just a weapons sight, HUD and a radar (which is all you need, frankly).

Thunderhawk's greatest feature - this simplicity - is also its first stumbling block. Everything is controlled, rather smugly, with the mouse. Mouse movements control thrust and direction, while the buttons operate the weapons and radar. And of course, since no one understands the logistics of helicopters (because they're so silly) you will try to fly the chopper like a Fokker (i.e. a plane).

Many collisions with that old faithful - the friendly hangar - will follow, then you'll progress to fatal crashes into that old chestnut, the ground. Where would flight sims be without these two stalwarts, eh?

Soon enough, you realise that the tail rotor is very important for getting about - and also for swiveling on the spot. Hovering is a good tactic if you want to realise the enormity of your situation. A quick panorama of the landscape usually reveals about six MiGs, two SAMs, and a couple of A-10s - all converging on you at an alarming pace.

And it's that alarming, exciting, perturbing - call it what you want as long as it means a bit nippy - pace which makes Thunderhawk stand out. As we all know, a sim without speed is like a toilet without ceramics - a pile of old jobs, PC flight sims usually lose speed in transit to the Amiga, but luckily Thunderhawk, being penned on the Amiga has got speed.

The vector landscape chops and turns at a fair old pace, as do the ground objects, and there's an impressive range (81,000 possible) of external views.

Of course, for such a breakneck pace and a fast war some detail has to be sacrificed. Landmarks are kept to your base targets and the odd mountain. Aerial objects are all recognizable, if a little dull, although the Chinook looks exactly like a flying fish shop counter.

So what has Thunderhawk got that the other sims haven't got? Well, it's in a helicopter - and that's a new 'experience' for a start. There's no laborious flights between targets - everything is condensed into a small war theatre. So there is basically no respite from the actions. And because the game's so fast, you have to be especially on your toes. The missions are also more imaginative than most - acting as a deccy for a defecting Russian scientist or protecting a Gulf oil field from submarine and gunship attack.

But Thunderhawk's big asset is that it plays like a dream. Fast, Addictive, Uncomplicated.
Oh, and F-14D Tomcat has two Pratt & Whitney TF30-412A turbo-fans for 41,800 lbs thrust, by the way. Stop


HOW TO BEAT A MIG
(WHEN YOU'VE SOMEHOW MANAGED TO END UP IN A HELICOPTER *)
BY TOM STARCH, METROPOLITAN CHAUFFEUR (i.e. Taxi Driver).
The MiG-29 v the Thunderhawk? Mach 2 v 200 mph? Top Gun v Airwolf(The Movie)? How can a thing with propellors possibly survive against a thing with jets and big, BIG missiles?
  1. Well, I if were you, guv, I'd stay motionless - you know, not moving - about 10 feet or so above the ground. That way you don't appear on his doppler radar, see? He'll have to get a butchers of you wiv his own eyes and then swoop down and hope to nail you wiv his heavy duty cannon. So keep your beady eye open and get him wiv a missile as he flies over. But watch out, guv, the movement of his jets over your propellers might create a vacuum. You'll be in deep, er... well, deep stuff then and no mistake. Gor blimey yes, guv.
  2. Another way, right (sniff), is to hide. Not 'hide' as in what the Argies did, but conceal yourself behind a mountain or an oil rig. Then just track the incoming MiG on radar and give the tosser what for as he flies past.
  3. Alternatively, you could nail him with some crass bigoted racial comments and if that don't get him, follow it up with a few rounds of conceited myopic observations on how the world would be a better place if everyone was British.