Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Thunderstrike: Operation Phoenix
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Core Design
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous/ Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Ah, I remember it as if it was yesterday, (and it probably was) - sitting down in front of the ol' Uber Nintendo playing a campaign or two of Jungle Strike. Well it turns out that those times I have longed for on are back again on the PS2 courtesy of Eidos and Core.

There aren't too many flight sims/shooters on the PS2 right now, but Thunderstrike: Operation Phoenix is able to fill the gap in the graphics field. Whenever I hear the word thunderstrike, (happens more often than you would think), I will always remember dropping in low and coming in fast to take out a pack of SAM launchers with my wingman on my side. Everything in Thunderstrike looks great and that is important when you spend so much time close to the ground moving fast. All of the ground textures are very detailed and and don't show any seams on the hills. The other environment objects like trees and small buildings look equally excellent. Along with the obvious graphics you'll notice other little touches like convincing lens flares and explosions. Usually you won't see the helicopter because the two first person views work the best, but when you switch to the third person, you can see that you have been piloting a lean machine capable of launching a rocket through the hull of an enemy tank. I was most impressed with the rotors, which actually looked like blades slicing through the air instead of a semi-transparent polygon with a rotating texture.

I found that the sound in Thunderstrike: Operation Phoenix works relative to where you are. In the first person views, the rotors are dampened because you are inside the cockpit. Outside, the pleasant fwoof - fwoof noise seems almost like Core took a mike and sneaked onto an Air Force base to capture the sound off of an Apache. Also you can notice the difference in the bullet and missile fire when comparing the different views. There isn't any music during the gameplay of Thunderstrike, and rightly so. I think that having any sort of soundtrack would ruin the intense fighting action that the game offers. One thing that doesn't ruin the the action is the voice acting. Before missions, you get a lengthy briefing explaining what the terrorists plan to do. The other voice acting takes place during the actual missions in the form of radio chatter. They don't really tell you anything useful to the mission, but it adds to the mood to hear when your wingman is down or when a SAM is launched.

Thunderstrike is one of those games that plays smoothly and is a joy to play. The plethora of campaign missions are able to offer a lot of gameplay and a high replay value due to the non-linear format. The bulk of the game is touted by the Campaign mode which is split into four fronts around the world - Alaska, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe. It works well to split up the Campaign mode because it gives you the chance to play in very different environments. Also, I liked the fact that you could change between the campaigns without beating the one before it if you got into a gumption trap and couldn't keep going. There are more than 25 missions between the four campaigns and they are all quite long which means Thunderstrike isn't a one day wonder. Before setting out on a mission, you have to outfit your copter with suitable weapons, and there are plenty to choose from. By including Hell Fire Rockets, Heat Bombs, Sniper Scopes and Chain Guns plus the other weapons, Core has insured that you have a fighting chance against the nameless terrorists. The training mode doesn't really 'train' you per se, but instead lets you fly around a huge level shooting baddies till you get the feel for the game. There are a number of minor downfalls to the game, but the biggest one I found was the weak storyline. Terrorists are wreaking havoc in key places around the world (like Alaska?) and you have to stop them. That's all they give you. There aren't any surveillance video CG sequences or even updates before the missions. Instead, you are given bland briefings like a key base has been seized, now go get em. The other problems are not as big, but are still noticeable. The first one is that when you run into even a shallow hill, your aircraft comes to a stop with a clunk noise. I suppose that if you hit a hill in real life you would come to a stop, but in a videogame I would expect to automatically ascend with the land. The other problem is even less important still, but is still worth mentioning. When I first started a mission, my first inclination was to just zoom off and start shooting stuff. The problem is that in the beginning of the stages, you are sometimes placed close to the perimeter of the board and if you leave, the mission ends with a failure. I quickly remedied this by looking at the directional cursor and watching the radar. Small problems, I know, but they bear mentioning even if they aren't game wreckers.

The hardest part of Thunderstrike was getting used to the control scheme. Once I got the hang of it though, they worked well and it paid off to take the time to learn them. The difficulty of the missions comes mainly from the objectives not being explained. Granted, you do get a long, narrated back story explaining the terrorists intent, but the objectives can be as generic as 'Investigate the base'. There should be some sort of a government organization backing you, correct? You would think there would be a little intel telling you what types of enemies there are and maybe how many. Other than the poor intel and slight learning curve for the controls, Thunderstrike has the correct difficulty. There aren't really any enemies that stand out as being too tough, but at the same time, it's not like you can just blow through them.

Game Mechanics:
It's obvious that a next generation flight sim can't have the same controls as previous helicopter titles on the 16 - bit systems. That's where the Dual Shock 2 comes in. The helicopter is flown completely by the two analog sticks, with each one having separate movements. The left stick moves the aircraft forward, backward, and to the left and right without moving the nose. Up and down are designated for the forward and backward, with the left and right serving as a strafe function. The right stick uses the up and down to change the helicopter's elevation and the left and right to rotate both clockwise and counterclockwise. These controls can sound daunting to use at first (and they are to some degree) but once you get the hang of it, they offer the precise control that you need. Dropping fast and shooting a target before spinning 180 and traveling backwards to take out another is both an easy and effective move thanks to the tight controls. The face buttons are used at a minimum because both thumbs will be on the sticks, so firing missiles and shells are designated to the shoulder buttons. There are also a lot of on screen guides to help you manage the game. At the top is a compass so you don't get lost in the huge environments. Radar, a targeting recticle, current weapon, elevation and remaining rounds are also on screen and are still informative without crowding you from seeing the action. The auto save/load function works well after creating a file and the levels also load really fast with quirky phrases like Transferring to outpost base'.

What Guys Thinks: Thunderstrike: Operation Phoenix is the only flight sim that I've played on the PS2 and even though I have heard good things about Ace Combat 4, I'm content to stick it out with this one. There were very few problems, which is very refreshing, but I would have liked to see a two player mode.

-Joe Guys, GameVortex Communications
AKA Joe Labani

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.