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AH-3 Thunderstrike (Sega CD) artwork

AH-3 Thunderstrike (Sega CD) review


In theory, the Sega CD peripheral could have worked, since the company already had a built-in fanbase ready to march with them into the "future of gaming." But in retrospect, they failed due to a very questionable, mediocre catalog of "interactive" titles full of cheesy acting, low-quality video clips, and some extremely lackluster gameplay. However, if you dig deeper, move past the QTE adventures, the Marky Marks, and the PowerPoint presentations, the library had a selection of games that actually tried being more than odd tech demos. AH-3 Thunderstrike seemed to be such a product; not only does it take advantage of the Sega CD's sound and FMV capabilities, but there's an actual, full-fledged game constructed between these stimulating aspects. Weird, right?

With ten operations to choose from, each containing anywhere from three to six missions, you're given a monumental task that's never been accomplished in video games: blow things up. You'll do this in the comfort of the fictional Thunderstrike/Thunderhawk attack helicopter, destroying a constant stream of tanks, SAM launchers, gunboats, planes, and rival helicopters in a first-person cockpit view. And while the game is often labeled a flight simulator, it doesn't hold too tightly to that identification, leaning much more towards an arcade vibe. At best, the sim aspects mostly come from using the radar capabilities to find mission targets and dodge incoming missile attacks.

Once you get the hang of switching between helicopter functions on the Genesis 3-button controller, such as changing height and locking on to targets, Thunderstrike is pure wanton destruction. After receiving voice-narrated mission briefings and short FMV shots of the helicopter, you're left to your own devices on each individual map; go straight to the objective, demolish buildings, radio towers, and silos, and easily finish a mission in less than three minutes, or fly all over the battlefield and annihilate anything that shows up on your extremely-pixelated screen. The action really looks like a mess in motion, but the funny thing is, the severe pixelation never becomes an issue. While the lock-on and two radars, one for objectives and one for enemies, help tremendously in that regard, I never had trouble making out certain objects on screen, especially during firefights.

At first glance, the game appears to be a solid, albeit basic, outing for the Genesis' add-on, treating fortunate gamers to some surprisingly fast-paced action; keep in mind, this was the early 90s, and "flight sims" on consoles usually moved at abysmal speeds. At the very least, Thunderstrike succeeds by not succumbing to typical Sega CD problems... on the very simple basis that it's a normal video game.

Instead, Thunderstrike succumbs to normal video game problems.

Here's the thing: the game has over 40 missions. If you're planning on having that many missions in your product, you either better have strong variety or some very engaging gameplay to sustain the player's interest up to the finale... Between missions where you simply fly to a base and blow up all its targets, the game mixes things up with assignments that involve destroying a bridge to stop enemy movements, or clearing a path full of navel mines for a U.N. boat convoy. But these are sparse, and worst of all... Thunderstrike runs out of fresh ideas after the third operation. So for the remainder of the playthrough, you basically just go through the motions of wiping out bases, while those scarce variations repeat themselves.

Unfortunately, it's repetitive, mindless action. And that statement is coming from someone who enjoys action games that are often labeled mindless drivel by others. But the thing about those action titles is that they are constantly changing from stage to stage, level to level, and different enemies and obstacles are introduced. There's structure and flow, and more times than not, those games benefit greatly by being short, therefore curbing the repetition. Thunderstrike doesn't feel like a self-aware product, in which the devs couldn't fathom players would be tired of going through the same generic mission structure for nearly 50 missions. Seriously, by the time I finished the third operation, I was legitimately considering ending my playthrough; I begrudgingly plowed forward, because I wanted to see if the game would throw something drastically different at me... at some point... any point.

But it never happened, and the entire experience just felt like tedious work. Quite ironic for a game designed around the thrill of obliterating everything with such destructive weapons, all while a 90s rock soundtrack pounds away. I really didn't want to dislike the game, but the more I conquered, the more Thunderstrike did everything in its power to irritate me with its lack of... things. I would have gladly accepted a shorter campaign if it meant the devs had more time to create a gripping, entertaining romp. Quantity did this game no favors.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 19, 2018)

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Follow_Freeman posted August 20, 2018:

Excellent review! I appreciate an acknowledgement of quality over quantity. Vivid descriptions aid this review, as well, bolstering the contrast between the explosive nature of the gameplay with its repetition.
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pickhut posted August 20, 2018:

Glad you enjoyed it, Freeman! It had so much simple, fun potential, but I think the devs confused "too many missions" for ambition.

I was going to save this for a back-to-back with Thunderstrike II, but it kept slipping away, so I just went and submitted it alone.
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Masters posted August 20, 2018:

Seconded. Great flow and mojo here.

Also: my condolences.
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pickhut posted August 20, 2018:

Thanks, Masters.

Thunderstrike II? I'll get to it... eventually. I have the Sega Saturn case sitting on my table as a reminder, but it's now collecting dust and blending in with the table. Hiding underneath a case of Red Zone...

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