Westland - home of the attack helicopter and home base for covert Heseltine operations - is the sort of place which regularly turns out the likes of the Thunderblade helicopter. Given that this advanced machine boasts all the latest weapons, it's a pretty daunting task to be told that you're the one who's got to fly it - especially when your girlfriend is complaining about your eyes going a strange square shape and your fingers have taken to jumping up and down even when they're not clutching a joy- stick. Still, you'll take up the gauntlet, won't you?
The lush green fiends of America (OK, so they're grey pavements really) are under threat from the marauding rebel forces of a merciless and unforgiving dictator, General Swindells. Put more simply, he is a Gadaffi clone with a trident missile and a stars and stripes pair of underpants.
With lots of hale weary troops rapidly acceding to the superior power of the rebel's sophisticated weaponry it is only a matter of time before the government is overthrown. The top brass from U.S.G.H.Q. have summoned you to their office and told you to vanquish the enemy. Easy innit? You're let loose on the world with the ultimate flying machine - the Thunderblade. This advanced attack helicopter is at your disposal but can you take the world by storm and live to reap the benefits of mega-herodom?
The mission is split into four strategic stages which become progressively harder. From the daunting walls of skyscraper city through mountains and deserts, then a river delta and into a refinery. Each of these phases is sub- divided into three different levels. These consist of an overhead view of your purring 'copter as you fly through cities, viewed from the exhaust jets of your machine. The third phase charts your progress as you fly over a tanker. Being a religiously accurate arcade conversion, this phase runs at a pretty slow speed, making it harder than ever to survive attack from the enemy forces.
Assaults on your physical well-being range from conventional forward-shooting planes to cannons with a nifty knack of firing flame balls up at you to blast you into oblivion with barely a quiver of their snouts. A range of views of your Thunderblade from different angles keep the game surprisingly addictive.
At the end of each of the three stages your score is totted up and bonuses are awarded depending on your performance - not an altogether brilliant ego boost.
As for self defence, Thunderblade is equipped with two types of advanced weapon systems. A rapid-fire Chain Cannon used for aerial targets such as enemy helicopters and aeroplanes sounds like something out of Rambo part 94, with much the same effect It's only really effective when used against flying subversives but boy, does it leave a lasting impact. You can only shoot two missiles at a time but they are about as efficacious as the explosion of two tons of gelignite on an oil refinery. Straight line air-to-ground missiles take care of your land and sea targets - they are scattered like high-velocity confetti all the time your finger is held down on the fire-button. It takes a rapid blast on the old fire-but- ton to eject the lethal Chain Cannons.
The game begins with five reserve helicopters and comes to an end when all of your helicopters have been destroyed or the last stronghold has been taken by the evil Swindells. Scores shoot up every time you destroy anything vaguely resembling an enemy, which ain't too difficult since there's nothing out there which is your friend - even the infernal skyscrapers are quick to turn your amiable little Thunderblade into a jigsaw puzzle if you get too close. An extra helicopter is awarded with every 20,000 points. Since 20,000 points isn't any major achievement the bonus helicopters appear quite often and come in extremely handy when your lifespan looks to last about as long as a herd cattle somewhere within a five-mile radius of Chernobyl.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
When you're soaring above the landscape scattering missiles left, right and centre it's easy to forget that there are lots of skyscrapers and innocent people hanging around down there. This has got to be a good sign. The graphics look brilliant with good explosions whose only fault is that they occur too often.
Descending onto the top of skyscrapers as a method of seeking sanctuary from the flame-throwing tanks is possible but make a miscalculation and you soon explode into lots of flames and smoke. If you approach the skyscrapers when you're below roof height, each stored becomes alternately black or grey as it disappears off the top of the screen. So much for realism.
But there are few other faults. Takeoff looks good from overhead with your Thunderblade gradually increasing in size as it rises like a battle-stained Phoenix into the air - tentative, and not entirely sure that it finds war such a great pastime. With tanks, aircraft and lots of generally offensive beggars hanging around everywhere, the whole game becomes a myriad of fast paced-action and lots of good graphics.
In the rush to the presses Format had to make do with a version lacking any sound effects. However, having listened to the digitized music which will go onto the final game as well as all the spot effects, the sound will keep Thunderblade alive with vibrant activity.
Thunderblade is more than just another shoot-em-up. The twelve different levels are filled with enough graphical variation to keep you struggling to get further and further through the game. All the great arcade action has been left intact. Occasionally it becomes slow at times but this in no way detracts from the gameplay. Trips over the sea-faring battleship are designed to go especially slow. This might obey the arcade versions but it causes infinite hassle when you've only got one life left and you' re about to kiss the nostrils of an oncoming formation of the latest fighter jets as they perform their rendition of aerial Bolero. It wouldn't matter but they've decided that you should play the bull.