Presenting I-Magic’s budget tank shooter.
Arcade hover-tank shoot ’em ups aren’t what you would normally expect from I-Magic, but here it is anyway, courtesy of Bluemoon. Take control of a futuristic tank in Thunder Brigade, and blast all manner of 3D props around several huge levels using one of six weapons. You won’t find the complexity or visual flair of Battlezone here, but that’s fine since Thunder Brigade isn’t setting its sights that high.
Indeed, here we have a simple arcade shooter that’s trying to look good on a budget – look over the box and you’ll see a line that reads ‘No 3D Acceleration Required!’, which roughly translates to ‘no 3D acceleration included at all‘. Even so, the game looks quite good, and its existence makes sense in an age when a high-powered video card can set you back several paychecks. On that note, here’s a sincere toast to cheapo gaming! It’s not all that fun, but it’s all you could afford.
Gameplay is of the arcade sort, with one or two complications making things a wee bit more interesting than they otherwise would be. First off, you control a tank that levitates anywhere from five to fifty feet above the ground (you can shift altitudes, but the method is rather stiff). As such, cornering is made more difficult at high speeds when your war machine is sporting a lot of forward momentum. It takes a little time to get a hold of the wonky controls; even though you get several schemes on offer – keyboard only, keyboard and mouse, joystick or gamepad – neither really worked for me. The keyboard and mouse combo in particular are embarrassingly bad.
Once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll find the game pretty simple. Missions are usually of the search and destroy kind stretched along a linear campaign, all packaged with narrated briefing screens, plus a hefty load of quick action scenarios on the side. Gameplay is shoot first, ask questions later, sometimes by yourself, other times with the help of an AI squad that you can order around. Even so, there’s not much in the way of tactical depth.
And it’s sort of a shame. Just hovering around the world reveals how extremely large the levels are – terrain stretches in every direction for miles, all while presenting a good amount of detail. You get jagged cliffs, pools of lava or numerous impact craters of various sizes, and the game runs like a dream, with no graphical glitches or slow-downs. The outlying lands are made out of voxels, and it runs and looks surprisingly better than anything Delta Force could produce.
Terrain has some tactical relevance in the way you can float above jagged rocks for a clear view around you, or hide behind a hillock and out of incoming fire, but overall it doesn’t add much when you can just float around everywhere on a sleek, invisible pillow. Be it a steep vertical incline or a one-hundred foot fall, your tank can usually handle it. This sort of boundless world presents several downsides, as does the gameplay.
Although we’re in the future, tank battles seem to boil down to embarrassing point-blank affairs. Because of the awkward controls, you’ll always need to get in very close to your targets and blast them away with one of several available weapons. You’ll initially fire a self-regenerating rail gun and homing missiles, but will later move on to more advanced vehicles and guns – mines, plasma cannons or laser designators (which paints a target for a subsequent air strike) will eventually be unlocked. Shields allow you to shrug off attacks for a short period of time, but take too many hits and your subsystems will start to malfunction. Thankfully, you can save and load games on a whim.
In the end, Thunder Brigade is more about what you’re looking for. If a simplified, arcade tank shoot ’em up is your thing, then this game might offer some easygoing enjoyment. In the long run, however, it’s way short of a classic.
System Requirements: Pentium 100 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, 120 MB HDD, 4 MB Video, Win 95/98