It's big, it's mean, and it's as tough as my granny's sponge cake. What is it? Only Operation Thunderbolt, the most eagerly awaited shoot-'em-up sequel since... um... the second series of Moonlighting. And is it a corker or what?
Similar in plot to its big brother Operation Wolf, your mission in Thunderbolt is, of course, to rescue the hostages. This time round though there are eight levels ahead of you (or nine if you count the final hostage scene), the baddies are bigger and tougher and more numerous than before, and you also get the option of taking a chum along into the tray with you if you want - 'cos just like the arcade version, this game has a spanky two player option.
As in Wolf, you begin the game armed with a complete energy level, an Uzi, live magazines and three grenades. The aim of the game is to shoot everything in sight. But, pumping away at the fire button, it's difficult to suss out exactly where you're firing at first, 'cos in Thunderbolt there's no large cross hair a la Wolf. Instead the only sight you have for your gun is a one pixel cursor which gives you a minimal idea of where your shots are falling. You can lose a few shots to get the feel of your weapon (oo-er). but your best bet is to keep your eyes peeled for the laser sight icon which appears near the beginning of every level. This'll give you a laser sight on your gun for the rest of the level. Not as big as the Oppo Wolf cross hair, but still very handy.
Once you've sussed out the firing system it's down to business. On each level you have to take out a certain number of baddies, tanks, dinghies and helicopters in order to move on. Unfortunately, though, you only have a limited amount of ammo with which to do this, but there are extras to be found. Keep your eyes peeled for the following icons - body armour, which'll reduce your damage level by half for the rest of the level, extra ammo, in the form of magazines, grenades and shell boxes, and a power drink and medicine box which'll revitalise damaged energy supplies. Cats (of the bewhiskered variety) are also unlikely providers of extra weaponry and energy.
Your first task is to make your way down a terrorist-infested road towards a church where a spy with vital information is hiding out. Blammo! The first screenful of baddies hits you like a kick in the teeth. 'Cos unlike Wolf with its left/right scrolling (but just like the arcade game) Thunderbolt opens up with an into-the-screen scrolling level and a barrage of big, big baddies leaping out of the screen towards you, unleashing a veritable hail of bullets, grenades, rockets, and helicopters. Blasting your way down the road takes some doing. The terrorists can be dispatched with one bullet, but the helicopters need a lot more shots before they can be destroyed! But waste your quota of baddies and make it to the church without sustaining too much damage, and it's onto Level Two.
This is a left, right horizontal scroller and takes place in the enemy's ammunition depot. Destroy the depot, pick up some more magazines, bullets and grenades, then jump into your jeep for Level Three. Make it through this (another into-the-screen scroller with you in a jeep) and you'll reach the hideout where the hostages are kept in Level Four. This is another left right scroller, but, apart from blasting everything that moves, you've also got to release the hostages from the huts where they are being held. Do this by shooting the locks off the doors. Once the hostage moves off screen they are rescued, but if you shoot one by mistake you'll lose a life. Lose them all and it's end of game for you, matey. So beware of that itchy trigger finger.
Into your boat for Level Five, and another into-the-screen scroller. Make your way across the water to the enemy headquarters where the other hostages are being held. Then battle on into the headquarters in the left/right scrolling Level Six. Right in the thick of the enemy camp there are terrorists coming out of the ceiling as well as the floor. Rescue the hostages being held here and then it's on to the into-the-screen scrolling Level Seven, where you must hotfoot it down the runway after the terrorists.
Level Eight is yet another front view scene. This time you are inside the plane where the terrorists have taken refuge. Pick off the terrorists without shooting the passengers already onboard. As in the hostage levels, lose a passenger and your energy will drop. Get this far (and it'll take some that's f'sure) and there's just one more task to complete. The pilot of the plane has been taken hostage by the terrorist leader. You must take careful aim before trying to kill the dodging terrorist without harming the pilot. Rescue the pilot and you complete the mission and end the game. Lose the pilot though and it becomes impossible to fly the plane, so the game's over. Aww, and just as you were doing so well too.
Operation Thunderbolt is one of the most slickly programmed games I've seen in a long time. It's fast, smoothly scrolling and a blast a minute. The basic game may be much the same as Operation Wolf, but with Thunderbolt's longer length, bigger and more numerous sprites, varied scrolling, extra final showdown shoot-out and two player option to boot, it's more than worth shelling out for. Go get a copy now.
A brilliant shoot-'em-up with enough variation from the original to stand as a separate megablast all in its own right.
PICK ME UPS
When your arsenal of weapons starts to run low, various icons will suddenly appear in nooks and crannies on the screen. Blast 'em for the following extra goodies.LASER SIGHT There's only a piddly one pixel cursor on your gunsight to begin with. Shoot the laser sight icon to get yourself a much more workable laser sight which'll last you for the rest of the level.BODY ARMOUR Grab yourself one of these dead trendy combo jackets and you'll reduce your damage rating by half for the rest of the level.MAGAZINES You start off with five magazines - Your Sinclair, ZERO... (What? Ed)... er... rifle magazines, that is, each containing 40 bullets. But at the rate you get through the ammo they soon run out. Look out for the magazine icon when this happens 'cos it'll increase your already formidable arsenal.GRENADES GRENAAADE!!! You start off with three grenades at the beginning of the game, but if you shoot one of these babies it's grenades amundo!POWER DRINK Bottoms up! Wet your whistle with this little tipple and your injury level plummets.SHELL BOX This is like a goodie box for mercenaries. It's stuffed full of extra magazines and grenades - and they all come gift wrapped. Blammo!MEDICAL BOX Blast one of these open just as you're about to pop your clogs and, hey Presto, your injury level goes down to where it started.CAT You'll probably have the RSPCA on to you after this, but shoot a cat and one of the pick-me-up icons (except for the laser sight and the medical box) will appear at random. Go on, kill a kitty today. (You're fired! Animal Lover Ed)
A bit different from Oppo Wolf, eh? This little round dot is the laser sight for your gun.SKULL AND CROSS BONESYikes! I've hit one of the hostages. There they go, up into the wild blue yonder.BULLETSThis indicates the number of bullets left in your current magazine. Each magazine contains 40 bullets.MAGAZINESThis shows you number of magazines you have left at your disposal. Not doing too badly at the moment.GRENADESThis is the number of grenades you've got left. Three, eh? A nice odd number.ICON BOXThis little box shows you what extras you are carrying at the moment.THE HOSTAGEKeep the hostage alive until she runs off-screen to complete her rescue.LIFEKeep an eye on your life bar. It shows you how much energy you have left.
Level One. On The Road.
Level Two. The Munitions Dump.
Level Five. In The Dinghy.
Level Seven. On The Runway.
Level Eight. Flying Tonight.
Final Stage. Shoot out.