Not to be confused with the Thunderdome, JHC Media’s Thunderbowl is an arena-based vehicular combat title that cribs notes from Twisted Metal and Vigilante 8. However, with only one stage, horrendous AI, and stock assets, this game is an assault to the senses.
Thunderbowl takes a brass tacks approach to its design. As a four-wheeled death machine, you take on three other cars hell-bent on destruction. Everything takes place on an island with a hole in the middle, and there are boxes full of ammunition for your flamethrower, machine gun, and missiles.
It sounds like a recipe for success (or at least mindless entertainment), but the execution in Thunderbowl is lacking. For one, everything used to design its world is stock – explosions are lacking, the world is low poly, and generally there is no character to speak of. Even the UI is sloppily designed – made up of two garish bars, a speedometer that goes to “360” and some vague icons featuring dots and the letters “MG,” it is obvious that not much effort went into its presentation.
This would normally be excusable if the gameplay was up to standard, but the physics here are completely and utterly broken. Players might have the ability to accelerate and brake, but the car is constantly in motion, even when the button isn’t pressed. In addition, it is easy to fly every which way at the slightest bump – it is unbelievably easy to end up on your side if you’re not careful. There was more than one occasion that our car was magically floating in the air, without a care in the word. Things don’t make sense, and trying to fight the roughshod physics and controls will only make things worse for you.
Thankfully, the AI doesn’t have half a brain among it. You would think programmers would tell rival cars to not drive off a cliff to their doom, but every vehicle we came across had a death wish. Actually fighting enemies wasn’t a problem – more than half the time, they ended up doing the dirty work for us. When they do stay on terra firma, they will run into you, spamming their weapon ad infinitum.
It’s not like death has any repercussions to it. Players instantly respawn without losing any points, lives are infinite, and if anything, weapons are completely recharged after each death. It makes little sense when you think about it, but it is actually faster to die and respawn than pick up the proper weapon.
Thunderbowl is a broken game. The lack of work that went into its design is apparent, and it is a waste of time for anybody brave enough to pick it up on Steam.