Krafton is most known for being the publisher behind PUBG, but its latest title, Thunder Tier One has echoes of tactics games like Commandos or Door Kickers. As a tense isometric shooter, Thunder Tier One has an excellent chance to fill a niche that has been too quiet recently. How does it do?
Thunder Tier One has three primary modes of play: Singleplayer, Co-op, and PVP. In solo play, players will command a squad of three operators, with the player taking the fourth. There are nine missions to tackle following a vague story of military shenanigans in the 1990s. The missions have various objectives, from securing a high-value individual to clearing tunnels beneath a petrol station searching for chemicals. Each assignment is generally handled in the same way: Arrive on the scene, kill some people, complete an objective or two, kill some more people, leave. The interest comes from how you choose to execute the mission.
Stealth is usually the best way to start, though it isn’t always an option. Keeping quiet and manoeuvring your AI operators into position for a speedy assault on a patrol is satisfying, and most missions will encourage you to stay quiet as long as possible. Once you go loud, important enemies may try to flee, bombs could be armed on critical pieces of intel, or reinforcements can be summoned, forcing you to change up your plans. However, maintaining stealth is rarely easy, and it is never necessary. Shaking the hornet’s nest and opening fire can clear as many enemies as a covert takedown.
Commanding the AI is easy, and context-sensitive commands mean AI can do complex actions like quickly picking up a wounded teammate. However, a lack of breaching commands or queueable orders mean that you’re limited to setting them up in a position or summoning them to your side and letting them shoot as they see fit. Any other order you might give will be utility or convenience-driven. The real-time nature of the game means that keeping your AI active is clumsy.
Gunshots in Thunder Tier One are powerful. Even suppressed weapons sound hefty, like a deadly weapon is being discharged. When things kick-off and your machine gunner is burning through belts, grenades are cracking off, and glass is shattering from nearby windows, the fragility of your little soldier in the middle of the storm is potent. The sound design and lethality do a great job of making you want to keep your head down while your pal moves to get a flanking shot off. For a top-down game, controlling your character, aiming at targets, and slamming into cover feels as tight as any other genre, and Thunder Tier One does a great job of allowing perfect control over your soldier.
In cooperative play, things get more interesting. Stealth is more viable, and pulling off a coordinated flash and clear to sweep a room feels deliberate and, most importantly, possible. Splitting a team of AI to clear a building from two sides requires an uncomfortable amount of micro-management, but it becomes an effective strategy with human teammates.
Thunder Tier One certainly hits its high point in co-op but still feels held back by its mission design. At the end of each mission, you are given a small line of text that gives you a performance score in a percentage. However, there is no indication of what factors affect that rating. There is never a target to aim for beyond completing all the missions, even on the more punishing realism difficulty that is not a hard target to reach. Some tasks have objectives that can be failed while still completing the level, and those introduce a bonus goal. Still, Thunder Tier One is sorely lacking the challenges seen in Door Kickers 2: Task Force North, such as perfect stealth or not suffering any injuries.
While the current offering of missions in Thunder Tier One lacks complexity or challenge, modding tools are planned to release soon. If the game’s community approaches it with the same creativity that its contemporaries have received, then maybe complex, engaging, and challenging missions will be created to test players. With what is provided out of the box, it’s a little trivial.
Missions in Thunder Tier One have settings that can all be changed. These include tweaks to player and enemy damage, an enemy number multiplier, weather and time, and budget points available. While these can be tweaked to create an extra challenge, they are artificial restrictions that aren’t encouraged through challenges, nor do they increase a mission’s complexity. Dropping the number of points a player can spend on their kit will create exciting scenarios and encourage more interesting loadouts, but does not add a reason to carefully clear a room instead of kicking the door in and firing on anything that moves.
On the subject of loadouts, Thunder Tier One does offer an excellent system for playing soldier dress-up, and creating a kit-themed around a particular country or special unit is fun. The major caveat is that there are three male faces and one female with no way to personalise them. Mixing and matching camo patterns and balancing equipment across a team of players can help achieve success, with scopes allowing for greater vision but worse close-quarters combat. There are certainly jack-of-all-trades setups that can overcome any situation, but getting specialised creates a more fun dynamic. Weapon variety is sufficient, with a couple of options in each major category to provide variety, but in function, most weapons perform the same within their roles.
Thunder Tier One does feature an XP system that very slowly unlocks new customisation options such as new camos and headgear. Still, there is no way to see what you unlock and when, and when you do acquire something new, the game does not try to tell you about it. It was a pleasant surprise to see I had unlocked a skate helmet for my operator, but when that actually happened and what is next is entirely unknown. Contracts give you goals for earning XP, but with no way to see what you would earn, why bother trying?
Finally, Thunder Tier One does feature PVP and the modes on offer range from free for all deathmatches to objective-based exfil modes. These are fun for a mess around with pals and self-imposed rules such as snipers only, but any amount of seriousness will be met with frustration. It’s an excellent way to kick back and mess around between serious missions, but little more.
Thunder Tier One launches for PC on December 7.
Ultimately, Krafton has provided a solid foundation with good sound, mechanics, and control. However, it is missing a few things in its mission design to create a truly valuable experience. Of course, this game could see post-release content bolster its base components. The inclusion of modding tools and a message from the devs calling Thunder Tier One “a playground for modding” shows the intent to create a platform for custom content to thrive. It just needs to be made now.
- Great sound design
- Solid controls
- Fun customisation
- Reliance on community creation
- Limited AI commands
- Lack of optional mission goals