‘Thunder Tier One”s preview: intense gunfights but notable shortcomings

Intense firefights from a bird's eye view

I sprint down the hallway shouting at the fleeing high-value target (HVT). He’s trying to escape in a car, but my two – human-controlled – teammates are outside blasting at the car. I hear the gunshots and know that there is no escape for the man I’m closing on. He surrenders, and we extract him in a Humvee with guidance from our fourth player, who sadly didn’t make it.

Thunder Tier One is the upcoming game from PUBG developer/publisher Krafton. Most of the rounds I’ve played have involved some hectic gunfights. This is what Thunder Tier One does well, with a single bullet meaning the difference between life and death. When shit hits the fan and bullets are cracking against rocks, cars and windows, the game feels tense and deadly.

In the current preview, three isolated missions are available to play through. Running through the three available missions doesn’t take too long as all three involve shooting your way into a place, acquiring something, and leaving. Most of the time there is shooting as you leave, too.

Thunder Tier One. Credit: KRAFTON

I say “shooting your way” because that’s how most runs will go. Keeping quiet and avoiding detection is doable but mainly achieved in two ways. One: playing solo, giving all of your AI teammates suppressed weapons and rushing every enemy to drop them before they can alert anyone. Two: Bringing three well-coordinated friends and taking your time.

AI squadmates are only present in single-player missions, which is a shame because multiplayer isn’t automatically balanced to player count. The AI can be ordered to take cover or hold fire with a simple radial menu, and the top-down perspective makes controlling them simple. There are even context-sensitive orders to ensure the AI are capable of anything that another player is.

The problem with this system is that everything is extremely reactionary. There is currently no way to have an AI open a door while another throws a flash in. This lack of preparable actions means that trying to coordinate a stealthy assault ends at “move there, open fire.” Hopefully, as the game progresses towards release, more of these kinds of actions will be available to players because, without them, it feels like certain actions are restricted to co-op only.

Thunder Tier One walks a line between a bombastic gunfight fest and a tense tactical creep through the shadows, but it leans heavily to the former in its current state. Each mission can be easily cleared by rushing objectives with frantic gunfire, even on Realism difficulty. Often this is the better option as well, as going loud draws in combatants, making them easier to deal with. Stealthy approaches can leave you surrounded by enemies once things inevitably go loud.

Thunder Tier One. Credit: KRAFTON

While single-player is good fun, the game elevates when you grab some pals for co-op. Stealth becomes more viable when you have full control of who or what gets shot at and when. Clearing a building with one person while two others cover the street feels more coordinated than just leaving AI outside.

When things click, you’ve got your team of players fanning around you, and you drop a hostile with two rounds, the game truly feels at its best. When shooting, you feel like you are right behind the gun, despite the top-down perspective. Situations that should feel awkward in top-down, like firing into a window above you work intuitively, and entering a building dissolves away the upper floors to give you a clear view of the hallways. Gunshots sound meaningful, and the way rounds punch through cover or ricochet off into the distance is satisfying.

There are a few gadgets to use, from lockpicks and snake cameras to breaching charges and claymores. While these provide several options for kitting out squad members, it never felt necessary to bring anything other than a medkit. This is partly due to how quickly the action escalates: taking time to peek into a room isn’t rewarded unless you put a lot of work into it. Often just kicking the door in and firing is far more efficient.

Thunder Tier One. Credit: KRAFTON

A well-organised co-op team and a few more options for squad commands can make these tools far more appealing, but the mission and map design feels like the true missing links. There are three maps with reasonable variety in the current test: a street, a factory, and a desert cliffside. But the way they all play is very similar. Start in a specific corner and work your way to an objective, then leave. There are buildings to contend with and enemy patrols to ambush, but with no reward for trying to eliminate them efficiently, there is no reason even to try.

There are plenty of tools to use in each scenario, which are managed in a slot-based inventory. Taking magazines, grenades, and spare tools is possible if you have space for it in your vest or backpack. However, each of these brings drawbacks, such as making more noise or moving slower. A budget cap limits how much stuff you can bring, so taking a spare medkit might cost you an accuracy boosting optic, leading to meaningful decisions in your load-outs.

Thunder Tier One. Credit: KRAFTON

The test also featured a 5v5 multiplayer mode called Exfil. In this, teams take it in turns to try and escort a device to an extraction site. There are three possible sites, but two are fake, and only the attackers know which. The tension of high lethality gunfights is amplified when you know it is a player hunting you down. When you lose sight of someone, they vanish completely, leading to intense cat and mouse searches. The mode might not have the complexity for a fully-fledged competitive scene but is at least fun enough for a mess around with a few friends.

The preview is only the second Thunder Tier One has run so far, so there is a lot of room for polishing and additions. However, with some work, Krafton might be onto a second great game, even if the market for top-down-shooters is a tad more niche.

Thunder Tier One does not currently have a release date, but will – presumably – launch in the future

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