Did we really used to play games like this? Did we really used to look at screens like these and cry out: 'The graphics are so good'. According to the packaging of Steel Thunder we did. By today's standards the graphics are weak, as is the sound. However, we're in budget land here and allowances can be made. What's really wanted from a budget game is playability and at least there's some of that in Steel Thunder. Not a lot, but some.
Anyone who's played Gunboat will recognise the basic format of this game. Just swap boats for tanks, change location and it's pretty much the same game. You start as a rookie tank commander and work your way through the ranks by going on a series of raids into enemy territory. Enemy territory being such areas as West Germany, Syria and Cuba. You can control the tank from the position of Gunner, Driver and Commander, switching between the three at the touch of a button. There is also a map screen which gives you an overall view of the battlefield layout.
The manual boasts a technical listing of various American and Soviet tanks and guns which is presumably supposed to give the game more of a sim feel but at its heart this is a shoot 'em-up with enough simulation elements to draw it dangerously towards the land of two stools and the gap in between them.
Rather like Gunboat, the basis of Steel Thunder is so addictive that you tend to forgive it many of its shortcomings (especially in view of the price). However, it is rather slow for an arcade game while for a simulation the missions are too independent. Although you can progress through the ranks there's no sense of progressing through a campaign. Those of a philosophical bent will start wondering: 'Why am I here? What's it all about?'