Cyclone is a sequel of sorts to the excellent Tornado Low Level by Costa Panayi. The premise reads like a job application for Parcel Force, only actually exciting. A series of ultra-important cardboard boxes have been clumsily discarded over a chain of little island clusters and you, as awesome helicopter pilot #34993742U, must collect the boxes with your handy winch. Unpleasantly, however, a large invisible tropical cyclone roams the selfsame island chain, disrupting aircraft and well... disrupting YOUR aircraft. An indicator on the screen flashes excitingly when the storm is near, so the race is on to land as quickly as you can and wait it out, then zoom off in search of the next box. Sure, you can pick up human trash for bonus points but who gives a damn? Those boxes won't deliver themselves!
Cyclone is unique in that it turns conventional game design on its head and makes a fetch quest that actually doesn't suck. The boxes are carefully hidden, sometimes necessitating the nifty view-rotation key, but they're clear enough upon close enough inspection and I haven't had many that required tricky manouevres to get (although a couple have spawned very near sheer cliffs which results in a few heart-in-mouth moments when the cyclone approaches). The fuel limit that ticks down from the moment you set er... blade.. to air is more of an irksome annoyance than an obstacle, as landing at any one of the game's helipads jauntily refuels your craft. Ironically the only time I really felt in danger was from the game's lethally quick horizontally scrolling suicide jet pilots. These idiots set a furious pace jetting usually directly across your intended route and the wise pilot will keep a close eye on the "DANGER AIRCRAFT" indicator. When a full-blown natural disaster feels less intimidating than the mildly psychotic cabin staff, you're either flying RyanAir or playing Cyclone.
Graphically the game impresses. The islands and buildings- though blocky and simplified - ooze variety and character, the pleasing little dances of the islanders (what humanitarian crisis? I'm on a delivery, guv), the idyllic beaches, everything has a wholesome clean look, like Camberwick Lagoon. The scale of the game is not enormous, but distant islands are enough of a hike that you think twice about your islandhopping route before taking it. Sound is perfunctory - eardrum-rending pitched squeal for helicopter, throaty bork noises for the inevitable crashes. Rinse, repeat.
It's hard to say what makes Cyclone so satisfying - perhaps its the "Bruce Lee" standard of achievability - its hardly challenging and yet perfectly paced to pick up and blast through in less than 10 minutes. As I found TLL pretty tough going at times this is a welcome development. The controls are sharp and unlike pretty much every isometric game at this time, entirely intuitive. Add to that its non-linearity, its open world and its pacifistic gameplay and you have a game so ahead of the curve that it wasn't topped in the genre it defined until Maxis' SimCopter in 1996. And that's doing pretty good, I think.