This mission-based sidescroller is a bit light on content, but might have one or two redeeming factors beyond the nostalgia factor
In video games, getting to a helicopter often represents safety and relief. After running from zombies or shooting lots of baddies, you’ll make a run for it, knowing that the chopper is your only escape from a hairy situation. But what if instead of playing as a terrified ground-dweller seeking an aerial escape, you took the role of the pilot responsible for all those last-minute rescues? Would it make for a fun game? If Choplifter HD is any indication, the answer is no.
Choplifter HD is a mission-based sidescroller. You pilot your helicopter with the left analog stick while aiming guns and rockets with the right. Each mission presents you with a set of objectives, be it rescuing stranded civilians and soldiers, destroying targets, or simply escaping to the other end of a level in one piece. There are several other gameplay wrinkles, such as your constantly diminishing fuel supply, your limited passenger capacity, or the wounded passengers who need to be returned to base under a certain time limit.
Unfortunately, none of this makes for a game that’s all that enjoyable. Choplifter’s mission design is largely uninspired and repetitive. Most of the game consists of simply flying back and forth between objective markers and your home base to heal and refuel. The game doesn’t have a whole lot else to offer.
This wouldn’t be such an issue if combat was more enjoyable. You’ll encounter dozens of enemy soldiers and vehicles just waiting to ruin your day. The pseudo auto-aiming mechanic doesn’t work particularly well, and some enemies exist in the foreground, instead of in your regular plane of existence. They can only be targeted by hitting one of the shoulder buttons to aim your chopper into the foreground. This means that every enemy on screen can attack you, but you can only target half of them at a time. Your best hope at effectively taking out foes is to stop moving, leaving yourself vulnerable to a barrage of enemy fire.
The alternative is to blaze past your foes to reach your objectives, but the difficulty spikes in the latter half of the game don’t lend themselves to this strategy. Then again, those difficulty spikes don’t really lend themselves to any strategy, and are mostly just frustrating above all else. The later stages will bombard you with rockets, bullets, and most infuriatingly, the EMP sniper, which momentarily paralyzes your chopper. The game’s approach to challenge is cheap rather than rewarding.
Choplifter is relatively light on content, especially considering the $15 (1200 MS points) price tag. It doesn’t offer much in the way of replay value, as its repetitive nature diminishes any attempt at encouraging multiple attempts to rise up the leaderboards or achieve a higher star rating. There are no co-op missions or alternate game modes outside of difficulty settings. You can unlock new choppers, but they mostly all feel the same.
There are still some redeeming qualities to Choplifter HD. It isn’t so much an HD remake as much as it is an overhaul of its 1980s predecessors. Luckily, that overhaul comes with a substantive visual upgrade. The scrolling backgrounds in Choplifter are surprisingly detailed, and although the mostly brown military settings aren’t the most exciting thing in the world, they do well to set the stage. The game also boasts some oddly funny dialog, such as the appreciative passenger who exclaims “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” upon rescue.
Choplifter HD begins with a neat concept, but its numerous gameplay shortcomings such as awkward shooting mechanics, an uneven difficulty curve and uninspired missions keep it from being worth your time. The occasionally humorous dialog is somewhat redeeming, and there’s some fun to be had in the earlier stages before the difficulty ramps up, but the overall package fails to deliver.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PS3