To anyone who pays close enough attention, its clear that Helicopters are a source of unmitigated evil. How else can you justify their repeated disrespect for those who use them? Ask Colin McRae or numerous Special Operatives who have perished at their hands. And this reign of terror extends to videogames, even interrupting 50 cent from repeatedly punching people in the Middle East in pursuit of his “f***ing skull” in the magnum opus, Blood on the Sand. But maybe there’s a good side to them, one that developer inXile Entertainment seems determined to find in the form of Choplifter HD.
This modern remake of the old Apple II game is a side scrolling action outing that sees the player using their helicopter in an attempt to rescue everyone from UN Peacekeepers to civilians, all scattered across various war-torn locales. The missions ease the player into the controls, which are nice and responsive, with nothing fiddly or overreaching to distract the player. The left analogue stick controls the vertical and horizontal pitch while the right stick is used as a laser designator for a chain gun and rockets. The Helicopter isn’t indestructible as health and indeed fuel gauges must be monitored constantly, but thankfully they can be replenished at base camps and fuel depots respectively.
The missions themselves start at a gentle pace and build a nice rhythm to events as the player attempts to plot the fastest order to rescuing folks, whether to take a chance on not refuelling at a one of the designated spots in favour of improving time. There’s always side missions to complete within any given level but for the most part they revolve around finding a reporter and his cameraman, and devolves into a war zone equivalent of Where’s Wally?
Graphically Choplifter HD is handsome without being striking, with some well done effects and flourishes that give an air of solidity. Sonically it’s a mixed bag with some nice soundbites that trot out the expected clichés and references to TV series that date it somewhat in the very near future.
If anything holds back Choplifter HD it’s the repetition that occurs from doing the same actions over and over…and over again. Of course it can be hard to offer variations on a theme when you are limited to manoeuvring either left or right along a set trajectory, but there isn’t much in the way of immediacy for the most part. Only when a player is pushing the limit of both health and fuel capacity will they approach a sense of tension on the default difficulty. There’s nothing dynamic here, nor anything that leaps out and grabs the players attention, to make them carry on to the very end.
And while it’s fine and well to pay homage to old school ancestry, maybe a bit too much reverence is being paid to ChoplifterHD’s 1980’s heritage. When enemies and, inexplicably, Zombies existing side by side in some of the later missions in an attempt to up the difficulty level, it manages to feel lazy instead of challenging. It also becomes a chore to slog through the different levels, with only the prospect of medals and better times to climb the leaderboards that encourage the more dedicated.
Probably the worst crime Choplifter HD commits is by being too expensive. Currently priced at $14.99 / 1200 Microsoft Points it seems far too steep for what’s on offer. Of course value is subjective, but in terms of what it offers in comparison to its peers (Renegade Ops springs to mind) it feels lacking.
With a tweak here and a pinch there, Choplifter HD would, and could have, provided an interesting and diverting experience. But when compared to its contemporaries it feels a tad average at best, which is a great shame.
Maybe even the best of intentions cannot truly bring out the best in Helicopters after all…