Choplifter HD review
Made 2 Game Choplifter HD Review Score: 7/10
Formats: PS3 (Playstation Network), Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: InXile Entertainment
These days HD remakes are big business, with everything from Splatterhouse to Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath getting some level of treatment or another, be it a little spit and polish, a full re-skin or a 100% remake. This week sees the turn of a veritable classic, a videogame almost as old as videogaming itself: Choplifter. First released for the Apple II way back in primitive old 1982 (one year after this reviewer was born, trivia fans!), the original Choplifter was instantly popular largely thanks to its simple and addictive “one more go” gameplay.
Hold the trigger down too long and your gun will overheat, rendering you defenceless for a few seconds - which is all it takes.
Get to da choppa!
Remake developers InXile Entertainment (previously known for 2011’s Hunted: The Demon’s Forge) have done a great job updating Choplifter for the modern market while leaving the core formula completely intact. The premise is impressively “no-frills”: you play the part of a plucky helicopter rescue pilot in the midst of one undisclosed warzone or another, whose job is to fly through a hail of bullets and heat-seeking rockets to save those unfortunate souls who are caught in the conflict. Immediately, Choplifter HD feels like the classic title it aims to emulate, with simple, uncluttered controls and an easy-to-understand interface.
The left stick controls movement, while the right stick aims your weapons. You can also boost your flight speed by holding down any of the face buttons – though it comes at a significant cost to your fuel – and the machine gun and rockets are mapped to the right and left triggers respectively. The only real innovationin Choplifter HD is the use of the bumper buttons to turn the chopper towards the foreground in order to take out enemies or dodge incoming missiles.
It all starts off fairly subdued in Choplifter HD, with you facing off against baddies armed with machine guns or having to contend with the occasional AA gun. During these early missions, managing your fuel supply is the biggest problem as you’re often tasked with making several trips to rescue everyone. In later missions it can become a genuine bullet hell as Choplifter HD shows its true colours as an old school game in new school skin. The difficulty spikes are ruthless at times, as InXile throw what feel like entire armies at you and give you barely enough fuel to make it home, let alone dilly dally around shooting generic insurgents. To top it off, none of the missions have checkpoints, and when some require three or four trips back and forth across the map, it becomes genuinely frustrating the umpteenth time you get gunned down a few metres from the safezone and have to restart the entire escapade.
Some of the environments look pretty nice - shame they're not more destructible
Perhaps given Choplifter HD’s nature, it’s no surprise that variety is not a strong suit. Some of the environments are recycled, but little touches like background explosions and signs of distant firefights are a nice addition. The three types of mission are mixed well during the game’s second half and for the most part break up the monotony. Rescue missions make up the bulk of Choplifter’s runtime, while attack missions (requiring you to wipe out a certain amount of enemies) or escape missions (during which you simply have to survive to the end of the map) help to flesh out the four to five hour play-time.
Various challenges accompany each of the 30 missions, encompassing such bonus tasks as killing a certain number of animals or completing hidden objectives like rescuing the war correspondent who always seems to be stranded in the thick of it. You’re marked on every aspect of your performance – a score which is then displayed on the online leaderboards to ensure that you and other players always have something to chase.
Graphically, Choplifter HD performs ok, with some nicely-detailed backdrops, but the animated elements such as the choppers themselves (there are several to unlock throughout the campaign) and the various enemies are fairly basic. However, as an XBLA title available for 800MS, there’s little cause for complaint in the visual department. The sound fares better thanks to the spot-on ambient effects and the chuckle-worthy, tongue-in-cheek humour prevalent throughout – with regular one-liners courtesy of your snarky co-pilot. InXile have even included a couple of cameos, including an appearance by one flat-topped, potty-mouthed, blond ass-kicker known throughout the universe as Duke Nukem.
We're not entirely sure why old Dukey turns up - there's not a beer keg nor pair of badly-rendered boobs in the whole game.
Overall, Choplifter HD is one of those titles that you buy for the nostalgic value only to realise that you can’t really remember the original – and don’t need to. It’s a cracking little game in its own right with a simple, addictive premise hampered only by sudden spikes of decidedly early-gen difficulty. For the low price it’s definitely worth a punt, even for gamers too young to remember the bad hair and awful music of 1982. The compelling score-chasing required to unlock all the helicopters and top those leaderboards adds a huge dose of longevity, and Choplifter HD’s simple charm and easy-to-learn, hard-to-master control scheme make it a great addition to anyone’s XBLA collection.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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