“WE NEED EVAC NOW! IT’S ALL BLOOD AND GUTS DOWN HERE!” That’s all I pictured when I started playing Choplifter HD – movies, images and the stories of Vietnam with the Hueys swooping in to deliver their payload of soldiers and to pick up the wounded and evacuate them out to safety. Choplifter HD, while being much safer for players and much more toned down, still channels this idea of the need of immediate evacuation and help for those in need in the midst of war.
The gameplay revolves the fact you being a helicopter pilot who is sent to a warzone and is expected to save POWs, rescue survivors, and be a general and all around badass. Your chopper of course has weapons – machine guns and rockets – that you will use to protect both yourself and your cargo. You’ll be flying around in a variety of locations and dealing with a plethora of situations, but no matter what expect to be landing to pick up people, refueling, and returning to base multiple times within the time limit for each level.
Oh, did I forget to mention the time limit? Yes, there is a time limit for each level where before it’s all gone you must pick up every possible person to return them to HQ. Failure to do so results in lower rankings afterwards or even a mission failure. Oh, I forgot that detail too? Yep, it’s also a ranking based game, as are most downloadable titles steeped in their arcade roots. The rankings in this game serve a dual purpose though – they unlock levels as well as new helicopters for you to pilot. Getting to some of those later helicopters are tough, but damn if they’re worth the effort. Be careful when picking: don’t choose whatever one you think is coolest or strongest – they all have stats that will affect your playstyle. Certain helicopters can only carry a few people but are armed to the teeth with weaponry while others though can carry a number of passengers but may not have the best boost/fuel consumption. Plan accordingly!
As you fly through the levels, you’ll focus on two planes within the game: both the foreground and background where your chopper resides. Enemies will appear in both places and you’ll need your quick wit to take them all down, especially when they appear out of the blue. During flying you will also be controlling your height and speed with the left analog stick. Weapons are aimed with the right analog stick and fired with the triggers – left for missiles and right for the machinegun. It’s a bit much to pick up at first, but the tutorial levels do a good job of letting you crawl before walking or running. Once players have it all down pat (which only took me about 2 levels honestly), they can expect to be aces in the sky. The controls are very similar to twin-stick shooters, but differ due to other important mechanics in the game – unlike the majority of twin-stick shooters that focus either on a 2D environment or are set in a 3D environment, most do not require the player switch between focusing on the background and foreground. The shoulder buttons are used for this mechanic and they switch between the background and foreground or even turn your chopper around.
While I’ve never played the original Choplifter, I can say with certainty there has to have been an upgrade to the graphics. The game looks fairly nice, if a bit blocky, and it flows well. I do think the men on the ground you’re either rescuing or shooting are pretty ugly looking – think stick figures, but even blockier. The choppers are done well as are the environments. Beyond that though there is not a ton graphically to this game. It reminds me of older arcade games, but graphics are not everything anyways. In this case the gameplay more than makes up for the faults here. The music and sound effects are decent and go well with the game too, but nothing really stood out in this aspect.
It’s a different game from what I expected since I went into this thinking Nuclear Strike or Jungle Strike, but I’m still pleased with the final product. It’s fine for a bit and the levels do offer a challenge even if the game seems simple in theory. There are hidden people to rescue (damn you Scoop Sanderson, you’re a terrible reporter) and with the two focal points where you can be attacked from makes you have to watch the game carefully. Give the game a shot if you’re looking to try an alternative or perhaps want to just fly a helicopter. Hell, I wanted to fly one and I had a blast with Choplifter HD flying multiple helicopters.
Note: The Choplifter HD review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher.