Reviews

Choplifter HD – Review

Xbox Live Arcade Title
Price: 1200 MSP
Singleplayer: yes
Co-op: No
Multiplayer: No

(Thanks to Konami for providing a copy of this game for review.)

You might not know this, though the large letters proclaiming it be high definition might have clued you, but Choplifter HD is actually a reboot of the famous arcade game of the same from the ’80s. Well, to be more exact it’s a reboot of the 1982 version, but is was the arcade version that most people will likely remember. There’s actually no real reason for me to tell you this little fact because it doesn’t affect the review in any way, but at least now you’ve got a little more knowledge of gaming history than when you started.  That and this is likely to be a very short review, because like it predecessor, Choplifter HD is a very simple game that doesn’t actually have that much to talk about.  So let’s do this.

The premise is a simple one: you’re a helicopter pilot and your sole duty in life is to maneuver your virtual chopper through the 2D world and rescue stranded civilians and wounded soldiers. It’s actually sort of novel to have such a humanitarian goal in a game, but of course we’re never far away from violence in our world. The simple goal of rescuing people who were clearly too stupid to get out of the war zone before it began is complicated by the enemy troops, mortars, EMP snipers, jets, RPG wielding people and zombies that wish to see you crash in a burning ball of awesomeness and misery. And yes, I did say zombies. Seriously, this is the third game in two weeks that involve freaking zombies, but at least this time around their just in a few levels and you don’t have to look closely at their ugly mugs. And, of course, there’s also the challenge of avoiding the ground or whatever obstacles might get in your way, which, in theory, doesn’t sound like much of a problem but when you’re racing against the clock and trying to get that chopper landed as fast as possible it becomes a very real threat.

The standard 2D rules all apply here: you can move up, down, left, right and can fire at enemies in front and behind you. Still with me, yes? Good. But then there’s also the ability to pivot your helicopter around to either face the foreground or the way you just came by tapping one of the shoulder buttons allowing you to mow down enemies who have decided to take up residence on the rooftops. While it does add an interesting extra element to the game, using the shoulder buttons never quite feels natural, but it’s nothing that a little time with the game won’t sort out.

Despite the fact that the core concept is pretty simplistic, there’s actually more depth to it than you might imagine. Your helicopter isn’t some sort of nuclear powered machine capable of staying up in the air until all the worlds politicians finally cease to exist, but rather it’s flight time is dictated by good ‘ol fuel, which runs down even quicker should you use the choppers boost function. Of course heading back to base or finding a refueling station will solve your problems, but quite often the game will throw wounded soldiers at you who have a specific amount of time left, and so the game becomes a balancing act as try to determine what strategy will score you the most points. Should you advance in hops, returning to base every now and then to refuel, rearm and get repaired? But then that means you likely get to the wounded soldier on the other end of the map in time, so you then have to try to judge whether your fuel levels and armor will hold up to a mad dash through enemy fire. This brings with it a great sense of replayability as your performance in each level earns stars which in turn unlock shiny new helicopters to play with, each with varying stats. In some regards it’s almost like Trials HD: your first few runs are simply to get the lay of the land before you really buckle down and go for that sweet score. Just like In Trials you’ll memorize potentially awkward sections, areas where you can maximise your speed and sections where you’ll need to slow down and take your time. Throw in some leaderboards and there’s certainly good reason to go back and replay a level.

When it comes to blasting away the many enemies whose sole purpose is seemingly to put holes in your lovely chopper there are few surprises – Choplifter plays pretty much as you would expect any 2D shooter to play. You simply aim with the right stick, using a hand laser beam, and then pull the right trigger for some minigun hell or the left for some missile pain.  But it’s not a flawless system: there’s a auto-target system in Choplifter which, as the name suggests, automatically locks on to enemies when it thinks you’re aiming at them, but it’s a rather imprecise system which often gets a bit confused as to which enemy you’re actually aiming at, especially in later levels when there is quite a few of them at any one time. The result, as you would expect, are moments such as aiming at a fairly harmless soldier while a tank blasts you into bits that the cleaner’s grandchildren will still be picking them up. Speaking of which, the game does do a good job of keeping you on your toes by introducing new enemy types, such as jets that pull of strafing runs, mortar fire, tanks, AA guns and EMP snipers, who I swear have a special place in Hell reserved for them. Seriously, getting him by a sniper round which immobilizes your helicopter for several seconds is infuriating, especially as it can be hard to spot the sneaky bastards amongst the carnage. Still, EMP firing sniper rifles? That’s badass. Still, aside from the aiming issue the shooting mechanics are solid and entertaining.

The first half of the game, up to around mission 15, is a great example of balancing a games difficulty level. At first the missions are easy to complete, allowing you to simply get into the rhythm of the game, and as the game advances the missions gradually become more challenging with new enemy types introduced at just the right times to spice things up. The amount of enemies, their type and their layout combine almost perfectly with the locations of fuel stations and survivors, creating a very satisfying experience. But then at that half-way point the difficulty level takes a turn for the worst. Levels go from having deviously layed out enemies that challenge both your flying and shooting skills to simply throwing in absolutely truckloads of enemies that put up a wall of firepower. Suddenly you’re no longer weaving through the skies in a dance of, but crawling along inch by inch so as to try to gun down the enemy before they can open fire. It ruins the pacing of the game almost completely and missions start to become more infuriating than satisfying. It also doesn’t help that the ability to shoot down incoming RPGs, of which there are a lot, is sporadic at best. Perhaps most annoying, though, that enemies will insist of attacking you when you land to pick up people. As you’re sitting on the ground tanks will roll up and blast you and troops will swarm. This wouldn’t be quite so bad if the AI of the survivors would actually hurry up and get in the damn chopper, but no they’ll screw around and sometimes refuse to get in at all. So that leaves you with one options: take off, gun down the enemy and land again, but as soon as you do that the blades of your helicopter slice the survivors in half. Great. Still, it’s worth persevering because while the missions can feel cheap with their barrage of fire, you will develop the skills required to beat them, and when you do it’ll feel great.

In the visual front Choplifter HD certainly looks nice, though it’s hardly leading the charge. There’s a bright, cartoony look to the game that really helps to bring it to life, especially as there’s some nice incidental background detail to spot should you actually manage to take your eyes off the action for a few seconds. The amount of on-screen carnage also helps bring the game to life, helping to give the impression of it being a real war zone, but it also covers up the fact that the games environments are a little lacking in detail and texture work. If you actually manage to stop your chopper and have a look around you’ll quickly realise that enemies, cars and buildings all look  all look a little ropey. However there’s also a nice amount of environments that you get to fly through to help keep things interesting.

The audio, on the other hand, is actually pretty damn good.  Each mission is filled with plenty of things blowing up and the sounds of mortars coming in, AA guns firing and the steady beat of your helicopters blades as they slice through the air. At times the amount of sound is almost overwhelming, but like the Battlefield series that sense of mayhem just helps add to the fun. Thrown into the mix is a bit of comedy relief as pilot and co-pilot bicker and joke around. While the voice acting won’t be taking home any awards there’s actually a couple of funny lines in their, including a fantastic rendition of “Get to da choppa!”. Hell, there’s even a couple of interesting cameos thrown in for some fun.

Yup, that's exactly who you think it is.

Eventually it all comes back to what I said earlier: Choplifter’s simple concept is its biggest strength and its single biggest flaw. The simple gameplay gives it an easy-going charm and fun, and also makes it a great game to pick up and play for 15-30 minutes as the levels are bite sized and getting those high-scores is quite addictive. But eventually the game just starts to feel old. In the developers defense they do try to add variety: sometimes you’ll have to drop commandos off while other times you’ll have to ferry people from one end of the map to the other, but really you’re pretty much always doing the same thing. The basic formula of the game just can’t quite sustain long gaming sessions, but then there’s nothing wrong with games like that because they give us something to play when we’ve just got a spare 15-minutes to muck around with. As with any Arcade game there’s a demo available, so go give it a shot.

Oh, and I’m well aware that I claimed this would be a short review. Whoops.

The Good:
+ Smoothly landing after coming in at stupid speeds.
+ Some genuinely funny moments.
+ Great in 15-minute stints!

The Bad:
– Can become frustrating.
– Walls of firepower are not cool.
– SODDING EMP SNIPERS!

The Score:

Graphics: 7
A bright and cartoony look suits the action well, but it needs some work on the technical side of things.

Sound: 8
Explosions, guns and mayhem all sound nice and meaty.

Story: 2
You pilot. You shoot stuff. You rescue people.

Gameplay: 7.5
A simple concept that offers some good fun, but does get old quite quickly, and theres some annoying moments.

Lifespan: 8
Around 6-7 hours should see you through the missions, but replaying for the high score adds a few more.

The Verdict: 7.5
A fine reboot of the classic game and a fun, simple little shooter, but one that does get repetitive and that has a few flaws.

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