Choplifter HD

Helicopters and war have always gone together. If they’re not carrying patients around Korea in the 1950s, they’re lifting grunts out of the Vietnamese jungle or crashing in Somalia. With inXile Entertainment’s Choplifter HD you get thirty levels of war. You also get plenty of medical evacuations, a ton of jungle extractions, and a hell of a lot of crashing.

Based on the game originally released in the early eighties, 2012's version does its best to balance classic gaming with modern production values. So, while you have your basic side-scrolling shooter, you also get detailed and busy graphics, cool animations of POWs falling out the door if you land too heavily, and even a few zombies. And although you can see what the developers are aiming for - updating a classic but retaining that same level of difficulty synonymous with old-school games - unfortunately, they sometimes miss the mark.

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But, at the old-school vibe shines through. You control your helicopter’s height and direction with the left stick while aiming your guns with the right. Guns and rockets are fired with the triggers and you get a burst of speed by pressing any face button.

Every mission has a HUD strip across the top of the screen to let you know where your soldiers are, as well as showing refuelling stations and enemy targets. Then it’s up to you to rescue your men, take out the enemy, and get back alive. While the concept might sound limiting, the level design is varied enough to keep it all interesting.

One mission might be a simple dash from point to point. While another would include timed rescues of injured men, dropping off special forces to blow up buildings, defending positions against hordes of mindless zombies, or a combination of rescue, destruction, and run for home. Throw into the mix plenty of enemy soldiers, flak, tanks, and heat seeking missiles, and it all gets frantic fairly quickly.

Now, there is nothing wrong with frantic. I like a game where crap’s flying everywhere, armour starts to fail, fuel is running low, friends are dying, and the screen starts flashing a warning that someone, somewhere, has locked onto you and you’re seconds away from getting a missile in your stabilizing rotor. However, Choplifter tends to throw these situations at you quite early and quite frequently. I know I’m the first to complain about reboots of old games that are too easy, but Choplifter has some noticeable difficulty spikes. On top of this you only get one life per mission. So, you’ll fail a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, Choplifter is not impossibly hard. It’s just uneven - some very long, tough missions mixed in with pretty simple ones. Also in the grinder are some instant and unavoidable deaths, and a lot of respawning enemies. It’s a game where you get the feeling that no matter how good you are, ten tries and a good dose of luck is the minimum requirement for certain missions.

If that’s not enough, there is another little twist that adds to the excitement. Pressing the bumpers rotates your chopper 45 degrees. So you can face right, left, or into the foreground. This has no relation to your flight direction, so you can continue flying towards your comrades even as you rotate around to take out a pesky AA turret. However, you have to be facing forward if you want to hit enemies in the foreground. And while it sounds obvious, in the beginning it can be a bit tricky judging which sector (right, left or the foreground) you need to face to hit an enemy. This can be a real pain if the enemy is a pack of zombies, rushing towards a hospital, and moving out of one sector into another.

But, the whole foreground thing, like the two stick control system, just takes some practice. But, with perseverance and that bit of luck, you’ll finish the game on normal difficulty, and unlock the hardcore and survival modes. Now that’s classic gaming. Tricky controls, one life per mission, difficulty spikes, and numerous and unavoidable deaths - all on the easiest difficulty setting.

In the end though, Choplifter is a game worth sticking with. Beating levels will unlock different helicopters. So you can replay missions with birds that are faster and can carry more troops. All so you can get better completion times to move up the online leaderboards.

While Choplifter isn’t always successful, InXile Entertainment has to be admired for treading that fine line between providing classic gaming difficulty and losing players to sheer frustration. Although it has to lose a couple of points for transgressing the Official Rules and Standards of International Gaming, specifically rule 24.3 pertaining to ‘the unnecessary and exploitative inclusion of the undead’, Choplifter HD is a worthwhile purchase. Especially for those who like their games to have an old-school vibe and plenty of old-school difficulty.

"Hard. But is it a good hard?"
- Choplifter HD
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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