Choplifter HD Review
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Choplifter HD puts you into the flight suit of an up-and-coming chopper pilot with the goal of rescuing – I’m sorry, airlifting – people in various extreme situations. Flying a huge array of helicopters, from military gunships to troop carriers and even small news helicopter-type aircrafts, you perform operations in every conceivable setting, including military missions and zombie attacks.
For a game tagged as being high-definition, there doesn’t seem to be much purpose behind the so-called HD. The textures and graphics are pretty run-of-the-mill, and I don’t believe it would make that much of a difference if you played it on a 20 inch standard definition TV or a 42 inch widescreen. Quite simply, everything looks rather bland, even for an arcade title. Touting the HD aspect might not have been the wisest move on the developers’ part.
The gameplay revolves around simple side-scrolling flights, most of which involve rescuing prisoners or refugees and airlifting them back to your base. Along the way, you’re forced to deal with various enemies, all of whom are intent on shooting you down. It’s an extremely simple concept, but Choplifter HD manages to bring in a few clever surprises. While most of the enemies – which vary from RPG-armed terrorists to zombies and everything in between – can be mowed down by your helicopter’s guns without even slowing down, there are others which enter the map from the foreground or background, forcing you to swing your helicopter around and bring your guns to bear. You can’t fly as fast while aiming in either of those directions, and the mapmaking tends to exploit this by building in ambush points along your path that make quick runs extremely dangerous. It’s a small addition but allows for a bit more depth to the gameplay as opposed to just letting you lean on the trigger and cut down everything in your path. That is, until you realize that none of that matters at all. More on that later.
Each mission unlocks new helicopters that all have unique flight dynamics and weaponry. Initially, the new helicopters counter new enemy threats on the ground, like surface-to-air missile bays or flak guns and the like. However, once you complete a mission, you can replay it with any of the helicopters unlocked so far. That doesn’t exactly make it a compelling game, however. Even though your choppers and weapons continue to change, each mission invariably involves airlifting refugees, gunning down enemies, and not much else. Admittedly, this is exactly what the game purports to be, but the fact that there are no mini bosses or enemy aircraft to fight or even aerial obstacles to avoid means that it gets dull rather quickly. The repetition even goes so far as to include the same silly reporter character – though character might be too strong a word – Scoop Anderson, whose nasally screams for airlift after airlift rise even above the staccato of gunfire and thunder of explosions. The only break in the monotony is that your missions are divided up into different operations, all of which take place in appreciably different settings. You go from rescuing missionaries in the jungles of South America to airlifting wounded soldiers in the deserts of the Middle East to saving citizens in overrun American metropolises, and while it’s not the same as having variable gameplay, it’s a nice change of pace.
Choplifter HD is also not difficult, even compared with other similar arcade titles. Although there are areas that can lead to ambushes and kill zones, once you realize that you can simply fly through them without firing a shot or taking a hit means that afterward, you’ll do just that. The game is just too easy to keep a player’s attention for very long. One of the few challenges is actually trying to not crush the people you’re supposed to rescue as they swarm out from their hiding places and gather right under your chopper’s rotors like lemmings. This is hardly the only lapse with regards to the AI. The reason you can fly right over the maps without doing too much firing is because the enemies on the ground are too dumb to lead your helicopter. RPGs have a limited ability to track, but even so, most of the time they miss by a mile.
Of course, part of the reason the game is so easy is because it adopts a very intuitive control scheme. The left stick controls your helicopter’s movements, covering elevation and forward-backward flight, and the right stick controls the directions of your guns. Tapping the left or right bumper swings your helicopter to face that direction, and that’s about it. Eventually, you’ll be able to feather your landings so you won’t damage your helicopter, tweak your elevation to dodge RPGs, and swing around to engage enemies in the fore or background without slowing down.
Choplifter also sports a scoring scheme similar to other arcade titles. Every action has an effect on the score; for instance, crushing civilians with your skids or chopping them to bits with your rotors detracts significant points, while gunning down enemies and successfully rescuing hostages or refugees gains you points (unfortunately, purposely crushing Scoop Anderson doesn’t earn you any points or other accolades, unless you count personal satisfaction). From there, Choplifter gives you an aggregate score out of five total stars. The goal, of course, is to clear each map as quickly as possible, incurring no damage and rescuing all hostages. It’s clear from the scoring scheme and the fast-paced gameplay that the game is built primarily for replay-ability, to try each mission with each helicopter, competing against yourself and the online leaderboards for the best score and lowest time.
Unfortunately, the game just isn’t fun enough to really motivate you to try for those coveted leader positions. There’s no real sense of accomplishment for getting through an ambush zone or gunning down terrorists, because they make it so easy for you to do so. A good musical score might help to bump up your adrenaline, but all you have to work with is the background noise and the irritating refugee voices clamoring for rescue (or, more likely, complaining that you haven’t picked them up yet). That’s hardly conducive for feeling like an ace pilot, so the developers gave music – or at least good, fast-paced music – a miss.
Make no mistake, Choplifter HD is an arcade title. It aims to make up for its lack of depth and complexity with fast-paced and replayable gameplay, and they’ve managed to do a halfway decent job of it. It won’t hold your attention for long, but it’ll be fun while it does.
Choplifter HD earns a fair 3.50 out of 5.
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