Choplifter HD Review

Developer: InXile Entertainment / Publisher:  Konami / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $15.00 / ESRB: Teen (Alcohol Reference, Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence)

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Choplifter HD is the modern reimagining of the ancient but memorable Apple II game from 1982, Choplifter. It’s a side scrolling “Trials-esque” aerial shooter that drops you in the pilot seat of a military helicopter — saving lives, gunning down terrorists and frantically dodging RPGs as you careen through level after level.

But is it a game meant solely for Choplifter fans (given any still exist), or is it an experience suitable for newcomers and veterans alike?

If you enjoy games with challenge, simplicity, and rewarding victories, then Choplifter HD and the following review are worth your time.

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Story

While any story is stretched as thin as wire in Choplifter HD, the developer chose to provide enough background information prior to each stage, so that the game isn’t just flying and shooting, even though it is… mostly just that.

Essentially, each level stands on its own, with its own mini-story presented at the start of each stage.  The menu prior to starting a level will prompt you with a short paragraph detailing the situation you’re in, what our primary and secondary goals you have, and what constraints you’re given, plain and simple.

A stage typically consists of a single goal, with a hidden objective or two peppered in, for those looking for a deeper challenge. Saving civilians from zombie outbreaks, airlifting injured soldiers to safety, and flying chaotic escape routes are some of the more popular, yet oftentimes recycled mission structures in the game.

And that’s just what they are, missions. While these don’t go anywhere particularly interesting, they don’t necessarily have to.

Simple, short, and to-the-point mission directives, however, do work, and it shows.

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Presentation & Sound

Choplifter prides itself on not only simple, explosive gameplay, but also on cheeky, dry humor. Your unnamed co-pilot, who’s with you on all missions, is a prime display of these elements. With the pilots as the stars of the show, the developers spared no expense in implementing funny, culturally relevant statements for the two to utter to one another throughout each level.

From yelling “Get To The Choppa!” to mumbling overly silly puns like “Time to pin the bullet on the terrorist”, the voice work is funny, enjoyable, and assists well in de-stressing the more ridiculously challenging levels.

This radio chatter even goes so far as to make direct references to other games. Keep your eyes and ears open humorous quips poking fun at games like Duke Nukem and Minecraft.

As for graphical presentation, I offer no thumbs up or down. However, the water often looks jellified, some textures are muddy, and there’s light pop-in on distant background textures. The human animations are considerably stiff, but are oddly charming. After you’ve flown tirelessly to save a handful of civilians and safely drop them off at home base, seeing them dance and shake like an 8-bit character is certainly a humorous reward.

Conversely, the animation on everything else is stellar. The helicopter banks and yaws realistically and the cruising missiles and frequent explosions are believable, relative to their environment.

It’s a game that plays like a quirky B-movie, and mirrors its presentation accordingly.

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Gameplay

Frankly, I find there’s little to explain regarding what you’re doing for hours in Choplifter HD. You spend the majority of your time flying left and right, shooting terrorists, dodging an ungodly amount of missiles and anti-aircraft rounds, and picking up civilians and injured soldiers, then lifting them to safety – all while being rated on a five-star scale. Daunting, isn’t it?

While the missions do vary by location (Desert bases, Artic military outposts, inner-city neighborhoods), they don’t necessarily alter in objective. There are a handful of fast-paced “escape the base” stages, slightly slower-paced “pick up the injured people” stages, and humor-filled “fly a ranger to the enemy HQ so he can plant a bomb” stages.

I didn’t mention every stage type, as there are several; these are a handful that came up more than once.

While you perform many of these actions twice over, you’ll probably just hesitate at the repetition momentarily, realize how little it matters, and continue with having fun and blowing everything in your path to blistering little smithereens.

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Bottom Line

So, is Choplifter HD only for seasoned pilots, or is it a size that fits all?

It’s a little bit of both, as it’s a welcome punch of nostalgia for series veterans, but still delivers fun moments for those unfamiliar. Fans of the original game will likely flock to the fight or flight gameplay, and those with little experience in Choplifter will find there’s quite a bit of fun to be had in racing frantically to beat the clock and panicking as an onslaught of missiles wears down your chopper. The humor, quirky cultural references, and high-octane aerial fun are plenty of reasons to pick the game up.

It does, however, suffer from some difficulty issues towards the end of the campaign. Facing an army of over-powered enemy tanks and anti-aircraft guns while simultaneously fighting to regain health and gasoline is one of many unbalanced moments. Of the game’s 30 stages, there are about 3-4 that will have you fighting to stay alive, time after time, life after life.

While Choplifter HD has its moment of imbalance and unfairness, its times of frustration, it didn’t diminish my overall experience. The fun and frantic stages I played in the game greatly helped outweigh those on the more frustrating end.

Based on the amount of content in the game, I’d approximate you spending anywhere between 5-7 hours tackling the 30 levels and their secondary goals, as well as the 12 achievements/trophies.

If you’re looking for a game that can be picked up, enjoyed, and promptly placed back down for another time, not to mention at a price that won’t break the bank, Choplifter HD is a solid, recommendable purchase.

7.5 / 10

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