Choplifter HD – Click here for video preview, courtesy of “Wodm”
I bought myself Choplifter HD for my PS3 recently, a game that first came out in 1982 and one I fondly remember playing on my Commodore 64. The good news for us oldies and retro fans is that it plays exactly like the original version and even after 30 years it’s still as much fun now as it was then!
Basically, Choplifter is similar in appearance to a side scrolling shooter but rather than just flying left to right, as in most cases, you begin at one side of the play area and fly to the other – and then back again! It may sound daft in this era of sandbox gaming but way back in the dark ages, this type of thing was almost unique, and in the case of side scrollers, it still is!
However, in all fairness, I wouldn’t describe Choplifter as a shooter, there is shooting I’ll grant you, but, crucially, the premise of Choplifter is actually rescuing, which is again a rare game mechanic – and escort missions, like in Resident Evil 4 and Enslaved, don’t count, they’re more “protect” than “rescue” in my opinion.
Choplifter asks you to fly across the map looking for civilians or soldiers who need airlifting back to your starting base by flying horizontally to their position, identified on a radar across the top of the screen, landing close to them until you load up as many as you can carry and then return them to base before making another run if required. Of course, life is never that simple and sure enough, trying to stop you from this are ground troops, tanks, gun emplacements and enemy aircraft, all introduced gradually as you progress through the levels. Thankfully, by scoring highly enough each mission you unlock improved firepower and different types of helicopter with extra seating capacity so although the game gets increasingly challenging, you are given a fair chance!
Back in 1982, there were two things I loved about Choplifter, one was the feeling of satisfaction when you dropped off your passengers at base and the little chaps waved at you as you took off again to collect their friends or family, which made Choplifter quite a personally involving experience in an age when imagination made up the shortfall between computer performance and reality. The other was that your helicopter actually had inertia similar to a real helicopter and was a joy to control, both of which are still true of the HD remake. Your helicopter moves left or right and is viewed from a side profile but by pressing a shoulder button you cycle through side profile right, then facing the screen and then side profile left. From side profile you aim at targets on ground level and above using the right thumbstick while flying with the left but certain targets are found along the bottom of the screen, in the foreground, and can only be shot while facing forward towards the screen, which adds a level of complication to defending yourself and is identical to the 1982 version.
Despite Choplifter HD being an incredibly faithful remake, the addition of hidden tasks, limited fuel and refuelling, turbo boosting, extra helicopter types, weapons, enemies, environments and zombies (what game these days doesn’t have them?) add enough extra depth and variety to make it stand out in a modern market and improve on classic gameplay.
Choplifter HD looks great, sounds good, is a lot of fun to play and the online leaderboards are so tight you can’t help having just another go. It’s available on the PSN Store and Xbox Live Marketplace with a demo on each but at £7.99 on PSN compared to 800msp on Live (roughly £6.80, recently reduced from 1200msp), seeing as they look and play identically on each machine, if you do have a choice then it really comes down to which controller you prefer using or how much you need to save that £1.19 difference for something else – either way, I recommend you buy it!
~ Paul T