Choplifter HD Review (PSN/XBLA)

If you were a gamer in the 80’s, chances are you ran across Choplifter, an old PC favorite that since hit the arcade and console scene thanks to a re-release through Sega.  In the game, you’re forced to pick up hostages while shooting down enemies, both in the air and on the ground, while making sure they’re safe until drop off at a local base.  It seems we aren’t the only ones who fondly remember this game, as InXile Entertainment has taken it upon themselves to recreate it with Choplifter HD.  And though a few issues make the flight somewhat bumpy, there’s no question that you’ll have just as much fun with this one as you did the original.

Choplifter HD starts out with a few basic missions to introduce you to the gameplay mechanics.  Basic flight is handled with your analog stick; a HUD map on the bottom of the screen shows objectives, enemies and hostages in need of rescuing; and you’ve got access to missiles and machine guns to take down threats both airborne and on the ground.  Your job remains the same, saving hostages by jetting them back to base and wiping out all adversaries.

As the game picks up, the missions really get mixed up.  Some are slow and steady and require utmost precision; others are breakneck runs through hostile territory, where saving the hostages is more important than kicking ass.  Though we would’ve preferred a pace similar to what Sega’s previous version of the game offered, this is all good and well, with plenty of objectives to complete.  What’s more, each stage comes with online leaderboard support, so you can take on friends for the best completion time.

If anything, the game does have a problem with difficulty.  The later stages require masterful skills to complete, especially considering that enemies don’t stop firing at you while you attempt to save hostages – and some of them take all the time in the world to get on board your chopper.  However, the base is always within reach, should you run low on energy or weapons.  (You’ll want to keep an eye on your gas as well.)

Playing through Choplifter HD with the best effort will earn you stars, as well as unlockable rewards, such as additional hardware for your helicopter, and new flying crafts that are better equipped for the job, including a whirlybird with better hostage capacity.  You’ll need to really work hard to earn these babies, but they’re worth it.

The visual presentation looks marvelous for an HD remake.  InXile managed to maintain the classic Choplifter design within the game, while surrounding it with beautiful environments (not perfect, but still pleasant to the eye) and cool explosion animations.  Your chopper looks good, too, but don’t get too distracted or enemies will shoot you out of the sky.

As for audio, it’s got its ups and downs.  The music’s pretty good, with plenty of war themes backing up the weapon firings and chopper noises.  But, really, we could’ve done without some of the in-game voicework, most notably the reporter who’s full of himself.

No, Choplifter isn’t perfect, as it’s pretty easy to note both the heightened difficulty and the lack of any co-op/multiplayer options (outside of leaderboards).  But this is a fight best suited for one player anyway, and we’d prefer a straight-up battle the way it was intended to be rather than have something cheaply tacked on.  Choplifter HD is a solid remake of a long-lost favorite, changed a bit for contemporary times but still packing plenty of action.

Now if only we could shoot/abandon that damn reporter… 

[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]