The inXile-developed Choplifter reboot hit XBLA, PSN, and Games for Windows Live this week. Does it soar or is it strictly crash and burn?
Not every classic console and arcade game needs a remake, you know. I don't think anyone out there is clamoring for a modestly-budgeted downloadable version of Rolling Thunder and the less said about the attempt to reboot NARC, the better. Thankfully, Choplifter HD finds a couple of interesting hooks to keep the whole "find and rescue" element of the original relevant while also making the case for an HD treatment of the material.
Choplifter HD pretty much gets to the core of what made the game and its sequels. Dating all the way back to the Apple II era, you were then and are now flying your chopper into hostile territory to save groups of hostages and soldiers trapped on the battlefield. As with later entries in the series, you'll be shooting back at your enemies on your search and rescue missions while keeping an eye on your chopper's health and fuel gauges.
WHAT'S GOOD SO FAR
You go from side to side, up and down
There's something to be said for fidelity to a core concept and that's essentially unchanged from the original games, or "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The real joy of the game during my time with it was simply doing what one always does in a Choplifter game and that's try to save the hostages and occasionally flip out when circumstances conspire ("circumstances" often being your own rough flying) to cause you to lose some of said hostages.
A very aggressive battlefield
Mortars, guys on jeeps with RPGs, infantry with machine guns, and... zombies? Okay, I'm not super worried about the last one (chopper rotor > zombie every time), but Choplifter HD has plenty of opposition to keep you from doing your job.
Tweaks to the formula
This isn't a quantum leap over the earlier games—more like a hop. Elements like boost on your chopper and directional control of your minigun give you a sense that you're greater control of your vehicle, while hostage-specific timers (reflecting the diminishing health of some of the injured) provide an impetus to get in there and get your job done. The game also has a 2D/3D element where you can turn your chopper to kill enemies and take out targets in the foreground.
WHAT'S BAD SO FAR
Initial crop of weapons lack "oomph"
This is more of a sound and feedback kind of thing than actual gameplay issue. With the first few choppers I used (I'm about nine missions in), bullets sputtered out of the fun and lacked a visceral impact. This might be remedied as I get farther into Choplifter HD, but it's an annoying quirk in the beginning.
Repositioning your chooper for 2D/3D takes some practice
I don't mean in terms of it being an actual skill—on the 360 you simply press one of the bumpers. But there's a little bit of timing to prioritizing the guy with the rocket launcher in the foreground over the guy(s) with machine guns in the normal view, and you may find yourself taking a few hits as you twist your chopper to make your shot.
Minor complaints aside, I'm hooked—which is good because based on the menu, it looks like I have a decent amount of missions left to go. The missions appear to be picking up a little bit of variety as I'm getting farther into the game, so it's nice to know that inXile has taken the time to elaborate on the premise a bit.
Choplifter HD is available now on XBLA for 1200 MS Points, and PSN and Games for Windows Live for $14.99.