A product of the early 1980s, the acclaimed Choplifter name has been out of action for quite some time. This downloadable HD reprisal retains many core elements of the series and stays true to its classic formula, but it's also saddled by some tonal issues, as well as uneven swings in difficulty and pacing.
This update of Choplifter retains the core gameplay for which the series is known. As a pilot commandeering an armed rescue helicopter, your primary goal is to swoop down to rescue stranded hostages, defend against a tide of enemy gunfire and rockets, and then safely deliver the hostages back to your starting base. The game is essentially a side-scroller, and firing back at the swaths of combatant ground troops, tanks, and AA guns is akin to a twin-stick shooter with lock-on targeting. You can orient your helicopter's viewing angle to the left, right, or foreground, the latter of which is usually used to take out bothersome rocket-propelled grenade troops perched on rooftops. Not only do you have to deal with the enemy attacking you from several angles, but you also have to be cautious of your helicopter's fuel supply and health. There are fuel stops dotted at certain points in each level that will restock your chopper should you start running low. Or you can alternatively head back to base to replenish your helicopter's health and munitions, as well as its fuel supplies.
Avoiding hostage deaths, taking out foes, and being expeditious in your rescue efforts will net you higher scores and more stars. Your performance post-mission is scored and rated on a five-star scale, and the more stars you gain per mission, the sooner you gain access to upgraded helicopters. Better helicopters grant perks like stronger firepower and armor, as well as room to ferry more hostages at once. Prioritizing your rescue efforts and finding the most efficient pattern to take during a mission is a key consideration, as is reattempting different scenarios to work out the least-hazardous approach in the shortest amount of time. Alongside other factors, such as your ability to boost (at the expense of more fuel consumption) and learning to be conservative with your limited rocket use, the game preserves the distinctly tactical nature of its forebears in spite of its simplicity.
However, problems begin to arise as you progress further into the game's missions. For instance, as you advance, you're forced to contend with greater numbers of targets simultaneously, and the aiming isn't quick and precise enough to let you adequately deal with these onslaughts. The most debilitating pitfall is that, by necessity, you tend to find yourself meandering in midair and taking a barrage of costly hits as you slow down to deal with all the immediate threats. This ultimately destroys the game's momentum; you will eventually hit a wall with the difficulty that robs you of all desire to continue. Overcoming these predicaments is certainly not impossible, but the process of doing so leans more toward delving into unruly masochism as opposed to enjoying a pleasurable and balanced challenge.
Similarly, waiting for hostages to herd themselves into your helicopter after you've swooped down to save them can create some particularly annoying situations. Common sense often dictates that clearing out the surrounding groups of enemies before picking them up is a good way to go, but when a previously unseen tank rolls in from the backdrop and endlessly fires at you offscreen as you vulnerably wait for hostages to pile on, the game starts to feel cheap. On top of all this, each mission comes fully quipped with some seriously cringeworthy "comedic" mid-mission dialogue between the pilot and his passengers. The only real laugh you get from Choplifter HD is watching your helpless passengers rag doll from the side of your helicopter when you accidentally slam into some large obstruction during your attempted rescue. Other mission types, including those that revolve around battling zombie hordes and carrying passengers from one drop-off point to the next, are uninspired and don't mix up the formula in any meaningful way.
Visually, the game looks fine if unremarkable--the lack of detail in the environments becomes all too noticeable when the camera pans in to show you picking up hostages. Leaderboards are a nice addition and complement the game well, highlighting specific scores for each level, although the absence of any adversarial or cooperative online modes is a missed opportunity.
A considerable portion of Choplifter HD's content is diminished by a series of unfair moments that crop up too often to be tolerable. The decent length of its mission catalog is hamstrung by its misunderstanding of uneven difficulty versus genuine challenge, and when it's too easy, it's too dull. Choplifter HD does occasionally get your rotors spinning, especially for fans of the original, but balancing issues and uninspired missions conspire to make it a mediocre experience overall.