HeliCOPS is like Goldfinger and New Jack City left to simmer in a vat of oedipal crisis, which saves it from the common morass of most simulator shoot-em-ups. Drugs, family crisis, and international terrorism are all brought to forceful resolution in a post-Armageddon psychodrama. In NeoTokyo, a generation after the great earthquake of '98, a corporate criminal Maxwell Giger is wreaking havoc with his ruthless syndicate, Nemesys, in a bid to take over the world. Giger has his finger in just about every racket imaginable and has dispatched henchmen to do his bidding throughout the city. Fortunately for the good people of Earth, Governor Koyo assembled an elite airborne force known as the Helicops shortly before his assassination. As a Helicop, it is your duty to quash Giger's forces and return NeoTokyo to its rightful heirs.
There are six multi-tiered missions in Helicops, each of which can be significantly modified by your choice of character and aircraft. All of the environments are exceptionally well rendered in lustrous 3-D and provide a compelling battleground. Flying the choppers requires a bit of patience; you will be expected to integrate both keyboard and joystick commands if you hope to prevail in the final showdown at Devil's Island. While this slightly delays the immediacy of play, a few practice runs should prove an adequate and rewarding preparation for the more advanced levels. There is something uniquely rewarding about taking out Giger (in his formidable GigerMech suit) with a flourish of keystrokes and a hail of bullets.
What distinguishes Helicops is how personal the game becomes when you begin to absorb the character profiles. Each of the officers has a sworn enemy in the Nemesys camp, and the officers face these villains with murderous aplomb. The complexity of these relationships becomes almost psychotic in the cases of Michael Knox and Jackie Ramirez, who must kill both siblings and lovers to fulfill their mission requirements - imagine the chill that must pass through Officer Knox's arm as he delivers the mortal blow to his duplicitous and ravishing sister Reiko. This voyeuristic intrigue elevates the level of play to unique heights, bringing an unlikely emotional element to the proceedings.
Naturally the integration of story and onscreen action places a certain burden on you - you have to willingly participate in the synthesis. This requires a solid read through of the officer's manual. A little patience goes a long way with HeliCOPS and leads to an overall satisfying experience. It would be remiss, however, to overlook a few aggravating flaws in the design. The mission at Mt. Fuji opens with a truly frustrating search for the Blue Enigma - instructions are vague and you may end up just flying in circles until the machine takes pity and advances you forward. Allegedly, there is a power-up hidden somewhere in the map, but finding it can become a case of redundant trial and error. There is also a rather skewed sense of difficulty: While preliminary stages may seem almost insurmountably difficult, some of the finales are just cakewalks. Nonetheless, the final campaign against Giger is truly breathtaking.
Given the finer points of the game, these issues become trifling when measured against the overall reward of HeliCOPS. After all, it's hard not to like a game in which the foes traffic in a soul-killing street drug known as Shatter and the heroes are as much at war with themselves as they are with the world around them. One can't help but think that after vanquishing the urban menace the troubled Helicops may need to spend their hard-won vacation in the NeoTokyo psychiatric ward.