Version tested Xbox 360
Much like the original, Choplifter HD is at its absolute best when everything's going wrong. Play it too competently during the early levels, and it's a bit like running a taxi company - albeit a taxi company that sends its cars out with machine guns strapped to the bonnet. You leave your base, shoot a few guys, keep an eye on the fuel, pick a few other guys up and then make it back home with a nice soft landing. That'll be eight pounds, cheers. Sorry about all the roundabouts.
Play it badly, though, and it's kind of amazing. Forget your fuel, spend your missiles profligately and whirl through the skies, roguishly sliding into one cloud of flak after another. Squash the people you're meant to save, allow a few zombies to climb on board to mess your co-pilot up and then, warning buzzers buzzing, take plenty of machine gun fire from the locals as you arrive back at the base running, as they say, on fumes.
It's exhilarating to live on the edge of disaster, and it can feel pretty cinematic, too. If nothing else, modern film-making has educated us all on the precise kind of alarm sound you hear coming from a helicopter when it's in trouble: Choplifter HD delivers this sort of thing brilliantly.
What's handy, then, is that Choplifter HD is pleasantly punishing, meaning that, from around the tenth mission in, it's fairly hard to play it without getting into all kinds of trouble no matter how skilled you are. With simple steering controls, limited weapons options, and a twin-stick aim-and-fire set-up, Konami's overdue re-imagining takes a very straightforward idea and swiftly turns it into one of those games where you're always juggling the variables.
Within five minutes of picking up a pad you'll be deciding whether to race across the side-scrolling maps to reach the most distant pick-up points first or move forward in hops, while simultaneously working out whether the health timer for that wounded soldier you have to bring home is going to run down before your fuel does.
Then there's knowing when to boost, when to head back for repairs, and when to switch focus from the enemies right in front of you and take aim at the baddies in the foreground instead (you can shift your targeting between them with a press of the bumper).
On top of that, you've got a surprisingly smart range of mission types, including rescue jobs, escape runs and some all-out zombie slaughter. Backdrops are varied, and a single new enemy type - tank, sniper, jeep - can force you to drastically alter your tactics.
There are some nice cameo appearances strung throughout the campaign as well. Throw in a range of unlockable helicopters and this rather creaky license starts to look surprisingly fresh. Not bad for a game that was often perceived as a bit of a Defender clone back in the early 1980s.
Don't expect a masterpiece, mind. Survivor AI's glitchy on occasion, the Unreal Engine 3 assets don't look particularly good when you slow down to take in the view, and the comic banter sometimes jars with the war-zone surroundings a little. After a while, even the missions can settle into a bit of a rut.
It's hardly an arcade classic, in other words, but if you're after nothing more than a friendly and frantic fifteen minutes of action every now and then, Choplifter HD just came to the rescue.
7 / 10