Choplifter HD follows the story of an unnamed helicopter pilot and his unnamed co-pilot as they travel the world saving civilians, stopping villains, blowing stuff up, and stopping zombie infestations (yes, zombies).
The relationship between the pilot and the co-pilot is somewhat strained, as the pilot is something of a womanizing playboy who loves blowing stuff up and making references to things like the film Predator. The co-pilot, meanwhile, is more of a "by the books" guy, and is often disgusted at the pilot's disregard for safety or protocol. Their disagreements are often used for comedic effect during missions.
The one thing they are in agreement about is reporter Scoop Sanderson. Sanderson is a world famous reporter with a knack for getting stranded behind enemy lines, and needs rescuing in every mission of the game (along with his unnamed cameraman). Unlike another wartime photojournalist, Sanderson is known for being egotistical, and kind of a jerk. He often stands near large billboards promoting his television show.
The game is broken into four campaigns, each of which includes numerous missions (though the first campaign is mainly a tutorial). Missions require some sort of objective(s) to be completed, and have some sort of (optional) hidden objectives that can be completed for bonus points and Achievements/Trophies.
The main objectives usually involve blowing up some sort of enemy base/object, or rescuing people. However, the helicopters can only hold a limited number of people (between three and fourteen, depending on which one), which means that multiple trips are often needed to rescue all of the people. To add an extra sense of urgency, in some levels there are wounded people that have a limited amount of time before they die, and this time is shown on the game's HUD, along with the locations of most people. It is possible in most missions to complete the mission without any of the people surviving, and there is actually an Achievement/Trophy for doing so. Aside from getting that Achievement/Trophy, there is no advantage for doing so, as 1000 points are deducted at the end of the level for each person that died.
Some missions (known as Escape Missions) are focused on getting from one end of the level to the other as quickly as possible, and without dying. These missions are filled to the brim with enemies whose sole purpose is to shoot down the helicopter, and getting through unscathed is difficult indeed.
As mentioned above, each mission has at least one hidden objective. Scoop Sanderson can be rescued in every mission, but a few have other hidden objectives as well. One involves killing a certain number of a certain enemy type, and a couple involve finding other secret characters hidden in the level.
At the end of each mission, the player is graded on a five star scale based on score. The player gets points for defeating enemies, rescuing people, and doing so in a timely fashion. Killing noncombatants, however, causing a reduction of points, which can lower the player's score.
Each mission has a timer that ticks down as the mission progresses, but the mission does not end when it reaches zero. Instead, the timer turns red, and begins ticking up. Then, upon completion of the level, instead of getting a bonus for time remaining on the timer, the player loses points, depending on how much extra time the player spent.
It should be noted that the game does not feature checkpoints. While the levels are short enough that this is not an issue if the player does well, the game ramps up in difficulty later on, and as many people know, dying only to have to replay the entire level can get very frustrating.
Like the classic that Choplifter HD is based on, this game is a side-scroller where the player controls a helicopter. Like in the original, enemies will not only appear on the same plane as the player, but also in the foreground. These cannot be attacked while the helicopter is facing to the left or the right, and the player must switch to foreground view (with the helicopter facing toward the "screen") to attack these. However, while in foreground view, enemies in the same plane as the player cannot be attacked, thus requiring the player to change between foreground view, left alignment, and right alignment often. Some enemies will come in from the background, and are impossible to attack until they get to the same plane as the player. That does not stop them from attacking the player, which makes them tricky foes to deal with.
Since Choplifter HD was built from the ground up with modern consoles in mind, the control scheme takes full advantage of this. Unlike the original, the player can aim the helicopter's weapons (a machine gun and a rocket launcher) with the right analog stick, thus allowing for a higher degree of accuracy when shooting. The player cannot aim the guns in any direction, as the gun can only rotate a certain amount, meaning the player cannot attack targets directly behind or above the helicopter.
Like many video game helicopters (and all real helicopters), the helicopters in Choplifter HD are not only vulnerable to damage, they also have a limited amount of fuel. Running out of fuel in the middle of a mission causes the helicopter to fall to the ground, and thus a mission failure. Luckily, the helicopter can be refueled at fueling stations strategically placed in levels, but these can run out of fuel if used enough. The home base, however, cannot run out of fuel, and has the added bonus of repairing any damage done, and restocking the helicopter with missiles. The base is also where rescued people must be dropped off, and where the player must go at the end of every mission.
Choplifter HD features three classes of helicopters, and numerous models within these varieties. However the player loses access to lower ranked ones in the classes, so it could be seen as more of a linear upgrade path, with each new model better than the last. Each of the game's four campaign forces the player to use a specific class on each mission before the mission is completed. After completion, the player can replay any mission with any available helicopter class.
The Sparrow class is the first class available to the player. The Sparrow helicopters are light and fast, but are not as heavily armored or armed as the other classes, and can only carry six people at a time. And when carrying people, they are perched outside the helicopter, and can easily fall off if the player is not careful when landing.
The Raven class helicopters are the largest helicopters in the game, and can carry the most people, with the largest being able to carry 14 people. They are the most heavily armored and slowest of the three classes, but can carry a large number of missiles (20 in the highest ranking). People picked up by the player are seated safely inside the helicopter, and can survive any landing that the helicopter can survive.
The Navajo class was built with combat in mind. They are quick, moderately well armored, and have the unique ability of being able to lock onto multiple targets and fire multiple missiles at a time. The highest level Navajo (called the Raptor) can carry forty missiles, but only 4 people. However, the other Navajo helicopters can only carry ten missiles and three people. And like Raven class helicopters, people ride safely inside the helicopter, rather than outside it. However, unlike the other helicopter classes, the passengers ride inside some sort of tiny compartment in the back of the helicopter that does not exist in similar, real world helicopters.
Infantry Soldiers cannot take much damage, and are only equipped with assault rifles. They are easy to deal with, but can be lethal if the player's health is low. Like all Soldier enemies, they will often be perched in the foreground, and can take cover behind certain objects, which protects them from the helicopter's bullets. It does not, however, protect them from missiles, and in order to attack the player, they must move out of cover.
RPG Soldiers cannot take any more damage than Infantry Soldiers, but they wield RPG launchers instead. These take time to lock on, and the RPG can be shot down before it hits the player, or be avoided with the appropriate maneuvers. The RPG itself is very tenacious, and will curve in the air to hit the helicopter. The RPG can be shot out of the air, and will eventually lose track of the helicopter if enough evasive maneuvers are used.
Unlike most snipers in video games, these are equipped with special EMP guns that can temporarily disable the helicopter's ability to fly. While not dangerous on their own (their shots do no damage), Sniper Soldiers are usually accompanied by other soldiers that will not hesitate to shoot while the helicopter is downed by the EMP, which can be deadly when the player is well into a mission. Luckily, the EMP guns take time to charge and lock onto the helicopter, meaning that it is possible to dispatch them before they hit the helicopter.
Jeeps drive quickly, and often back and forth between the player's plane and the foreground (and sometimes even the background). They have a gunner in them, and do not take much damage before exploding, but will often arrive in groups to increase their effectiveness.
Snowmobiles behave similarly to Jeeps, except they only appear in snowy levels. They take less damage than Jeeps, but are slightly smaller and thus harder to hit.
Tanks are slow and lumbering, but pack a ton of damage. They make a loud loading noise before firing, thus alerting the player. They take a lot of damage to be destroyed (at least two missiles), and will often make use of the background to avoid player fire. Unlike the rockets shot by RPG Soldiers, the shots from Tanks do not track the player's helicopter, but they move faster, making them difficult to avoid.
Like the name implies, these are designed with the sole purpose of taking down aircraft, such as helicopters. They are stationary and sometimes appear in the foreground. They take a fair amount of damage (never more than one missile), and shoot flak into the air. When this happens, a dark flak cloud appears, with explosions visible within. If the player flies into this cloud, not only will the helicopter be damaged, its movement speed will decrease until it gets out of the cloud, thus exposing the player to even more potential damage. The dark cloud stays in the air longer than the damaging flak within the cloud, and flying into the cloud once the flak is gone (or in other words, once the explosions stop) will not result in any negative effects. There are occasionally two AA guns situated next to each other, and if a missile is shot at one of them, the explosion will destroy the other one as well. That's efficient!
Mortar guns shoot mortar shells at regular intervals, and where the shots will land can be seen by the pillar of smoke where the previous shots have landed (they always shoot the same spot). However, unlike all other enemies, mortar guns only appear in the background, and thus cannot be defeated by the player. They do a large amount of damage to the player.
The only enemy aircraft in the game, jets do a flyby before attacking. When they do attack, they send a barrage of missiles toward the player, which do a lot of damage. While the jets do appear on the same plane as the player, and can be targeted, they move too quickly to be destroyed by the player.
Yes, the walking dead appear in this helicopter game. And, as one might expect, they do not pose a serious threat to the helicopter. They can grab only, but they are easily shaken off. Instead, the "challenge" of zombies is that in some levels they threaten the people that need to be rescued. If they are not rescued in time, the zombies will get them, and they will die. But for the most part, the zombies seem to exist in this game more for comedy than anything else, as they are the butt of many jokes in the game.
Chickens and Goats
Much like zombies, these pose no real threat to the player. They exist for comedy, and for something to shoot. There are Achievements/Trophies for killing specific numbers of these animals. For some reason, the chickens are not "voiced" by real chickens, and were instead voiced by a voice actor (who is a human). Perhaps it cost too much money to get stock chicken noises.
In keeping with the game's generally goofy and silly tone, there are several cameo appearances of characters from other video game series.
Duke (voiced by world famous voice actor Jon St. John) appears in the mission "Desert Rescue" standing around minding his own business. If the player lands near him to "rescue" him, Duke insults the pilot and co-pilot by either calling them pansies or cupcakes (the game randomly chooses a line of dialog), and then effectively tells them to go away. If the player does so, Duke runs off screen and isn't seen again. If, however, the player is rather disgruntled at Duke's last outing, and wants to get revenge on him, he merely shakes off bullets or missiles shot at him, because he is Duke Nukem, after all. He also threatens the player if the attacks continue.
Also known as "Mr. Minecraft," Steve appears in the mission "All on the table" stranded on an blocky island surrounded by blocky chickens. Steve does not say anything, but he can be rescued and returned to the base as an optional objective. Like many real people who were uninformed about this character's name, the co-pilot and pilot have a short conversation about how they did not know that his name is Steve.
Meat Boy appears in the mission "A Snowball's Chance," and can be rescued as an optional objective.
inXile Entertainment Development Team
In a bonus level that can be played instead of watching the credits, the pilot and co-pilot are tasked with rescuing the employees of inXile, who developed Choplifter HD. In a somewhat grim twist, the player can kill any or all of the people in this level, though this is probably frowned upon.
For those not satisfied with the helicopters in the core game, several more are available for purchase, and these are not just simply the same exact helicopters with new skins. That's right, completely new helicopter models, including one that is based on the Osprey. Unfortunately, these helicopters are not free.
Zombie! Zombie! Zombie! Level Pack
If one were looking for something more substantial (and cost effective), then this DLC is the DLC for that person. It adds a new campaign with six levels, complete with new dialog from the characters, and a new helicopter named (somewhat distastefully) "Agent Orange." While these levels do feature large numbers of zombies (and a plot that is based around a very large zombie infestation overrunning a city (so that it gets "officially renamed Zombieville")), the gun/rocket toting enemies are still the real threat.
And the best part? It's free! Assuming you have the game itself.