Complete innovation isn’t necessary to deliver something new and exciting, and Choplifter HD is the perfect example. Navigating dangerous territories and situations with a chopper is a familiar concept in video games, but few really go far enough to stand out from the crowd. Choplifter HD adds so much fun content and character that it slowly morphs into something more than just a helicopter side-scroller. While it does have its blemishes, the game is fantastic, fun and funny throughout.

In Choplifter HD players take control of a rescue helicopter that must fly into various hotspots and complete specific objectives. Typically, the main objective in any mission is to airlift people back safely to base. However, other objectives may include destroying targets, defending areas or dropping off military personnel into conflict zones. Hindering the player are enemy soldiers with machine guns and rocket launchers, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, zombies and more. The environment can also be tricky with low-clearance rock formations and freeway overpasses that must be flown under. Finally, the player also has to manage fuel, damage, passenger capacity and triage.

Choplifter HD is a lot of fun to play in almost every regard. The choppers are all easy to pilot and – once the player unlocks more models – definitely handle differently from each other, offering new challenges. Smaller models are speedy, but lack capacity and firepower. Large models are slow, but can take more punishment or carry more passengers. After the excellent tutorial levels that ease players into the various aspects of the helicopter and obstacles, the difficulty ramps up smoothly, and the controlled chaos that ensues at the game’s most hectic state is pure joy when the player pulls off something death-defying, like dodging an RPG. Other times, however, the game can be infuriating, like when passengers will suicide themselves into the chopper’s rear rotor as they run up to be rescued. Careful planning and landing can help reduce those moments, but enemies in later missions make all landing zones hot, so gentle touchdowns become harder to pull off as the game progresses.

There’s also a bit of trial-and-error that may put off some gamers. For example, a navigation bar at the top of the screen helps orient players on each level, marking important landmarks, like fuel stations and home base. People needing rescue are also indicated, but these icons don’t display how many people might be at a particular location. One spot might have two people while another might have six. Without knowing ahead of time how many are where, the player can’t plan an efficient pickup route. Timers above wounded objectives help players know where to go first, but more information would go a long way on cutting down frustration. Finally, some pickups feature unexpected scripted events that players can never plan for the first time through. It’s disheartening to watch the fuel gauge tick down because a character has to finish speaking before getting in the helicopter. Thankfully, these issues don’t have too much of an impact on the overall experience.

Choplifter HD looks fantastic and is full of great details. The levels are all rendered in 3-D, giving the game some uncontrollable, yet dramatic z-axis movement instead of being limited to left, right, up and down. Water ripples realistically as the chopper flies over. Enemies run around when they catch on fire. Evacuees tend to the wounded at landing zones, performing CPR when necessary. The environment is also wonderful looking and offers a nice variety, ranging from cold and hot regions to urban landscapes. Navigating a tunnel, dodging semi-trucks is straight out of a movie and players will definitely feel the cinema quality of the gameplay.

What really sells Choplifter HD, however, is the sheer amount of character the game has. The pilots are chatty and have hilarious conversations. “I don’t know why they call it friendly fire,” the co-pilot says, “I hated that asshole.” They also offer handy remarks as cues to the player to kill an enemy or watch out for danger. Evacuees also say humorous things when being rescued, like “I take back every bad thing I said about you!” There’s also a ubiquitous news crew that continually finds itself in the weirdest situations, including zombie outbreaks. Finally, enterprising players can discover recognizable video game characters from other brands.

While the game can be powered through in a few hours, Choplifter HD offers an experience that players will want to relive. The challenge is worthy, but not punishing. The content is varied, but well-paced. And the style is fun, but not juvenile. Choplifter HD is a solid purchase and won’t disappoint.