Saturday, November 13, 2021



Developer:Dan Gorlin
Time:1 hour

Another curiosity from the golden age of video games. First released in 1982 on the Apple II, then ported to just about every home computer on the planet. I'll be playing the C64 version. Choplifter isn't that different from most early titles I've played. Its very close to Defender, except set in the modern day. Shoot various enemies, rescue people, realistic for 1982 controls. The real difference is in the details, as usual.

Outside home base. That flag has very nice animation.
This is actually the first game, chronologically, I've seen inspired by current events, in this case, the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Except that in this game, a single helicopter is going up against a whole bunch of tanks, planes (possibly F-15s, which is just hilarious) and flying saucers. And to save the hostages, I have to shoot the building they're in, then set my copter down. Slight artistic license.
The hostage underneath my copter is about to die, unfortunately
It takes a while to get used to, but the basic formula is, you move around, you have slight momentum. You turn by holding the fire button and either direction. When you're facing forward, that's not a transition sprite, you can fly around and shoot things like that. Its very smooth and fluid, not just for 1982, but in general. You can turn around or back up and there's only a slight delay.
This rescue mission isn't going well
Saving hostages is easy the first run in. Only tanks are stopping you, and as long as you're in the air they aren't a problem. You can carry up to 16 hostages. Landing on top of one kills them, and while tanks aren't intentionally shooting at the hostages, they will kill them. The goal is to get as many to be saved, rather than dead, helpfully shown at the top of the screen by playing card suits.
Despite mostly failing to save hostages, they're still sending planes after me
The second run is when things get tricky. They start sending planes. They shoot missiles, which are affected quite heavily by gravity. You can dodge them with a bit of practice if they're solo, but you have to pay constant attention for them, and together with tanks things get tricky. You also have to start destroying some of the buildings.
The only way to attack a tank
The third run is where the game gets unfair. Now there are UFOs, but they just slowly float towards you dropping bombs. No, what's unfair is that the game starts slowing down because there's so much stuff on it. They even start sending multiple planes after you. They also start appearing more frequently. Enemy appearance was always random, but when there are two planes on-screen at the same time it gets too much.
Seconds before death, and it was going so well
Its a fun short time waster. Starts off easy, then gets really hard. The problem, which I seem to recall being constant with these kinds of games, is that there's too big a shift. Its a radical ramping up. While you'll probably escape the first plane, there's no guarantee, especially if you plow ahead at full speed. I don't know. There's not that much of a shift from the previous year in terms of game design, just refinement of those elements.

Generic gun. 1/10

Generic tank, plane and strangely enough, UFO. 1/10

Generic rescuees. 1/10

A single level where the real test is in the randomly generated enemies. 0/10

Player Agency:
Took me a little while to figure out I could turn by holding down the attack button, but otherwise its smooth. You don't have the option to aim very much though, and it always feels like I'm missing because of it. 4/10


The landscape is strange, definitely an artifact of game over everything else. 1/10

There's nice animation, but everything's very simple otherwise. 3/10


Low-bit helicopter noises and something that's like gunfire. 1/10

That's 12, about average for 1982 for now. Not bad, definite improvement on the Defender formula. Gorlin would be responsible for one more game before basically becoming a porter for Broderbund. Choplifter itself has a few sequels, only one of which involves Gorlin himself, and even barely there. I'm not sure how you'd improve upon the formula from here, but I'm sure they'll give it a good shot.

Next up will either be Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3, which has not had many words said about it in English, and most of those are just mindless praise. Or The Wreck, which is another forgotten maze shooter.

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