Review by Retro
Reviewed: 07/02/01 | Updated: 04/13/03
A semi-Defender clone with a crash landing in sight
I've experienced some great video game clones in my day. Lock 'n Chase for the Game Boy takes cloning to another level by being even better than its protégé, Pac-Man. Galaga isn't bad for a Space Invaders clone either, is it? And don't even get me to start mentioning the legions of great platformers that tried to emulate Super Mario Bros. If you're familiar with the classic game for the Atari 2600 called Defender, then you'll pretty much know what to expect from the semi-clone, Chopper Command. Just don't expect it to be half as great of a game.
Chopper Command isn't completely like Defender, but it does have a lot of similarities to it. In Defender, you fly a sort of ship and use it to try and destroy all of the alien spaceships that are invading the city's wide open airspace. These invaders are attempting to kidnap the city's population one by one, in order to perform experiments on those people so there can be a few more humans that tell millions that they have been abducted by aliens (just kidding).
The makers of Chopper Command thought (wrongfully) that they could successfully hide the fact that they got the idea for the game from Defender by allowing you to take the controls of a helicopter, or chopper, instead of a ship. Instead of protecting a city full of people, you must try and save solid black trucks that are on an expedition on the ground. The enemies only consist of white helicopters and some slender, but sharp looking black jets. You're not exactly flying over a city neither; it looks to be more like an almost deserted desert that doesn't even have a single cactus or tumbleweed to be found.
The invading enemy aircrafts in Chopper Command don't try to steal anything, except the lives of the dark truckers and their trucks at the bottom of the screen. Adversaries just place a bullet somewhere in the air, and that bullet or whatever it is, then separates into two equal halves. One of those remnants of the mysterious weapon seeks straight up, while the other separating part falls straight down. The part that plummets to the earth has a decent chance of hitting and destroying one of the hauling trucks. It's your job as the flyer of the chopper to shoot and destroy all of these enemies before they make all of the trucks look like an old junkyard. But watch out because if you run into one of the enemies or if they shoot you just once, you will break up into many bits and lose a life.
The desert, with its blaring heat index and always-increasing temperatures is so bad that it's hard to even look straight without moving. But you're the hero; you have a mission to complete. You must successfully terminate each of your enemies if you ever want to proceed to the next level that looks and plays the same. No matter how far you get into the game, nothing will change except that the enemies will get more hyperactive, which spells out a greater challenge for you.
No matter how I look at the television screen while playing Chopper Command, it always reminds me of Defender. The main reason for this is because they both use the same way of maneuvering through the levels. Just like Defender, in Chopper Command, you fly left, right, up, and down through the 2-D screens, and you can scroll left or right as long or as far as you choose, without having to worry about running low on fuel. The final similarity between the two games is that Chopper Command also has a radar full of dots that represent every major character that is currently residing in the playing area. The helicopter that you have the honor of guiding, the enemies' aircrafts, and the trucks, all appear on the radar for quick reference.
One of my favorite sayings is that ''looks can be deceiving.'' This holds true with Chopper Command. Without a doubt, the best thing about the game is its graphics. Chopper Command has some of the best graphics for an Atari 2600 cart. The chopper, the enemies, and the trucks are all very detailed for a 1982 title; I especially like that you can clearly see the hubcaps spinning on the trucks. And, believe it or not, there's actually some scenery in the background. The ground and immediate atmosphere are made up of a light orange/brown color like you'd expect to see in a desert. The actual background contains colorful mountains and, like you see in many Activision titles, a nice sunset.
For some reason, I've always liked the way helicopters sound. Most of the sound effects in Chopper Command are clear and they sound like they're full of combative spirit. I especially like the sound the helicopter makes while it moves, since it actually sounds somewhat like a real helicopter. It's also cool to stop in place in less action-packed times and listen to the trucks at the bottom of the screen move. For this to be a 1982 game, some of its sounds were ahead of its time.
Learning to manually control a helicopter in real life would take a lot of practice. You'd better know what you're doing unless you're ready to die! Controlling the chopper in Chopper Command is a lot easier. You can move around in any direction with the joystick, and just press or hold down the firing button to blast away at mean enemies. However, it would be better if the helicopter could move up and down just a little faster. Nonetheless, unless your joystick is about to break, you shouldn't have any major problems commanding the chopper.
Like Defender (yes, more comparing), Chopper Command is a good game. But, it's not as original, and in my opinion, not as fun or half as classic as Defender is. Perhaps it's because I was one of the thousands of gamers who have been spoilt by Defender. After years of playing Defender before I ever got my hands on a copy of this one, Chopper Command seems very lackluster. To make it short, Chopper Command is similar to Defender, but not completely like it, and it's not as great of a game as Defender is. But I would recommend you to buy it if you're a big fan of horizontal shooters. Another downfall is that it doesn't have any nice variations to choose from, even though it does offer turn-taking two-player games.
BOTTOM LINE: Chopper Command is a decent enough game that just doesn't offer anything new. Even though the visuals and sounds are great, it doesn't come close to living up to the greatness of the game it was obviously trying to imitate. However, if you're a big fan of horizontal shooters, go ahead and purchase it. It's worth that much.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
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