Get to the chopper!
In Activision’s earlier years many of their games were clones of titles already released by Atari, and in most cases they were substantially better too. I am sure many of you already know about games such as Robot Tank (Battlezone), Star Master (Star Raiders) and of course this game – Chopper Command, a brilliant take on Defender that corrects everything wrong with the rubbish Atari port of the classic Williams’ coin-op. Released to audiences in 1982, Chopper Command won “Best Action Video Game” at the 4th annual Arkie Awards – a very prestigious achievement. It was also re-released in its original form for both the Xbox 360 and PC in 2010 as part of the failed Microsoft Games Room project as well as also appearing on the excellent Activision Anthology for the Game Boy Advance.
Programmed by Activision co-founder and former Atari employee Bob Whitehead – who is perhaps most famous for developing the venetian blinds effect used to make Video Chess – this is one of the fastest, and most frantic, shoot ‘em ups on the system. The object of the game is identical to Defender: to fly over the planet surface shooting the enemies and protecting/rescuing the humans. Instead of being in space though, Chopper Command is set on earth itself. Your space ship is now an armed helicopter, the humans are replaced with a convoy of moving supply trucks, and the aliens become enemy aircraft. Instead of picking up the people you are trying to protect, as in Defender, the enemies in this game just shoot them, so you really can’t hang around or go for those last minute saves like the Williams game. Once again, like Defender, you have a radar scanner to see where the enemy is, but it’s now been moved to the bottom of the screen. The game still scrolls in both directions, but turning around is much quicker, so you can react to situations better. One big change is that there are no smart bombs or warp gates like in Defender, making your weapon the only tool, so you really have to make every shot count and not get overwhelmed. As the levels increase, then so do the enemies and, of course, the challenge too. The subtle changes make it more of a straight out shooter then the aforementioned Defender, but the influences are still very clear to see.
Graphically Chopper Command is really nice with its clearly defined flicker free sprites and it’s always nice to see that trademark Activision sunset on display. Even though everything moves around a pretty rapid pace, the humble 2600 manages to keep up with it all really well. The sound consists of lots of loud and proud sound effects that are exactly what you want to hear in a game like this. Gameplay wise this is certainly a much better game than Atari’s conversion of the original Defender, but just short of the 2600 port of the brilliant sequel Stargate (also known as Defender II). That said, even if you already own Stargate, this is a really good game that is right up there with the best horizontally scrolling shoot ‘em ups the system has to offer.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Atari 2600 (reviewed); Publisher: Activision ; Developer: Activision ; Players: 1 ; Released: 1982 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: N/A