Help from Above!
This game is a toy. An addicting toy, but a toy nonetheless. Maxis is famous for making little works of entertainment such as the now-immortal SimCity. That classic was followed up by numerous other such "Sims" and this particular program is only the most recent installment in the series. I prefer to think of it, however, as a larger step into the imaginary world that this fine collection of software allows the user to create.
Remember how fascinating it was to take a bare plot of land, build on it, and watch those marked off commercial, residential, and industrial areas come to life? If you are like me, you wanted to play around with this new city, watch the cars go back and forth on the highways, and deal with the occasional disaster, much like a little kid on Christmas day who has just received a very expensive (and detailed) train set. In many ways, I would long for the day when a program would be created that would allow me to actually go down into my city, to fly through it, or even to land and walk down the street. Of course, in 1991, such a program was a few years away. Intel had just introduced the 486-33 and there was no such thing as a CD-ROM.
Six years later, SimCopter allows the former city builder to do exactly what I have just described.
The point of the game is to fly around in a helicopter doing good deeds for the residents of the community, much like former President Jimmy Carter. (What?! He once strafed my Honda, dammit...-Ed.). Realistically or not, you become a superhero as a day job. The craft is equipped with a rescue harness for performing those medevacs of tough-to-reach victims, a water cannon for putting out fires, and a tear-gas dispenser so as to quiet unruly citizens who decide to riot. As the game progresses, more equipment can be purchased, as well as new, more powerful helicopters.
The helicopter itself is fairly easy to fly. One button starts the engine, another button determines the rate of ascent, while another slows or speeds how fast the craft descends. Maneuvering throughout the city is fairly simple with a joystick, but can also be controlled ably with the keyboard. The player can even adjust the radio to play a jazz, heavy metal, pop, or classical soundtrack. There are many gauges inside the cockpit, but they are easy to read. Also included in the cockpit is a detailed map of the city showing where hospitals and landing strips can be found, as well as where drop-off and pick-up points are located.
Graphically, you could not ask for more. The scenery is made up of crisp, bit-mapped polygons that serve to create a sort of enveloping illusory world. Cars, boats, people, and animals seem to move with regularity in different directions. One interesting thing to do is to land the helicopter at a certain spot, get out, and walk around. The little man (the pilot) can bump into people, talk to cows, or block traffic for miles on the highway by stopping in the middle of the road. Sounds and music are delightful, especially when the classical soundtrack is chosen. I had never seen such a laid-back, sedate atmosphere in a game before. There is something very innocent, very childlike about this experience of playing this game.
So what's wrong with it? First off, the game soon becomes boring. After the thirtieth traffic jam, or the fourteenth riot, and the forty-third heart attack evacuation, things start becoming a little old, especially the soundtrack which can eventually get so relaxed that it turns monotonous. There is really no way to win, except to beat ten levels of challenges and ascend to the final "Macropolis" world. In fact, seemingly the only goal is to help as many people as possible and raise more money to buy better helicopters.
What saves the game however is the one function that allows the player to transfer cities created from SimCity 2000 to this game. That would be cool. How would my re-created Los Angeles or San Francisco look on Sim Copter? Wouldn't they be fun to fly over? This reviewer has not yet had a chance to test it, so I do not know how it would look, but the transfer is reported to be fairly smooth and accurate.
Essentially, SimCopter is a toy. It can be addicting to the right type of person, but for the most part will probably not have the same type of broad general appeal as other titles have, or even as SimCity had seven years ago. I would suggest that a true plot or series of campaigns leading up to a dramatic climax would be a welcome addition. Other than that, this game is a lot of fun.