Zen and the art of helicopter flight maintenance.
I have a soft spot for helicopter fight in video games, which is why I was eager to take off into Dustoff Heli Rescue 2, a helicopter-flying, enemy-shooting arcade-style game with missions that include ambushing enemy encampments, rescuing stray soldiers, delivery of heavy equipment, and holding off encroaching enemy tanks from ally bases.
35 missions make up the game, each one being brisk outing that is very easy to roll through in chunks or spread out. Missions are graded based on the following conditions: completing the mission, doing so under an objective time, and without restarting from a checkpoint. These ratings are the primary driver of progression, as each level has a star count you must earn prior to unlocking the next. In practice, this makes it necessary to replay several missions in order to accumulate more stars, many times from missions that are more frustrating than fun. For perspective, to unlock the 35th level, it requires 85 stars collected, meaning you need at least 2 stars on each level, and 3 stars on several of them.
Some missions are frustrating because of enemies that quickly whittle your health to nothing within a span of seconds. Combat is a source of aggravation, in which you have hardly any agency in the way you fight. As you fly, your weapons automatically shoot from the helicopter as they get in range with enemies, but accuracy reduces the faster you’re moving. If you slow down to hone your shot, it exposes you to quick damage. Your copter gains weapons and upgrades, but it never makes the combat feel good as much as it dulls the worst edges. It’s a missed opportunity that you don’t have direct control in firing weapons, especially given how few button inputs there already are. Where this game shines is the feel and movement of flight. The way it carries momentum, punishes attempts to turn on a dime, and demands finesse in control that makes it challenging, but rewarding to competently fly and navigate through the terrain. It’s great fun zooming up and around obstacles, fluttering through tight underground spots, and deftly swooping in and out of dangerous areas without getting a scratch.
Visually, the appearance works well in theory, but not in practice. I actually found the simple, blocky style to be charming in how it gave everything a toy-like look. Unfortunately, when translating it into gameplay, they used a 2.5D style that attempts to provide depth-of-field in the background. It’s difficult to tell whether trees, walls, or other obstacles are in the foreground or background flying low to the ground, bumping into a tree or unintended wall as a result.
That said, these flaws did not ground my enjoyment of Dustoff Heli Rescue 2. The core flight feels good and each mission is an appropriately brief length that lends itself well to casual, quick play sessions. That makes it easy for me to overlook that it didn’t land without some turbulence.