- Star Raiders (Atari 2600) -




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Star Raiders (Atari 2600) - June 4, 2001 by -^Cro§Bow^-
Game:Star Raiders (Atari 2600)Company:Atari

REVENGE! Your home planet has just been destroyed, you have just narrowly escaped being destroyed yourself in the explosion, and of course since your past hour hasn't been bad enough you discover that a quick glance at your galactic scanner shows an alien fleet is headed towards your sole remaining Starbase. What is a lone star fighter to do? Why go out in a blaze of glory in the hopes to defeat this evil menace and save the galaxy. This is the start of Atari's Star Raiders. A noble attempt to bring a space simulation home to the Atari 2600 VCS. What do we have in store for us on this one I wonder...

The story takes place just after the destruction of your home planet. The aliens responsible are known as the Krylons (wonder if Atari paid royalties to Sherwin-Williams & Dupont) who are bent on nothing more than defeating you and gaining complete control of the galaxy. You play the role of Commander Champion (Another 5 min thought out name...), or Li San O'Rourke (semi original on this name at least). There is no selection for which you play, simply knowledge of the fact that there is apparently two individuals in this Star Fighter you are piloting. You and your co-pilot are on a quest for revenge to destroy the Krylon fleet before they destroy the last Starbase and save the galaxy. If this story sounds familiar, then that is because it is. I previously reviewed Star Master from Activision, which is another Atari 2600 game in the same concept as Star Raiders. Also we have seen at least one movie, which came out not long after with this same storyline as well. I will leave it to you to guess which movie.
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Star Raiders plays in a concept, which at the time was unique in its day but sadly was executed poorly. The basic object is to hunt down and destroy the Krylon fleet before they destroy your Starbase. Specifically, Star Raiders is played mainly from a first person perspective from within the cockpit of your Star Fighter where you battle the Krylon warships until you have either wiped them out or gotten destroyed yourself. To add variety, strategy and challenge to the game you also have to keep a watch on you energy reserves, which are depleted with each hit you sustain or photons you fire. In addition, some of your needed components such as your attack computer and shields will consume power as they are used (left on actually). Also too many hits from Krylon photon fire or collision with local asteroids (best bowling ball graphic Atari has done yet!), will sometimes damage your ships components such as shields or the attack computer. While battling the Krylons there may come several instances when you have to leave the battle, give chase when the Krylons leave the sector your in, or refuel and repair your ship. This is accomplished through the use of your Galactic Scanner. The scanner basically consists of a grid of squares 4x4 in size. Randomly placed on this rather tiny grid will be your Starbase, your current position, and the position of the Krylon fleet. You are to warp to the location where the Krylons are at which point battle will commence. This game has very compelling game play and even the story was original back in 1982. However, as I mentioned before, Atari completely hosed this great game to be with several downsides.

For starters the graphics are very very weak in this game. I tried to keep an open mind during the playing of this game that it was made in 82. However, the more I played it the more I realized that Atari could have done better in several areas. The galactic scanner map is only 4x4 in size? This may seem like simplifying things. But in truth it actually increases the difficulty of the game. The grid could only be 4x4 in size I fear due to graphical limitations of the programmers back then. Other games have proven since that the 2600 VCS could do much better (Star Master, Solaris...). The enemy ships are nice as there are at least 3 different types you encounter. Each is slightly different in their attacks as well. Some move at you quickly and can be destroyed in one shot. Others have shields and require a direct hit from up close to destroy them. To add more the graphic downside we have to talk about the cockpit. You are given several things to watch. You have your energy reserve, numbers of Krylons remaining in the game, and then finally your attack computer radar for photon locks. The placement of these objects is ludicrous. Atari placed the energy reserve to far left, the remaining ships in the center and the radar to the far right. I am not sure how Atari could have done it better but I know there has to be a way. It is simply too confusing to keep your eyes on everything at once. Especially at the fast pace this game will move on you. The attack computer radar deserves it own place in the most useless instrument award as well. The radar is supposed to assist you in determining when to fire your photons against the ships in hopes of hitting them quicker. I have news for you...it isn't accurate at all. Supposedly the radar will go red when a "Lock" is achieved alerting you to fire. Mine not only never went red but wasn't even in sync with the Krylons on the main view! I found it best to simply ignore the radar. Also when the attack computer is on you are given your crosshairs. This too is useless as the only time you could hope to hit an enemy ship that is actually in the crosshairs is if the ship is very far away. It is very unlikely that you will hit them at that range with the speed they dart around. In fact even in the manual they show an arc that covers the lower half BELOW the crosshairs, which is your actual firing arc and best times to fire. Basically when the enemy ships are within this arc is the most likely chance your going to hit them. As if the insanely difficult task of trying to destroy the Krylon ships wasn't hard enough, Atari also felt the need to add Asteroids to the mix. These rocks of death are supposed to appear when there is only one ship to fight in the sector your in. I found out this simply isn't true. Truth is asteroids appear whenever there is little activity going on in the sector such as when you hyper warp. Also the stupid rocks would appear when I knew there were more than six Krylons left in the sector I was in. yet there was actually only one currently being tracked by my radar. So in fact the asteroids show up quite frequently and cause much havoc. I won't even get started on the graphics Atari did for asteroids just know they look more like bowling balls than rocks.

The difficulty is the worst of this game. The idea is to destroy the Krylons before they destroy your Starbase. This task alone is simply very difficult. The Krylons go full steam ahead straight towards the Starbase and then once arriving you are given thirty seconds to defeat them else the Starbase along with your only means to refuel and repair is destroyed. I have played this game multiple times and only been able to save the Starbase once. I haven't done it since. The game believe it or not does have multiple difficulty levels, which varies depending on how badly you want to look to your friends as you play. The first difficulty puts the Krylons on the opposite side of the scanner with you right next to them. You are given a total of ten ships to defeat. There are a total of four different variations you can choose. You can go 20, 30 and finally 40 ships. Also the rules change as in level 4 will place the Krylons anywhere on the scanner map, and allow you to try and hyper warp to sectors you don't have the fuel to do. Also the speed of the Krylons movement on the map will increase (as if this is really needed!!!). Even if one does manage to master the first level of this game, rest assured you will be playing this a long time in order to defeat all the Krylons and save the Starbase in level 4. I also noticed something that wasn't mentioned in the manual for this game. The manual states that if for some reason your shields and attack computers aren't on that you need to switch the difficulty select switch on the VCS to position B for sides. What I found is that the game mentions turning off your attack computer and shields to save on energy when you hyper warp. However, you cannot turn them off unless your use the difficulty switches in the A position instead!? I don't know how this was missed in the manual but I assure you I found it odd and really think that should be made clearer.

Control is another interesting area of this game. Atari came up with this grand idea that a new controller could be used for more complex games. Hence the Video Touch Pad (later called the Keyboard controller) was born. Star Raiders marked the first game in which this was required as far as I know. In fact many cases Star Raiders was sold with the controller. This proved to be a folly as it also increased the initial cost of the game back in 82. Because of this reason I just recently acquired my copy of this game myself (Thanks Ebay). Basically the keyboard controller consists of a 12-digit keypad. This was a slick idea to simplify a semi complex game that Star Raiders is. You use the keypad to switch between your Fore View (cockpit view), Galactic Scanner, Hyper warp, and also for turning your shields and attack computer on and off. While the keypad adds a unique touch to this game, I feel it wasn't needed. Star Master from Activision accomplished the same basic tasks by use of the BW/Color switches to switch the views. Atari could have gone a similar route. While it may seem that the keypad would be a better method for this it really isn't. The keypad was separate unless you bought it bundled with the game. This made it expensive back in the days when it was new and makes acquiring the game today more interesting since you have to have the controller to play this game. Also the keypad isn't very accurate. I have a brand new keypad and I still found that my shields and computer keys wouldn't always respond. I tested the keypad for functionality and it was fine. So either it was a fault of the game or my system (also ruled out as the condition existed on both my heavy sixer and my 7800). What is more intriguing is that I have been made aware that a prototype of this game does in fact use the BW/Color switch and difficulty switches for the different views and functions. Why Atari didn't stay with this I don't know. Also it can be very confusing at times to use both the controllers at once. For instance you have to switch to the scanner to navigate using the number 2 button on the keypad. Then you control the position of your cursor using the joystick. Finally you hyper warp through the press of another key on the keypad. See...it shouldn't be that tough. They could have made it where you select the sector you want and then hyper warp just pressing the fire button. There is simply too much to do at once to do something simple. The game doesn't pause for you to make such decisions either. If you're in an enemy occupied sector and still looking at the galactic map, you will be getting fired upon with no way to attack until you switch back to fore view. Atari could have made the game simply put in fore view mode automatically once you hyper warp. After all you most likely won't hyper warp and waste precious energy just to sight see in the game. Enough on this, you get the point...
The sound is about the only positive thing about this game. Back in 82 there wasn't much visually or aurally for most of the games. However, in Star Raiders Atari did a bang up job on the sound. The photons sound like photon blasts. The hyper warp sounds like your actually careening through space at faster than light speed. And there is a multitude of computer alerts to keep you informed of what is going on. If anything there may be too much sound to keep track of since the different beeps mean different things. For instance there is an alert to let you know when Krylons have entered the sectored. Plus the screen will flash red. Also there is a tone to alert you when they are attacking the Starbase. There is an explosion sound for when the Starbase gets destroyed. And also sounds for when you components get knocked out. Although the sound is typical of the usual bleeps we hear on the TIA hardware, Atari at least made a valiant effort to keep them separate enough to know what each one means. I am only sorry this is the only area they got right in the game.

Star Raiders has all the makings of a really terrific game. The problem is that Atari was either in a rush to get it out. Or simply didn't know how the game should be played. The control is beyond help. While the Keypad does add a certain cool touch of realism, it also isn't needed and acts more as a hindrance than a help. The firing accuracy for your photons is non-existent and relies on luck more than skill. The graphics are laughable even by 2600 VCS standards and could have easily been improved upon. The use of a very small game field of using a 4x4 grid to represent the galaxy is insanely small and nearly impossible to defend as needed. I wish I could find something really encouraging for this game. Unfortunately I can only find a few good points about this game and they do not make the game more enjoyable. The story is good and original even though it has been mimicked much in later years. The sound is good for the standards of typical Atari VCS capabilities with the multiple bleeps meaning different things. As for replay there is only the fact that the game will tick you off more than being enjoyable. This could be strangely addictive for some to keep at it until they save the Starbase. There is a rank assigned to you at the completion of the game based on factors such as number of times you dock with the Starbase for repairs and refueling, whether you save the Starbase or not, how much energy you have left, etc. This is a nice bragging rights award to try and get the next highest ranking each time you play. Star Raiders is a game that I can only recommend if you're a die-hard fan of this genre (Space Sim Shooters), or you're a die-hard collector who doesn't yet have this title. As for being an enjoyable game, I am sure there are fans of this game. I feel that Atari could have done better but didn't and that where they failed others succeeded. I would encourage that everyone should at least try the game once in emulation to see what Star Raiders could have been.

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