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- Berzerk -




Berzerk by Snoopy

In these jaded times of polygonal 3D graphics and stereo sound with perfect digitized speech, itís easy at a glance to dismiss Berzerk as nothing more than a primitive, outdated relic. Unfortunately, those who make this mistake are missing the point, not to mention a wonderful gaming experience. We may have moved on to bigger and better(?) things, but not only was Berzerk a cornerstone of an entire gaming genre, it is still a damn good game in its own right two decades later.
The gameplay is very simple. You are a humanoid in a maze filled with robots (who come accessorized with Battlestar Galactica-type rotating eyes). The primary objective is surviving from one maze to the next, while killing as many enemies as possible along the way (sounds a lot like Doom/Quake/etc., doesnít it?) The humanoid can fire in 8 directions, but stops when firing, so he may not move in one direction and fire in another. This being 1980 of course, all the action is in an overhead maze (Gauntlet) on a single screen (Robotron) in third person view (no behind-the-back angle like in Xybots).
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Within this deceptively simple game, however, is an infinite level of challenge. Two ROM programs were released to the arcades, and both get quite hard. There are over 64,000 possible maze layouts, and in each maze 0-11 enemy robots are randomly placed when you enter. Sometimes a maze is easy to clear, sometimes youíre surrounded by a gang the moment you pop up. And the player not only faces the threat of these robots and their octodirectional guns, but he may not touch the electrified walls of the maze (instant death), and if he lingers too long, the smiley-faced robot leader Evil Otto (Have a nice day!) appears and either kills you or chases you out of the maze. So the good Berzerk player has to be prepared for almost anything.
Berzerk is fortunately blessed with some of the least intelligent enemies in arcade history. Quite often, you will find robots face as much of a threat from fellow robots as they do from your lasers. They can shoot each other, explode in a collision, get wasted by Evil Otto (Have a nice day!), and can usually be convinced by a clever character to march themselves right into the wall. Much of the enjoyment I get from a good Berzerk game comes from trying to kill robots without shooting them. Thereís almost an art to it.
The graphics are kinda so-so, but I give Berzerk high marks in the sound department for two reasons. One, it was the first game with speech that most people saw (Stratovox was THE first but was too lame for widespread popularity). Despite being the breakthrough game, the speech is excellent. Even two years later the speech in many games did not sound as good as Berzerkís. Second, the sounds are simple but memorable. I remember walking around as a kid saying, "Duv! Duv! Duv!" all the time, in imitation of the laser sounds, and for years my Dad has been saying, "Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!" whenever he sees me playing any video game at all.
The only thing negative I can say about Berzerk is that there is no good emulation of it. People who have forgotten what the arcade was like probably wonít notice any difference, but as of right now the sampled speech is off (the words are right, but not the pitches), some sounds are missing (notably the "you got an extra life!" squeal), the colors are entirely too dull, and the controls just feel wrong. Of course, since this has been my #1 game of all time for 18 years, Iím also probably more of a purist than most of my readers anyway. But it still annoys me, and my ratings show it. On the real machine, the graphics, sound, and play control ratings are all 3-4 points higher, and it performs like a dream. The emulated version on the other hand, I really can't say anything good about, though if you have no idea where to find an original it is sufficient (barely).
In conclusion, Berzerk is what I call a game for gamers. Thereís no eye candy, no catchy music (no music at all actually), no intricate cinematic plotline, no ten hit combos. In short, nothing that would make a casual arcade patron looking for something hip and easy to beat ever give it a second look. Just you, a gun, lots of robots, and a level of difficulty that is always challenging but never impossible. Go have fun. As for me, I got tired of never finding an original Berzerk to play in any arcade. I hadnít seen one since my Grandmotherís Safeway closed in 1987, so a few years back I went out and bought one. And once again there is a little kid in my family who goes around saying, "Duv! Duv! Duv!", only this time itís my nephew, who was born more than a decade after Berzerk made its arcade debut.
Truly a timeless classic.
Play Control
Replay Value
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