In 1979, a group of ex-Atari game designers broke free from the then-aristocratic work environment at Atari and formed their own development company known as Activision. This outfit became the first ever third party publisher of videogames in history, and pumped out some of the most memorable titles during the golden age of gaming. Now, with the classic (don't call it retro) gaming craze in full bloom, Activision has compiled a package of some of its greatest 2600 hits on one CD for the Playstation (except for Atlantis, which was originally an Imagic title.) Activision Classics contains 30 emulated Atari games. They are:

Atlantis, Barnstorming, Boxing, Chopper Command, Crackpots, Cosmic Commuter, Dolphin, Dragster, Enduro, Fishing Derby, Freeway, Frostbite, Grand Prix, H.E.R.O., Ice Hockey, Kaboom!, Keystone Kapers, Laser Blast, Megamania, Pitfall!, Plaque Attack, River Raid, River Raid II, Seaquest, Skiing, Sky Jinx, Spider Fighter, Stampede, Starmaster, and Tennis.

Grand Prix
Sounds like a must-buy CD for all of us classic gaming fans, right? Not so fast. As much as I'd like to support any and all efforts by companies that cater to the adult (and, for that matter, intelligent) gamer, I cannot recommend this one. It's even more painful for me because many of Activision's 2600 titles were grade-A titles that put the company on the videogame map.

The problem is that all the games featured in Activision Classics SHOULD look and play exactly as they did on the original Atari 2600 console, but they don't. The emulation is horrendous. The slow emulation is very noticable in games such as River Raid, Pitfall!, H.E.R.O. and Spider Fighter. And the pathetically choppy frame rate makes for poor control and response, which is depressing given that fast action is the name of most of these games. The choppiness is magnified particularly in H.E.R.O. and River Raid as these two were smooth as butter on the original Atari 2600. As a result of what I'd guess is frame-skipping (to try to speed things up a little), collision detection is not accurate at all. Try shooting the fuel tanks or helicopters in River Raid and you'll see what I mean.

River Raid
The sound effects are also off. Again using River Raid as an example, in the original version, flying over fuel tanks makes a "ding ding ding!" sound that goes off as your fighter flies over them and refuels, but in the Playstation CD, it's just a continuous, solid sound effect. There are also some sound samples that are completely missing. In H.E.R.O. (which is probably the poorest emulated game of the bunch), after finishing a level, there's supposed to be a "swoosh" sound as the oxygen meter counts down to give you bonus points, but it's completely absent from Activision Classics. And on many of the games, some of the sound effects are noticeably louder or more silent than in the 2600 originals. Finally, the sounds and music are quite muffled, muted and downright muddy.

The pictures are fuzzy in some areas compared to the 2600 originals (which, by the way, is connected via RF whereas my Playstation is connected by S-Video), and the colors are way off on several titles. H.E.R.O., Barnstorming and several others don't match up either. And since when were the department store walls in Keystone Kapers painted pink?

I've saved the biggest disappointment for last. Kaboom! is impossible to play and enjoy. For some unknown reason, Activision did not enable the game for analog controller support, so playing it with a mouse, NegCon or the Namco Paddle import controller won't work at all. But it's just as well, since the frame rate is so awful that it probably wouldn't have made a difference.

Not all Activision games are represented. Missing are personal favorites like Decathlon, Private Eye, Space Shuttle, Pitfall II, Robot Tank, Beamrider and Oink!

Another unfortunate omission is in the documentary department. There's nothing on the disc except for the games. No video footage, no interviews, no mention of the cool Activision patches that they used to send out for high scores, zero pictures of 2600 cartridges or boxes... nothing. To think that the current Activision is the same company that used to promote its designers by putting them in the spotlight is hard to believe.

Overall, for someone who grew up with these games, Activision Classics will depress. It's really a sad experience. All you need to do is plug in any Activision cart into your 2600 and compare it with the Playstation version and it's obvious that Activision Classics falls flat on its face. To think that the company is attempting to appeal (in part) to a new generation of gamers with this compilation is bogus. It's utter misrepresentation if you ask me.

If you feel nostalgic about Atari 2600 games, head on over to your local flea market or thrift store and get the real system and games instead of this CD. For just a few bucks you can grab yourself a 2600 and most of the games found in Activision Classics. And, you'll also get to fall in love with a real Atari all over again.

Title Activision Classics
Publisher Activision
System Sony Playstation
Graphics 4
Sound 3
Gameplay 3
Overall 3
Reviewer Keita Iida

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