Atari 5200 Review: STAR RAIDERS

by Atari

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One of my favorites for the 5200, Star Raiders is amazingly complex for an older game, and would probably hang tough with some of the newer space-fighting/flight simulation games on more advanced systems. To go into detail about all of the cool features of this game would take pages, so I'll spend most of this review addressing what some might view as faults with Star Raiders. First, some background.

You are a starfighter pilot in operation "Wipeout". An enemy fleet is attempting to disrupt peace in the region by destroying the starbases which the good guys use as fuel and repair depots for their peacekeeping spacecraft. While the letter of the mission is to wipeout the enemy ships, (in the future the military doesn't come up with "creative" operation codenames like "Desert Shield" and "Restore Hope"), the more important task is to protect the starbases from being surrounded and then destroyed by enemy spacecraft. However, this is no easy task as your are seriously outnumbered and the enemy spacecraft are sometimes very difficult to destroy. This ain't Space Invaders. You must also worry about the various types of damage your spacefighter can sustain. For example, if your sub-space radio is destroyed you will not receive messages when a starbase is surrounded or when another one of your systems is damaged or destroyed. Your shields, photons, engines, computer, and long-range scanner can also be damaged or destroyed. You can repair your ship at a nearby starbase, but docking at a starbase is itself another one of the skills needed to successfully complete your mission. Successfully navigating hyperspace to even come close to a starbase is yet another difficult task that must be mastered before "Wipeout" can be brought to a successful conclusion.

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I could go on and on about the "pros" to Star Raiders, but what about the "cons"? What could anyone possibly not like about this game? The most legitimate problem with Star Raiders is the fault of the 5200 controller, not the game. Star Raiders utilizes every button on the numeric keypad in addition to the bottom fire buttons. It's simply difficult to find a controllers that works completely, and unfortunately, there are precious few buttons in this game that you can do without.

Regarding the game itself, some folks might think that the graphics and sound effects are crude, and they would be absolutely correct. However, I argue that the poor graphics do not at all detract from the game, and that the sound scarcity in this game is an asset, not a liability. The graphics and sound effects give Star Raiders a certain "feel" that goes a long way toward making it a great game. An antidote will demonstrate what I mean.

When I played Star Raiders as a kid, my three brothers played it with me as well. How can 4 people possibly play a one player game? Well, I would usually be at the controls, one of us would play the part of "damage control", and the other two would act as "space carpenters". The entire living room was of course our space ship. When we encountered enemy ships, the damage control officer would shout "Red Alert!" (Basically the damage control officer repeated aloud all of the messages on the screen). If we were hit by enemy photons, the space carpenters would usually lose their balance (have you ever tried carrying lumber in a spaceship under attack? it's not easy) and drop their lumber on my head. In actuality, the space carpenters' sole responsibility was to hurl the sofa cushions from our sectional couch at the heads of the pilot (usually me) and the damage control officer. If the enemies succeeded in destroying and/or damaging one of our systems, the damage control officer would of course shout out the nature of the damage and decide whether we should head for a starbase. We would played this game more than any other, and we would play it for hours at a time.

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Now, it could be that the graphics and sound effects were so poor that we had to augment the game with the addition of 3 other "players". In my opinion, the gameplay in Star Raiders is so rich, and the sparse graphics and sound effects create the mood of lonely, desolate space so well, that it's possible for kids to make up such an elaborate supplement to the game. Could you seriously imagine anyone doing such a thing for any other game, even the really good ones? Younger players are almost always the first ones to complain if a game has lousy graphics. However, none of us ever once thought, "boy these graphics suck, let's play Keystone Kapers instead." This has to be a sign that the graphics in Star Raiders do not at all negatively affect the game, and probably enhance it instead. In some games, good graphics try to hide a lack of game depth (Astro Chase comes to mind). Star Raiders is stripped virtually bare in the graphics department, yet shines nonetheless. Put another way, if Star Raiders were a person, he/she would feel comfortable in a nudist colony, whereas many games would be embarrassed to be seen without their clothes!

OK, I think you get my point, but even if you don't, this game is very easy to find, and usually not too expensive, so get it, download the instruction manual, find a working 5200 joystick and some sectional couch cushions, and invite a few friends over for a "Star Raiders" party as soon as you possibly can. Unless you are creatively challenged, you won't regret it. If you need any further proof of the complexity of this game, or want to find out how to play it, check out the manual in the "manual archive" section of this website.

Title Star Raiders
Publisher Atari
System Atari 5200 SuperSystem
Graphics 6
Sound 8
Gameplay 10
Overall 10
Reviewer Karlis Povisils

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