I remember getting Star Raiders for a present back in 1982. The first thing that comes to memory was how the box was a bit bigger and heavier than most of the 2600 carts we had bought. When I opened the package, along with the game and manual was a giant touch pad. I thought, “How cool is this?” After I started the game and realized I had to have at least 3 hands to work the joystick, red button, and pad, I knew I was in trouble.
Star Raiders was originally released a couple of years earlier for the Atari 8-bit computers. An original 1st-person space sim/shooter that took advantage of the keyboard to do many things such as commanding shields, weapons, warp drive, etc… This is the reason for the touch pad, and it was a pain in the ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love peripherals, but if I can’t play an Atari 2600 with 1 joystick/1 button…I don’t want it.
The game itself is a bit boring. Just a grid “Galactic Map’ and the 1st-person space view with the target reticule in the center. The “stars” flying past you are a nice touch, and they’ll move as you do, left and right (or in space, there’s no such thing as left or right, I guess).
Ships will appear as you reach their grid quadrant, but seem to just randomly appear. Sometimes, the only way you know they are there is when they shoot you. When this happens, there is the typical 2600 sound-effects, but cool red flickering to let you know you have taken damage. You can repair and replenish your constantly-draining energy. Keep your close eye on the energy numbers dwindling at the bottom of the screen, because if it gets to zero…game over.
Depending on the difficulty you choose, you may have to defeat as many as 40 ships to complete your mission. The ships are the basic 2; one that looks like a Klingon Bird-of Prey, the other a Tie Fighter turned on its side. You have phasers and photon torpedoes at your ready, unless you take specific damage to them, then repair (at starbases) will be necessary. This game is a bit repetitive, and the difficulty is ramped high, with special mention in the “Activision Decathlon Hall of Fame of Joystick Snappers” as you wrench on it to try and keep the alien ships in your sights.
Overall, I appreciate what Atari tried to do here, and I had fonder memories of the game before I tried to play it again. I respect the game for being a pioneer in the genre, but I think it tried to do too much, taking a lot of fun out of it. I need more action and less Starfleet Academy work. Not a bad game, just not a very good one either.