Review: Star Raiders

It seems that Atari is venturing down the retro path, what with titles such as Yar’s Revenge being remade for the current gen.

This trend is continuing with their latest title, Star Raiders, which originally launched back on the Atari 2600 (remember that one, kids?) in the late 70s.

The story sees you take control of a pilot brought in to help defend the human race against the ‘Zylons’. The most effective way to do this is by jumping into your spaceship, and blasting everything that moves…and even some stuff that doesn’t move; just blast everything in sight.

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Unfortunately the story is mainly told through reams and reams of text, which highlights the first main problem: The text is absolutely tiny. This may come across as overly critical, but when one struggles to read story progression, or even in-mission dialogue, then something is amiss. I found myself having to move right up to the screen to see what I needed to do, then retreat back to a distance that wouldn’t make health and safety shuffle uncomfortably.

The ship you pilot, however, is quite an interesting piece of kit, and had three main modes. ‘Attack’ is the quickest of the lot, designed for dogfighting, although it won’t take too many hits before going to the big scrap-yard in the sky. ‘Turret’ is extremely powerful and strong, but you are literally slowed to a strafing crawl.

‘Assault’ is a balance between Attack and Turret.

Unfortunately the tutorials for these different modes aren’t particularly useful as they consist of a few lines of barely legible text. Some actual tutorial missions would have been greatly appreciated, as the controls and weapons for the ship differ depending on what mode you are in.

Another area that could do with some more in-game explanation is when you have to recharge your ship. In particularly long missions you’ll find the ship’s energy becomes depleted, and you’ll have to seek out a station to recharge it. Once again it’s mentioned in some text, but I found that wasn’t the most helpful of methods and the first time my ship ran out of energy I was left floundering around helplessly whilst being bombarded from all sides.

Throughout the course of the many missions you will earn currency to spend on upgrading your ship. Your main focus will be on weapons, however there are various counter-measures you can buy to help avoid getting a missile up your exhaust pipe.

Sadly, it’s when joining the battlefield where Star Raider’s biggest problem comes to light; the game is extremely repetitive. The actual dogfighting is enjoyable with a decent sense of speed on display, and there is grim satisfaction to be had as you hunt down the nippy Zylon fighters and fire off a barrage of missiles, but the process of destroying the larger Zylon ships consists of slowly crawling along and blasting several generators.

Rinse and repeat.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it was a one off, but Star Raiders very rarely deviates from ‘destroy the fighters’ or ‘destroy the frigate’ formula, and you will soon tire of it.

Graphically the game looks quite nice in parts, although some more variety would have been nice. Yes, I know it’s set in space, but those who have played that level in Halo: Reach will understand just how gorgeous a space level can be.

Pros

  • Variety with the three ship modes
  • Looks nice for the most part
  • The foundation has been built for something much better

Cons

  • Repetition
  • Tiny text
  • The game needs a lot more mission variety
  • Poor tutorials

Star Raiders could have been very good. The foundation is there for a decent space shooter in terms of gameplay mechanics, but the mission repetition sucks almost all of the fun out of the game. A huge pity.

Score: 5/10

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8 Comments

  1. “the Atari 2600 (remember that one, kids?) in the late 70s.”

    Yes, yes i do.

    Don’t remember this game though. :(

    • I still have Star Raiders on the Original Shape Atari 800 computer :-) Classic game.

  2. I actually have this, its decent game… but maybe it could be so much more

  3. It looks like it could be so much more..

  4. i didn’t know this had been redone. I remember it being the game I wanted an Atari 400 (the 800 was way too expensive) for. However, as the review states, there’s not much to the game by today’s standards.

    Still, I will probably get this just for nostalga’s sake – I never got that Atari 400/800 either.. :-(

  5. Having played the original a lot across different platforms (probably still got my Speccy version around somewhere) my initial excitement at a new version passed quickly when I saw the first screenshots.

  6. Ouch.

  7. I have it for my Atari 400 on cartridge, great game btw, played it a couple of months ago!

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