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Major Havoc - The Atari Times

Major Havoc

Major Weird
by Darryl Brundage

January 6, 2005
Atari...Atari Atari Atari. They were one of the first video game companies ever (if not THE first), along with one of the first gaming consoles ever (with their hugely successful 2600), not to mention one of the earlier computers as well (the Atari 400). They were true innovators, boundary exceeders and rule breakers. And if you pick a handful of their arcade games throughout the years, like Lunar Lander, Battlezone, Missile Command, Sprint, Asteroids, Packrat, Gauntlet, Tetris, I, Robot, Gravitar, Centipede, Tempest, Rolling Thunder, Assault, Food Fight, Marble Madness, etc., etc., etc., not only are all of the games original and different, but none of them have anything in common with each other (except for several in that list being space-themed, I suppose)...except for the Atari name being the only thing linking them all together.

I give you, one of many examples of Being Different From Atari, Exhibit A (or, if you're going by my above list, would be Exhibit Q): Major Havoc.

Originally titled Alpha 1, this game is rather bizarre. It has a very good look with it's colored vector graphics (Vector Graphics, 197? - 1983 or so, R. I. P.), excellent control and sound effects, and the gameplay is pretty different as well...and I don't mean that in a bad way.

First off, you, Major Havoc (humph, sounds like a silly name for a rapper...or maybe even a heavy metal band) is a clone, which puts a spin on the usual story of being the lone crusader against an army, and blah blah. The gameplay is also divided up into several different sections, as well as changes in being presented, graphics-wise (I'll explain that in a minute, of course), and the goals you have to achieve throughout the game are also a bit strange as well.

The game begins with your spaceship entering into a space station's orbit, and while the computer is holding, on your readout, rather than monitoring oxygen levels, artificial gravity, and when the heck that porn video is going to finally finish downloading (ok, when this game came out, I'll admit the internet was barely around...), instead there is something on your display that looks suspiciously like a game of Breakout, of all things. O...k! You press the fire button, and it launches a ball, and, yeah, after a few screens of knocking out bricks, you're awarded with an extra life if you can hit 'em all. Yeah, that makes sense...oh well, again, Atari ingenuity there (plus it's an extra life for you).

Like I said earlier, at times, the way the game is presented gets changed, as you go from a 2-D to 3-D behind the ship perspective, as some kind of...attack...things emerge from the space station and start shooting at you. The reason I call them "things" is because they not only look like fish, but they have wings. Seriously! I don't know how this vector version element of the movie Piranha II ended up here, but whatever...you must destroy them all, and the way the flying fish flap around (I kid you not, and try saying that five times fast) is pretty neat.

After you turn them into (probably well done) fish sticks by blasting them all, there's a brief cinematic moment when your ship flies by the station, which the viewpoint then returns to 2-D, as you must guide your ship to a spot on the landing bay as it drops down to the station for docking, which a white line with two flashing lights at both ends are where you need to guide your ship; it starts out rather spaciously, then gets thinner as you progress through the levels, but you should never lose a life on this part by landing outside the line, since it's easy to do.

Once you make it inside, Master Major Havoc breaks into a phat rap beat...errr, runs around inside the station, where you must guide him to the reactor, and, for some reason, when you touch it, it triggers a self-destruct mode, and you must get off the ship before you join the fish things in the afterlife (good thing you're just a clone, since, if you wind up with them in hell, they're going to be pretty mad, I reckon). I guess you're like the creatures in the Alien movies, with acid for blood, or something, or maybe it's in your sweat glands, and it instantly corrodes the reactor...anyway, again, you're treated to a brief cinematic bit when your ship flies off and the space station blows up (whether you make it out in time or not). These little touches are many things that make this a really cool game.

Of course, things get more difficult the further you get into a game: the maze to the reactor gets larger and is full of peril, as robots will also appear and can either shoot you, or if you touch them without having your shield on, again, it's Fish Hell for you. Plus there's also rayguns and other traps, which can be triggered by stepping onto lit platforms. Luckily there's a jump button in order for you to avoid these platforms (these activate the traps, just like stepping on the wrong tile in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark could've resulted in Indiana Jones a La Shishkabob), but if you accidentally keep the button pressed down for too long and end up banging your head into the ceiling, you're going to fall straight down into the trap and probably end up losing a life (uhhh, "artificial life", maybe I should say, since you're a clone?).

And for your other line of defense, if you keep your shield button pressed for too long, you'll lose that as well (however, all of the controls respond really decently, at least), and little pockets of oxygen you can pick up along the way can also help you out so you don't run out of air and die. Plus, just getting TO the station gets difficult as well after a while, as some kind of giant maze will appear (? Like that huge sphere in that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that was found, along with Scotty from the original Trek series? Did he leave that behind to torment us with?) and certain pains in the butt also inhibit the maze (that look just like the equally annoying Fuseballs from Tempest), which will make your voyage to the station even harder, since you could crash into either one of them or a wall (I know *I* have plenty of times as I played this game over the years) as the maze scrolls on it's way to taking you to the station at the other end.

My only complaints would actually be addressed years later, where a guy made a version of Major Havoc and he plans on giving the game an ending, which is a nice thought (you can check it out on this page here), since it should've had one. Also, Major Havoc had no life outside of the arcades for two decades, as a version was reportedly planned for the Atari 400/800 computers [as well as the Jaguar - Ed.], but that never came to be, but the game was finally emulated (and really well, from what I hear) on Infogrames' Atari's 80 Classic Games, which is a must buy for Atari fans, or so I've heard through the (vector) grapevine.

After all, any game that, several levels into it, a message appears in one of the space stations that says "I can't believe you made it this far" really deserves to be preserved...among other many reasons why this unique game should be remembered. (Flying Guardian Fish Robots From Space, anyone? Hey, that sounds like it could've been an Ed Wood movie...)

And THAT egotistical message definitely sounds like a bad boy rapper's attitude, all right. Peace!

Such a cute play on words, don't you think?
Don't forget to play Breakout!
Time to get the heck outta Dodge before the place blows up!
Major Havoc
System: Arcade
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 90%
Sound & Music Score: 95%
Gameplay Score: 90%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 88%

Reader Comments for Major Havoc

Love it! by Adam on 2006-10-14 00:21:09
This is one of the best Atari games ever made. I love the vector graphics, I love the varied gameplay and the depth - it's hard not to love this game. One day I'll own a cabinet for myself. :D
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