Air Raiders - The Atari Times
An air combat simulator that's made simple, thanks to M-Network.
by Rob AdairSeptember 10, 2007
When you think of a flight combat simulator game, one of the last places you'd think to look is on the Atari 2600. Many would say that doing something like that would be next to impossible. But like they say, nothing is truly impossible. In fact, there was a high-quality game released called Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator, released during the last few days of the Atari 2600. The game was high quality, but also very complicated in that you had to use every switch on the console to play it to the fullest extent. Makes you wish they'd made a keyboard add-on for the Atari 2600, if not a two-button controller!
Flash back to 1982, when games were still about simplicity and fun, when the goal wasn't to reach the end of a loooooong game, but rather to see how long you could survive while the game adjusted to your skills, getting more and more advanced as you went on. M-Network, a branch of Mattel Electronics, had started releasing their own games for the system. One of these was a game called Air Raiders, which also had a first-person cockpit view, but unlike Tomcat, this game featured simpler graphics and gameplay. Even then, it was still a solid title for its day.
Now I will say that the graphics, while they do give you a first person view, they aren't very detailed. The air strip that you take off from and land on is just a grey strip with white poles on either side. It does end, but you won't see it coming; Instead, you have to take off within a short time limit (I don't know the exact limit,) or else you will crash. When you're up in the air, the ground becomes blank, with no distinctive features whatsoever. The enemies you shoot at are black planes that go sideways usually in a formation. The fact that they're facing perpendicular to you doesn't stop them from shooting at you. Maybe they could've made the sprites in one direction so it looks more like they're coming at you instead? Meanwhile, enemy flak sometimes gets fired at you, which appears as red bursts on the screen. Oh, and when you do crash, whether you take off too son, run off the runway, or take too many hits, there's nothing really spectacular. The screen shakes, along with the appropriate sound, and then your cockpit goes black.
The sounds are on par for an Atari 2600 game. The explosions are well done, especially the one that occurs when you crash, and the sound of your guns firing are fairly realistic (for the time anyway.) You can also hear the sound of your fighter getting deeper or higher when you ascend or descend. There's no real music to speak of, though, but that's to be expected.
Instead, put your stereo on and play 'Danger Zone' by Kenny Loggins, and you'll be set!
The object of the game is like this: You are the top pilot of a fighter jet, and the enemy's been seen nearby. Your mission is to take off, shoot down as many as you can while avoiding their shots and flak. Of course, you will need to monitor your fuel and ammunition remaining (both of which start at 99, with your ammo going down every few shots, while fuel decreases constantly in the air.) Naturally if you run low, you need to land to reload and refuel. The catch here is you have to shoot down at least ten enemies before you're allowed to land. In addition, the amount of ammunition you're given is equal to the amount of enemies you downed during your last time up. This is why you have to make your shots count. If you're a good enough pilot, odds are you'll be able to go back into the air several times if you make your shots count carefully. This adds a unique challenge to the game, and makes it a lot more interesting if you ask me.
Yes, it's a flight simulation game with only one button. You press the button to start your takeoff, and then once you're airborne, the button switches to your guns. The joystick controls your fighter like a real plane, in that pulling back on the joystick ascends, and vice-versa. The only complaints I have here are that it's easy to try to take off only to crash because you didn't pick up enough speed, and finding enemies takes a bit of time, and even then when you find them, it's hard to keep track of where they're going. An indicator of some sort for these two flaws would make things a bit better. As it is, though, it's still easy to control, even if you're picking it up and playing it for the first time.
In the end, Air Raiders is a solid shooting game from M-Network, and it's proof that big things do, indeed, come in small packages (or is that cartridges?) It may not be full 3D, but it's still a lot of fun. In addition, the simple controls make it easy for just about anyone to fly the unfriendly skies. It's truly a solid title worth playing at least once.
There's no Lost Ark in this game. Don't forget to PULL UP! I'm going to get you now!
Graphics Score: 60%
Sound & Music Score: 75%
Gameplay Score: 100%
Control Score: 90%
Final Score: 80%
This was probably the best game that M-Network made for the Atari 2600. Much better than their Kool-Aid Man.