Stellar Track - The Atari Times
A turn-based strategy game for the 2600?!
by Darryl BrundageFebruary 14, 2014
Stellar Track was a game that I didn't think got its fair shake, not being very well-liked by gamers in general, as most of them wanted more action in this turn-based (! Yes, not a lot of those kinds of games for the 2600!) sci-fi game. Granted, I'll admit that there are elements that make it terribly unfair, and some of it's overly complicated, but this is a good, thinking man's strategy game, although some luck (the Force?) is also needed to win as well.
As per the usual story, it's just you, as one ship, against an army of aliens. However, the differences between this and any other game was made readily clear upon turning on your Atari back in the day and TEXT appeared onscreen to choose how many aliens you have to destroy in a certain amount of time! (Ok, actually the first thing that made this different was going over to Sears to buy it in the first place back then, as Atari had to release several Sears-only exclusives as part of their deal with them, and this was one of them. But Atari still made it though, even though it says Sears on it.)
After choosing your initial setup of time and aliens to hunt down (I'll touch on that later), you're presented with all kinds of tactical information to deal with and duties to perform, such as warping your ship around, checking displays, and firing weapons. Numbers on the starmap will indicate if there's enemy ships and/or starbases in nearby sectors.
So, this is where things get complicated already, since, if you don't immediately start the game off with an alien in your sector (which sometimes that'll happen) that you'll have to kill, you'll have to warp to the nearest area that does contain the evil doers. Warping (and firing weapons) is accomplished via choosing a direction on your joystick: if you want to warp your ship straight up, that's position 1, and it follows clockwise from there: 2 is up and to the right, 3 is right, 4 is down and to the right, etc.
Once you've made it to a sector containing aliens, you automatically get pounded on by them once you switch to the short range scanner to view the sector, then it's YOUR turn: firing phasors is a good sweep of a weapon if there's several aliens close by, but they take up energy (which you start off a game with 3000 energy units). Photon torpedoes don't use any energy, but you can only fire them in one of the eight joystick directions, plus there can't be a star in the way or it'll absorb a torpedo (which, in the meantime, once you move again, the aliens will get another round to attack you) and you only get nine torpedoes as well.
Once the aliens are cleared out of a sector, it's time to check your long range scanner for the next closest batch of bad guys to be blammed to space dust and head in that direction. Like I said, it's just you and you alone to finish the job, which I don't see how appealing this would look at the offset...
Stern-looking Starfleet officer: It's just you against an army of hostile aliens, you're armed with only a few torpedoes and some energy, and they ALWAYS will get to attack you first when you engage in battle.
You: Sounds great sir! Where do I sign up?
SLSO: ...after you go to Sears first.
You: I'm your man!
SLSO: You feeling ok son?
So basically you must figure out a strategy in order to make your way throughout a galactic sector and wipe out all the aliens before running out of Stardates. Because you see, with every turn you take and every sector you warp to, you lose a Stardate...hence why it's a good idea to choose a game where you get slightly more Stardates to begin with than aliens (i. e. like 55 Stardates with only 50 aliens to dispose of is a good idea, unless you don't want a game that long...say maybe 34/30 or something like that).
You: Oh...I didn't realize that.
Plus you're going to take damage in the game, which takes even more time to deal with. Lets say you get banged up a bit during a melee, and your Status says that your long range scanner is at a -4 as far as damage goes. That means it'll take four Stardates before it's working again. Engine damage is even worse since you can hardly move at all, yet you're wasting Stardates until they're fixed.
You: Oh, crap...
And you've got no engineer Scotty from Star Trek to help you out; guess he was on leave trying to pursue one of the few green babes Captain Kirk hadn't gotten his hands on first. Granted, there's two starbases somewhere in every galactic sector that will replenish your torpedoes and energy and fix any damage you may have though, at least.
And...those GRAPHICS really helped with the game though, right? Eh, not really, as stars are represented by the best graphics for the 2600 of that time, which...looked like giant, static asterisks. Oh boy, you could just FEEL the futuristic sci-fi vibes there! The rest were just overhead views of ships and did an ok job at that, but they were also a bit plain. Sounds were few and adequate (explosions), but they were also a bit annoying. Control's fine but kind of slow in choosing directions and all.
And like I admitted earlier, there were a few things that made this game unfair, like when you're doing decently, it looks like you'll get to the end of the game and actually find out how it ends once you've destroyed all the aliens with a few Stardates left over (you'll earn a ranking at the end)...and then you take like a -7 damage on your engines...which you've only got four stinkin' Stardates left in order to make it to the last enemy sector. So that's a big load of crap.
Also, the game's a bit overly-complicated, since there doesn't really need to be a galactic map and long range scanner (the galactic map shows where you've been, whereas the long range scanner just shows the sectors around you). You must also check your short range scanner to make sure there isn't a star in your way as well, lest you waste a precious Stardate when you want to warp to another sector, but a star's in your flight path. So that's annoying having to check that all the time.
You: Oh, screw Sears then! I'm going to Target instead.
Also, once you've selected a number and pressed the button, it's too late, there's no way to change it, so if you entered the warp factor of 7, when you meant it to be one, tough luck, you've just wasted six of your Stardates (or if you entered your phasor strength or photon torpedo path incorrectly, you're screwed either way).
Even though it'll never happen (since I'm one of the few people who actually liked this game), it'd be nice if Stellar Track was re-released and given a bit of a makeover, like having the original game included as part of a retro/Atari package, then an update with better sounds and graphics, made a little simpler (i. e. get TWO scanners down to one!), cinematics of stuff being blow up, and remapped and redone controls, like being able to back up and correct an incorrectly entered number. And then have some features like being able to boss around a personnel member or two in order to fix problems quicker, rather than being pounded all the time, and possibly being able to strike FIRST occasionally once you enter a sector, rather than the aliens always getting the jump on you!
But of course, Infogrammes (I still refuse to call them "Atari" after all these years) hasn't been able to get a lot of their own compilations running correctly as it is, so no point in my holding my breath over something like this.
In cyberspace, can anyone hear me scream?
This was one of the first games we got for the 2600. I would keep resetting the game until I found a combination of a lot of Star Dates and Enemies but more importantly more Star Dates than Enemies. This would provide a long game but more importantly enough energy to jump around the whole map with some margin of error in case some battles didn't go well.
This still ranks as one of my Top 5 Atari 2600 Games after all these years.
Yep, you've got the strategy down: press reset until you get several more Stardates than enemy ships to deal with!
Wow, nice to hear it ranks so highly with SOMEONE!
Considering that this is a port of an old Star Trek BASIC game, it isn't bad.