Star Raiders

Reviewed by Steve Pedler


Issue 28

Jul/Aug 87

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Atari Corp.
Colour monitor required

Shortly after the release of the first 8-bit Ataris, Atari themselves published a piece of software that was to revolutionise the computer game. This was Star Raiders since much imitated on other machines with varying lack of success a game which has been consistently voted one of the best ever written. Even today, many Atari owners would include it in a personal top three 'best games'.

I mention this ancient history to try and impress upon those readers new to the Atari community the special place Star Raiders has for us. At last, after a long wait, the ST version of this classic has appeared. How does it compare with the marvellous original?

When I first loaded up the game, I did so with a certain amount of apprehension. Would this be a much-enhanced version of the original taking into account the best features of the ST, or merely a completely different game relying on a famous name to sell? Fear not, this version is almost entirely faithful to the 8-bit original, with one or two minor changes that in general enhance the game play.

One very pleasant surprise came on reading the manual. The first instruction given is to make a backup copy of the master disk, and use the copy routinely. That's right, Atari have not copy-protected the disk in any way. For this I applaud them for, although it has never happened to me, there can surely be nothing worse than buying an expensive piece of software and then losing it through some disaster which is no fault of your own. If we want more software publishers to follow this line, however, I must beg and entreat ST owners neither to give away or sell pirated (i.e. stolen) copies of the game nor accept such a copy if it is offered to you. This has caused too much damage to Atari owners in the past for anyone to want to see it repeated on the ST.

Anyway, onto the game itself. The plot of Star Raiders is simple. You are one of the elite 'Star Raider' pilots of the Atarian federation, which is under attack from the Zycroids (any relation to the Zylons of the original?) a race of mutated robot creatures bent on destroying humanity. The aim is straightforward knock out all the Zycroid ships in your quadrant before they get you

'an all-time classic'

On loading the game (from the GEM desktop) you select the difficulty level using the mouse and then start the game. This is the only time the mouse is used, game control being entirely by joystick and keyboard, as in the original. Four levels of difficulty are available to you. As in the 8-bit version these are classed Novice, Pilot, Warrior and Commander. When the game commences the upper half of the screen shows a scrolling 3-D view out of the window of your starcruiser, with the lower half containing the control panel. This includes status lights for shields and weapons, a tally of the enemy destroyed and an external systems indicator showing you the current enemy vessel being tracked by your ship's computer. In the centre of the control panel there is the tactical display, which can operate in three modes galactic map, long range scanner and aft viewer. Those readers who have played the 8-bit version will recognise the similarity here, but one useful feature is that the use of a tactical display like this means that you can have both forward and aft views available simultaneously. The control panel is graphically very well done, as it is in many such games written for the ST.

Before you commence battle, it is advisable to turn on the onboard computer, which among other things displays the gunsight and provides a head up display of information about distance and bearing to the enemy ships. You should also turn on the shields, without which the ship will be blown to atoms within seconds of finding the Zycroids. This brings me to one point that is a little different to the original you don't actually have to go and look for the enemy, they come and find you! There are seven types of Zycroid craft, each with its own particular attack pattern. You don't see them all in the easier levels, but are only faced with the less dangerous ones. Graphically, the Zycroids are superb, all you would expect to see on the ST. In fact this is true of all the game objects from the meteors to the stunning rotating starbases to the victory flyby accorded to you if you destroy all the Zycroids. Did I forget to mention the starbases? Because your fuel is limited, and because you may sustain damage to vital systems in combat there are a number of starbases at which you can refuel and be repaired. The Zycroids will attempt to destroy the bases, but this should be prevented at all costs. There was a justifiable complaint about the 8-bit version that docking with the starbases was extremely tricky, but this is thankfully not the case here. The game sound effects are simple but adequate, and are spectacularly loud the room will reverberate if you turn the sound right up.

The quadrant of space you are in is divided into sectors, and you must use your hyperwarp system to move between them. The hyperwarp graphics are very realistic rather similar to that which you see in the 'Star Trek' movies. Unfortunately one feature of hyperwarp has been discarded in this version the need to steer through hyperspace in the higher levels. I don't know why this isn't there, it always added an extra dimension to the gameplay for the more skilled player. However an added feature with no counterpart in the original is something called the 'Emergency Atomics Unit'. Using this, which you can only do once between visits to a starbase, will destroy all the remaining Zycroids in the sector and warp you out of trouble fast. Again I'm not sure why this is present in truth I wouldn't have thought the game difficult enough to warrant this feature. That brings me onto my final point, concerning the overall difficulty of the game. On the 8-bit version I find Novice level to be easy, Pilot to be hard, and I can only survive for a minute or two at the hardest levels. I am not a particularly skilful player of this type of game, but on this version I can survive easily at Warrior level and even the hardest level of all isn't that troublesome. I just wonder if experienced game players might find this just a little bit too easy.

So there it is, the ST version of an all-time classic from Atari. If you know and love the original, you'll like this one too. If you own an ST but have never played Star Raiders this is your chance to find out why it has such a great reputation. Definitely one to add to your collection.