Strapped inside the cockpit of your starship, looking out into space, you see a star moving. After a few seconds of watching, the star turns into an enemy Basestar...and it has sent out its best starfighters to destroy you. Red alarms start to go off as your radar shows the enemy attempting to out flank you. An enemy starfighter appears right in your line of sight. You take the shot by firing your photon torpedoes. A direct hit!! Somehow you managed to miss the fire of another starfighter, which has started to come back at you again, while taking down the first starfighter. You line up the enemy in your crosshairs and fire. Seconds seem like minutes waiting to see if your aim was good. Another direct hit! The only thing to do now is to destroy that Basestar. You increase your engine speeds. Within seconds the Basestar is in your crosshairs and firing its weapons at you. You send blast after blast of photon torpedoes, some shots missing while others are hitting their target, until the Basestar explodes. With the area cleared you look at your Galactic Map and head for another sector with more approaching enemies. Your adventure in Star Raiders has just begun full force.
Appearing first on the Atari 400 and 800 home computers, the 5200 received one of Atari's most enduring and engaging space battle games ever created. For its time the game was way more advanced than any arcade game on the market and was one of the first space games that concentrated more on strategy than anything else. Star Raiders on the 5200 is absolutely brilliant. While it may not push the capabilities of the system to its limits it does make full use of the 5200's analog controls and immerses the player into a space battle they will not soon forget.
Compared to the simplistic style of Atari's joysticks on the home computers, and 2600 for that matter, the 5200's controls in Star Raiders allow for precise movement to help the player line up their shot. The more the joystick is moved in any direction the more the ship moves. The movement is very fluid like but effective and in the player's favor. Of course the game does pause when you need to take a break for whatever reason and Reset will take you back to the Mission Select screen where you can challenge the game at various difficulty settings.
Where the game can get complicated is with the keypad controls. This is the only game I am aware of that places the keypad on double duty. In SPEED MODE the keypad buttons correspond to the ship's traveling speed. For example; button 1 sets the starship's speed at 1. In CONTROL MODE the keypad becomes a mini-computer and control console. This is where the heart of Star Raiders lies. From view settings to setting shields and tracking controls to viewing the Galactic Map and activating Hyperspace to warp to other sectors are all done at the press of the corresponding button on the controller keypad. The keypad controls may take some time to get use to but once they are learned the game becomes easier to navigate.
The manual included with Star Raiders is a 35-page manual with only one page dedicated to a high score recording table. The rest is all about playing the game. This easily makes it the most documented instruction manual of any 5200 game, period. A lot of work went into making sure that not only did the game play good but that the player had enough information to learn how to play the game. Nothing was left out. Atari went so far as to tell how the score is calculated in the game.
Star Raiders is one of those games that set a new standard and could easily be declared one of the first space-style first-person shooters. The game play in Star Raiders is so intense, engulfing, enticing, and engaging, that after one round it's hard to avoid playing another round. Star Raiders, win or lose, leaves the player feeling satisfied. If it sounds like I am placing game above all others then you, my dear reader, would be correct.
You see, Star Raiders was one of the first titles I would pick up after the holiday season I got my 5200. At 7 years old I was kicking Zylon butt. For years I played this game more than any other until during a move it got lost. I managed to find one, new in the box, about 5 years or so ago. And I was overly excited. Star Raiders, unlike any other game, has been, and remains, my all-time favorite console video game. I like Mario, I enjoy Sonic, and I like my NES and love my Dreamcast, but Star Raiders on the 5200 is my main game. I've had the 8-bit version as well and, while it is essentially the same game, I prefer the analog controls on the 5200.
So for those that have wondered about this game before, and have never played it, try to pick one up new in the box. I know their are new copies still available somewhere. I mention new in box because you really need the keypad overlays and you might even need the instructions if you are new to this game. This game is a blast to play and I believe that fans of shumps are going to enjoy this ride.
Grab your 5200 controller, a sandwich and drink, and strap yourself in for one heck of a ride. Then join the rest of us Star Raiders in freeing the galaxy of unwanted Zylon scum! Welcome to the fleet, Cadet, and good luck! You're going to need it.