Format reviewed: Atari 8-bit
Developer: Douglas Neubauer
Submitted by: Anthony Staude
Star Raiders is one of those games that static screenshots don't do the game justice. You have to see it in action to appreciate what the game is all about – after all – it's the very first 3D space combat game ever. A predecessor to great games like Elite, Frontier and many others.
Loosely based on the popular Star Trek type games, Star Raiders does away with the visually unexciting text only screens and throws you into the pilot seat of your starfighter to battle the enemy face to face.
Star Raiders must have been both incredibly exciting yet seemingly complex to the average gamer back in 1979 when it was released. This was at a time when the average game required the player to use a joystick with one or two fire buttons.
The aim of the game is defeat the enemy Zylon fleets which have invaded your system. Using the galactic chart, hyperspace to a sector and defeat the Zylon fleets within. Fleets vary in composition with the various types of Zylons employing different tactics to thwart your effots. Certain combinations of Zylons make for some gruelling space combats!
The player's starfighter is limited in energy – everything that you do uses it up including moving, shooting and using your shields. This forces the player to plan their attack on the Zylons in an efficient manner – using precious energy conservatively.
Star Raiders was a game that amazingly was crammed into an 8KB cartridge. Whilst the graphics and sound would now be considered basic at best, they are very good at what they do – representing some serious battles out in deep space.
There's a nice star field the zooms towards you and swings around as you turn. The lasers shoot out like fireballs, making nice use of the Atari's sprites. The Zylon ships appear in the distance and zoom closer are you approach.
I love the game, it's very atmospheric and great to play on a big-screen TV with the sound up. Fun to come back to again and again and quite challenging on the higher difficulty levels.
Interestingly, Douglas Neubauer went on to make Solaris for the Atari 2600 which has common gameplay mechanics to Star Raiders. Although considered to have inferior video hardware, the Atari 2600 version of Solaris features graphics which were arguably nicer than Star Raiders on the Atari 800.