Atari continues the year of the classic remake (still working on a more clever title) with their latest old school game to get a modern make over; Star Raiders. Much like their previous efforts, Yar’s Revenge, Star Raiders didn’t have a whole lot of source material in the 8 bit original to inspire the remake and this of course has some asking if there was really any point in having these pilots fly again or if they should have been permanently grounded. Much like the shifting forms of the fighter your pilot, the end result is a mix of different elements.
Now a moment of full disclosure, about 75 percent of the time I know what I plan to rate a game mid-way through playing. Sometimes that final number changes a bit, but never much more than by a point or two. Star Raiders had me wondering the whole way through what I would finally settle on, and almost every time I felt like I knew, I would end up completely changing my opinion. This is an incredibly difficult game to rate fairly, and even harder to write about. Depending on what you want to focus on you will come up with wildly different views of the game and so with that in mind I am going to do my best to explain what my experience was with Star Raiders and then even if my score seems off, you might still be able to figure out if it is worth your time.
I typically start off my review by discussing how the game looks, sounds and otherwise appeals to our senses, and this time will be no different, but there isn’t much to say. The game does look pretty good for what it is. Most environments are just areas of space with some floating debris and some various enemy ships to take on, but not the most complicated or intricate look to design, but like I said, it looks good for what it is. The targeting system is screwy at times, with the user switching between targets but with all targets highlighted on the screen in some way. Unfortunately not much is revealed in the way they are highlighted so often you may end up firing on a gun when you want to fire on a power core or vice versa, but for the most part this is fairly easy to manage. The only dialogue to speak of is a few short comic based cut scenes that make up the game’s short narrative and it isn’t bad or particularly good. Beyond that the sound effects and music are all agreeable and you won’t be squinting to read the text like in a couple of Atari’s most recent releases. Overall, the game looks and sounds good, but not great.
The game’s story, as I mentioned previously, is short and based on a couple of comic cut scenes. There are so few of these that most only appear towards roughly the 2nd half of the game and I actually found myself wondering why they even bothered with the opening scene for probably the first hour and a half of game play before the 2nd appeared. Single player has you working your way through 30 sectors of a galaxy, spread over 10 levels made up of 3 sectors each. Only the first sector of each level (marked with the level number and the letter A) is really crucial to the story in any real sense, but the first few don’t feel very different from the other, effectively side missions of the level. Ultimately though, you play a pilot fresh out of academy who is flying around kicking some invading alien butt. There are some other characters introduced in the comic scenes, but most are otherwise non-existent in the game.
Gameplay is where Star Raiders really starts to get hard to peg. The first half of the game is largely indistinguishable from level to level. It is just incredibly repetitive. This certainly picks up towards the end, as you are no longer care about collecting ore for upgrades and missions with objects that are more than just “kill everything” are more frequent. (Although in many of these missions the objectives are not clearly marked) Controlling the ship’s 3 forms has a serious learning curve as well. Once you get the hang of it you will still have some issues, but with a little time you’ll be switching modes and feeling a little bit like Luke in his X-Wing. The three forms are Turret, Assault and Attack. Turret is very slow moving with a limited range but incredibly powerful and with an optional secondary attack that will disable the giant enemy ships leaving them easy pickings. The Assault is more maneuverable with a larger range but still slow as hell. Assault is great for navigating tight spaces or picking off turrets and power cores on large targets, plus it has slightly better aim than the Attack mode since it is more stationary. Attack is the closest thing to a true “star fighter” in the game. While still useful in a dogfight or when in you need to move quickly, the control scheme (all based on the left stick which basically allows you to rotate and go up or down but not left or right) is frustratingly difficult to control and horribly inaccurate.
Your ship powers everything with energy rather than amo counts. This means that theoretically missiles are unlimited so long as you maintain your energy level. Platforms accompany your ship in each level that will recharge your weapons, but not your shields, mid battle. Death is ultimately inconsequential as you simply respawn and with exception of one part of the very last level, will lose no progress in any sense of the word. (In fact, if you run out of energy it may actually be quicker to just die than go and recharge plus you get your shields back.) This is a good thing though as your shields were apparently made by the lowest bidder; they crap out on you quick and more often than not bumping into another ship, even at very low speeds, results in massive loss. Most levels are more than capable of being beaten without a respawn though.
What makes this so odd is that once you have a feel for the ship and its’ modes flying around is actually kind of fun and a bit challenging. More than once I found myself thinking about Rogue Squadron or Star Fox 64 while piloting the ships and chasing down an enemy fighter; and trust me that is a fantastic comparison to make. Meanwhile, the game’s levels are painfully repetitive and boring in nature, it is no joke that probably 20-25 of the 30 levels consisted of “destroy all the enemy ships” and not much else. Each of these levels were constantly walking that line between the relative fun of piloting the ship and taking down enemies with, well doing that over and over till it wasn’t as much fun anymore. There was definitely a paradox between the two halves of the game. In this regard, Star Raiders may not be best played in one sitting. You’ll likely want to spread it out anyway since once the game is beaten there isn’t much else to do. You can’t replay levels without just starting the game over and there isn’t a harder difficulty to play it at (and with the endless lives it wouldn’t really matter anyway). You also purchase all the upgrades long before the end of the game so there isn’t even a “grinding” aspect to consider.
In the end, Star Raiders has some fun aspects to it that saves playing the game to completion from being a textbook case of sadomasochism. Flying the ship and dog fighting is fun once you’ve gotten the hang of it and the 2nd half of the game with more mission-oriented levels is drastically superior to the first half’s mindless mission design. The other side of the game is a series of boringly repetitive missions that barely differ from one another and some serious control issues with at least one of the ship’s modes. In short, it is a good idea with large areas suffering from poor execution.
Final Rating: 6.5/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: ~4 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: 180/200
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Atari
Current Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10)
Recommend Purchase Price: I might consider suggesting it at 400 MSP.
We know you need some more space warfare in your life and Atari has been kind enough to give us an extra download token (code) so that we can give one of you a copy of Star Raiders! Please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Comment below on this review and tell us what your favorite Atari game is. It can be from any console, any generation, so long as it is a game made by Atari!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
@ClearanceBinRev is having another contest and is giving away Star Raiders for #XBLA! Details: http://bit.ly/jkyyUn
Remember that you have to follow us; any winner we attempt to DM via Twitter who isn’t, automatically forfeits their win. If you enter via Twitter include your twitter name in your post below, winners who have their twitter listed will receive their codes immediately after winning.
Third Entry: Like our Facebook page and then simply like the post on our wall for this article. Simple as that. (Keep in mind the article may be lower on the Facebook page towards the end of the contest and it may take a minute or two to post on FB)
Contest will go until Fridayy at 8pm CST. A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected from and the winners will be notified. CBR reserves the right to disqualify any entry we feel either violated the rules or spirit of the contest, including attempts at duplicate entries. Winner selected with no twitter name provided will be notified by email and have 24 hours to respond. We do not announce the names of contest winners, but do encourage them to post about their win.