Just like their recent release of Yar’s Revenge, Atari seem intent on travelling even further back in time to plunder their back-catalogue for ideas. The original Star Raiders title was released for the Atari 800 in 1979 and has been long forgotten by just about everyone (save perhaps those who engaged in Microsoft’s ill fated Game Room). Now it’s truly been brought into the 21st Century for PSN and XBLA.
As with Yar’s, this version of Star Raiders is more of a re-imagining than a sequel. The evil Zylons (no, not Cylons, because they’re totally different) are threatening humanity and it’s up to the player to take control of part of the space fleet and fend them off. We say fleet, however it seems to consist of several large battleships but only the player’s small craft. It’s almost as if someone went batshit crazy with the military budget and built as many massive interstellar ships as they could, before suddenly realising they didn’t actually have any fighters to put in them. The end result is that, despite a very muddled intro-movie which depicts the player as part of a close-knit group of fighter pilots fresh out of the academy, the player will be engaging in interstellar dogfights alone against the seemingly endless hoards of Cyl… sorry, Zylons.
So it’s just as well that the ship is actually three in one, again proving that whoever was in charge of the purse strings for the space fairing Navy didn’t quite grasp the economics of building three separate ships, versus one expensive transforming one. The different modes include the standard fighter, a more streamlined version which is faster and more manoeuvrable, and a hovering configuration which is useful for breaking away from dogfights and strafing stationary targets like reactors or gun turrets. The player can switch between these as the situation dictates and each type can also be customised with different weapons. These are purchased by salvaging parts of destroyed enemies or mineral rocks and there’s even a ship AI to be upgraded to increase defence and accuracy.
For a large part of the game the missions involve guiding your craft around the stage and shooting enemy ships and gun batteries until you meet the quota needed to complete the level. In others you’ll be tasked to take down huge enemy Cruisers by destroying key parts, or required to protect your own warships so they can power up and escape. Regardless of mission structure it quickly becomes clear that all you’ll really be doing is twisting and turning through the vastness of space, attempting to shoot something, whether that something happens to be attached to a ship, attacking a ship or attacking your ship. And unfortunately it’s as simple as just holding down the fire button until you run out of ammo, at which point you can either resupply at a drop point or just burst into a fiery ball of death to gather more. Due to one of the most visible cracks in the game design, allowing infinite re-spawns, it’s actually easier to die rather than hoof your way across a stage to resupply.
It may control quite well and the space-vista’s are certainly eye catching, but Star Raiders biggest problems are caused by the culmination of some clumsy design choices. Couple the confusing map screen and button layouts for the menus with swathes of eye-achingly small text that’ll have you squinting at the screen like you should have gone to Specsavers, and it all stacks up against the title.
Ultimately it feels like the game falls between two ideas; it’s certainly not fast and loose enough to be an Arcade shooter, but neither is it complex enough to be something like EVE Online. It all leaves it rather aimless and mastering no particular aspect in the process.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that by three or four stages in it becomes massively repetitive and more than a little boring, meaning only someone who still longs to be in an episode of Battlestar Galactica (and uses the word `Frak` in general everyday conversation) will get something out of this. For everyone else it’s probably best leaving Star Raiders confined to whatever dusty, rose-tinted part of your mind it may have been confined to.