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Since I've been playing them all over the last few days, I thought I'd give my list of my

favorite first-person space shooters. I should start by saying that Star Raiders on the Atari

800 is my all-time favorite video game on any system ever. And it has been since I first

played it way back in the 1980's. No other game has pulled me in like Star Raiders on the 800

did, making me feel like I really was flying around in a space ship fighting evil aliens. So,

for the 2600, a lot of what makes me like the space shooters there are how well they compare to

the original Star Raiders. Does this mean that the 2600 version of Star Raiders is my favorite

on that system? Not necessarily...


This is not an all-inclusive list of space simulations on the 2600; I know there are others.

But these are the ones that I tend to play the most and are my Top Five. Here they are in

descending order:


5. Star Voyager (Imagic)




Star Voyager is decent, but a bit plain. I love how you can select between lasers or photon

torpedos, although having to use the right dificulty switch to do it means that you can't do it

as quickly or as often as you might like. Besides which, I've never really figured out a good

strategy for using one over the other. Like most of these games, you can warp from one sector

to the next for your battles, however there is no "galactic map". Instead you simply warp by

flying through the star portals which appear, and you can't choose to navigate to different

sectors; you simply move to the next level.


The worst part of this game are the colored borders around the screen. I really HATE them!

They totally take you out of the simulation and remind you that you're playing a game and just

really seem out of place to me. Generally speaking the graphics on this game are the worst of

the bunch, simpler and more blocky.


Star Voyager (and all Imagic games) does get bonus points for the coolest box and cartridge

artwork. It also gets bonus points for having a couple of two-player modes, something none of

the others have.


4. Space Attack (M-Network)


s_SpaceAttack_1.png s_SpaceAttack_3.png


The Atari version of Intellivision Space Battle is fun and a good port of the original. Unlike

all of the other games in this list, in Space Attack you have more than one ship battling the

bad guys. In fact, you have fleets of ships that you must send out to meet the alien fleets.

When one of your fleets meets one of theirs, you do battle. Unfortunately, sending out your

fleets is much more complicated on the Atari than it is on the Intellivision, as the Intelly

version made good use of the keypad on the controllers. I wish the Atari version had shipped

with a keypad controller like Star Raiders did! That said, it is very fun to have to manage

the multiple fleets, especially with the "A" difficulty set which lets the computer manage some

of the battles while you're fighting others.


In battle mode, Space Attack is the least simulator-like of all of these games. The star field

is colorful (love that!), but static. Instead of moving through space, you simply move your

gunsight around the screen, avoiding the enemy fire when it turns red (if it touches your

gunsight, you lose a ship from your fleet). Learning to "lead" the enemy ships with your fire

takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty straightforward.

If you really like Space Attack, you need to play the original Space Battle on the

Intellivision. If you can handle the INTV's hand-cramping controllers, you'll enjoy that game

quite a bit.


3. Star Raiders (Atari)


starraiders_3.pngs_StarRaiders_2.png o_StarRaiders_1.jpg


Oh, I had such hopes for this game! Having loved the original version on the Atari 800, I knew

that this one wouldn't be as good (how could it be on the more limited 2600 hardware?), but I

figured it would come the closest. Plus, it shipped with the very cool Video Touch Pad (the

old Atari keypad controller with an overlay), which would make accessing the various features

much more easy than on the other games here, which all rely on the 2600's various console



So some of the features were changed or missing; the aft view (which I almost never used) and

the slick little animation where the astronaut floats out to meet you at the starbase. I can

live without those. And the galactic map is far smaller with many fewer sectors. But some

other changes seemed less necessary but more glaring. Your targeting crosshairs are now a long

horizontal line across the screen. And the flicker! Why so much flicker?? Far more than on

any of the other games here. Perhaps because Star Raiders tends to have a lot more on the

screen than the other games (except Phaser Patrol, but that's a different story...) Also, if

you read the manual, the backstory has been changed as well. You're now fighting "Krylons"

instead of "Zylons", for example. Weird.


One of my big problems with Star Raiders is the movement of the aliens. They seem to fly only

in loops, moving towards you and then back away, and hitting them is just a matter of timing

your left-and-right shots to intercept them. And while the movement of the stars across the

screen is very well done, overall everything seems just a bit too jerky and not smooth enough.

Again, I wonder if that's because of all the stuff on the screen at once. Trying to emulate

the original a little too closely may have been the problem here.


In fact, that may really be my biggest issue with the game. It's too easy to compare it to the

original and it suffers for it. Taken for what it is, it is very fun, it does a good job of

simulating space battles and has most of the features I love on the original. You have to

protect your space stations by attacking the aliens closest to them, you have to manage your

energy reserves and dock to replenish them, and you can lose or damage systems like your

shields or targetting computer and engines.


2. Phaser Patrol (Starpath)




It seems almost unfair to include Phaser Patrol, since it requires the Starpath Supercharger,

which gives the game more RAM and better graphics to use. It has as much detail on the screen

as Star Raiders, however none of the flicker. It also uses the extra memory to good effect,

with a much larger galactic map (including sectors where you have no knowledge of what's in

them until you warp to them), and a gorgeous colorful starfield in the battle mode. Sadly, the

stars don't fly past your cockpit in this game, but they do scroll left and right and up and

down as you fly around.


Of all of these games, Phaser Patrol is probably most similar to the original Star Raiders (as

well as to the 2600 version) with a sector map, long range scanner, a targeting computer, and

shields; and it has the coolest Atari 2600 animation I think I've ever seen as you activate or

deactivate your shields! The shields slowly collapse from the top and bottom of the screen,

making the black of space look dark grey instead. It's a really need effect.


The targetting computer is also more advanced here, giving you the distance to the aliens as

well as the ability to "lock on" to one of them. If you fire when the torpedo sight turns red,

your torpedos will chase the aliens across the screen to hit them.


Really the only negative about this game is the fact that the starfield doesn't whiz past your

cockpit as you fly. Had they included that effect, I think this game would be number one on my



1. Starmaster (Activision)


s_Starmaster_2.png s_Starmaster_4.png


Now, I admit that Starmaster probably has the most sparse graphics of all of these games.

Activision definitely kept it simple on this game, but it works very well. In fact, so well

that this is my favorite of the bunch.


Like the others, you have a galactic chart as well as your cockpit view. And you have aliens

from which you must protect your starbases. You do have shields, but no way to turn them on or

off manually, and there is no change in the graphics to indicate when they're off, except an

"S" which appears on your damage computer. But, like the other games, you never really want to

turn them off, so this is not an issue for me.


The graphics are sparse, as I said, but very smooth and fast. There aren't many stars to see,

but they whip past your cockpit as you fly. The aliens as well whip around the screen as they

shoot at you and dodge your fire, occasionally coming close to you (making them much easier to



Much of Starmaster is a pure shoot-em-up with fast gameplay and graphics, but you do have to

use some strategy, particularly managing your energy reserves and trying to kill of the enemies

closest to your starbases. If you lose all your energy or all your starbases (or take a hit

without shields), it's game over. In gameplay, I think Starmaster stands up best to the

original Star Raiders, even if it doesn't match it feature-for-feature, and for this reason it

is my favorite of the bunch.

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Very nice post! I also like these first-person space simulators/shooters and I agree with your rankings, except Star Raiders would be in last place for me since I've never taken the time to figure out what the heck is going on in that game! I guess that's not completely fair, but I've never been a fan of overly-complicated games.

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Good post and good review.


I am still a big fan of Phasor Patrol. Like you, Star Raiders is definetely a favorite and one of the very reasons I wanted and Atari 8bit in the first place.


Star Voyager IMHO is a bad game and surprised me that it was so bad because Imagic had a good rep with me at the time.




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I never played Phaser Patrol (unfortunately) but I agree that the others are great shooters.

In fact, the Atari 2600 will always be my favorite system for shooters - expand that list to include shooters such as Demon Attack, Phoenix, River Raid, Spider Fighter, Asteroids, and Seaquest and you have shooter heaven.

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Great post. I like your top five as well, with Starmaster as my favorite as well. I'd like to try Star Fire. It looks like it might be a great game, worthy of this list.

I also like the shooters mentioned by chuckwalla above, and the ones that are in between the space shooters and chuckwalla's shooters (Radar Lock and Solaris).

The 2600 has such a great selection of games.

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Thanks everyone for your kind words about my reviews. As I said originally, my list wasn't meant to be all-inclusive, but I did go back and play a few of the other games mentioned.


Star Ship / Outerspace: Obviously this game is very primative, in graphics, sound, and gameplay. I suppose it's a decent port of the arcade game, although it has been so long since I've seen that one, I can't be sure. Didn't the original use a vector display? The Atari port has horrible graphics, especially the starfield, which just look like randomly moving white squares. And the game itself, like the original, is very simple: Just shoot down aliens, most of which look like they came from Star Trek, to collect points.


Star Fire: Excellent homebrew! I wish I had the coding skills to do something like this. It has great graphics, too, especially with multiple aliens on screen at once with very little flicker. The warp effect and the title screen and slick, too. But unfortunately, this game resembles Star Voyager a bit much for my tastes. There really isn't any strategy required; you just blast away at the aliens and then find a portal to go to the next round. It also has the color screen border like Star Voyager, which I really dislike as it takes me out of the simulation. That all said, it is very impressive, especially for a homebrew.


Solaris / Radar Lock: These aren't quite first-person simulators since you see your ship / plane on the screen, but they are pretty cool. Solaris is crazy complex, maybe too complex with all of the various types of aliens and worlds involved. I think I need to spend some more time with it.


I sure do wish I had the coding skills to build one of these types of games myself. There are bits and pieces from all of them I'd "borrow":


- I love the notion of sending out fleets to do battle, so I'd copy this from Space Attack, only I'd use a galactic map more like Phaser Patrol. Perhaps each starbase could have it's own fleet to send out.


- Star Fire seems to do the best with multiple on-screen aliens flying around, although Phaser Patrol does too. I would definitely want to be able to battle more than one alien at a time (unlike Starmaster).


- I do love Starmaster's lasers better than the torpedos of the other games, so I'd want them, although I do like how you can lock on to an alien in Phaser Patrol and have your torpedo follow it to kill it. Perhaps you could have lasers for most of your shots, but when you've locked on to an alien (with the gunsight turning red), you would shoot a torpedo instead that follows the alien for the kill.


- From Space Attack, I'd borrow the idea of an exploding alien being able to take out other aliens.


- I love the moving stars from Starmaster and Star Raiders, but I'd make them colorful, like Phaser Patrol and Space Attack.


- The shield effect from Phaser Patrol is amazing, so we've got to have that, but I think I might make it blue, like in Star Raiders.


- And I would love to make the Video Touch Pad usable in the game, with a great custom overlay to mark the buttons for turning on and off your shields, computer, galactic map, etc.


So which awesome programmer wants to make this happen??? :)

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I've only played Starmaster, Outer Space, and Star Voyager, but I've seen online video I think for the others. I think Starmaster is the best too. You're talking about not only shooter but shooter/simulator which to me means there's a strategic element involved, with the map or whatever. Outer Space, Star Fire, don't really have that. I think Star Voyager has it but it's been a while.


Starmaster was very smooth, with a lot of that trademark Activision style, and did the strategic element well without needing a keypad.


Outer Space, heh heh. Well, it tries. It was 2K after all. Little known fact: Outer Space has a distinct lunar lander implementation among the 17 or whatever it was numbered "games" stated on the cartridge.

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