Capitalizing on the Star Wars / Star Trek phenomenon of the time, Atari's Star Raiders is a first-person strategic space warfare game, originally for the Atari 8bit 400/800 computer line. It was so popular among Atari computer owners that the classic gaming publication Electronic Games had it listed as readers' top computer game for nearly 2 years straight! Many people bought an Atari 8bit computer solely for this game.

You assume the role of a Star Raider, the Earth Federation's most elite fighting unit, defending space stations from the alien Zylons and their variety of space craft. The Zylon Fighters resemble TIE fighters and attack up close and fast. Zylon Cruisers could be mistaken for Star Trek Klingon Birds of Prey, and the Zylon Basestars are equipped with shields, so you have to fly fast to keep up with them, get close, and keep blasting to defeat them.

The game begins with you checking your Galactic Chart, an 8x16 grid which shows the galaxy divided into sectors. Fleets of enemy Zylons, in groups of 2, 3, or 4 ships, will shift around and attempt to surround your starbases to destroy them. You must use strategy in managing your hyperspace destinations, amount of energy, and battle tactics to protect starbases, destroy all enemies, and earn the best rank you can in the progress. Playing on the Novice setting and getting a Pilot rank is not difficult; earning a Warrior or Commander rank is an entirely different game. (Note that if you forget to activate your shields, you are immediately destroyed and demoted to Garbage Scow Captain!)

When I first played Star Raiders, I was amazed and a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of controls and on-screen readings. Your ship has 10 velocity settings (selectable in "speed mode"), and in "control mode" you can select fore, aft, or long range views, and also turn on/off your shields, attack computer, Galactic Chart, and invoke hyperspace at will. The game really sucks you in and you can almost pretend that it is you doing the dogfighting. Control is fine on the 5200, however you use every button on the controller keypad, and each button has 2 functions depending on whether you are in Speed Mode or Control Mode. Thus, the controller overlays are invaluable with 5200 Star Raiders -- try to get them with your copy of the game!

There is one little 'attention to detail' that I must mention. When you need repairs or energy, you must hyperspace to a friendly starbase sector, find it using your ship's readings, and get close enough to establish an orbit. Then you wait as a shuttle flies from station to your ship with your supplies! This little detail was icing on the cake back when Star Raiders was new, and still brings a smile to my face.

Visuals and sounds are average and rather bare-bones, but they are simply NOT the focus of Star Raiders. You don't really think about them, instead you get sucked into to joys of dogfighting Zylons as star fields fly by your ship. Part of the reason for simplified visuals and sounds is that this was a very early Atari 8bit computer game, and it had to fit into 8K of code! I think that Star Raiders is an awesome game, full of never-ending strategies and fast, fun space battles, and is overall much more rewarding than SEGA's Star Trek on the 5200. Recommended!

You can read an interesting interview with Doug Neubauer, the designer of Star Raiders, by clicking right here.

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