An Apology: Star Raiders
I’m going to come clean from the start of this; I didn’t finish Star Raiders. Well, more to the point, I couldn’t finish Star Raiders. When I say that I couldn’t finish the game, I mean that I experienced something playing this game that I have never experienced before, that being an actual headache, brought on by the game itself. I have never in my life played a game so intent on destroying me as I have Star Raiders. Now, rather than the typical “this, but that” breakdown that you’re likely accustomed to, I’m going to tell you three of the things Star Raiders does wrong.
Point 1 – Graphics that make it impossible to see where you are going.
Allow me to set the scene. You’re travelling through a completely black cave, with no means of telling where you are going, save for some sparse yellow markings on the walls. To make matters worse, the rest of every wall looks the same as the blackness you’re trying to make it through. Now imagine scouring said cave for a small blue doohickey, and then having to escape the very same cave. That was a mission in Star Raiders, and it sounds as horrible as it was to play. Now, not every mission in the game is set in the horrible blackness of caves. Most just take place in regular old space. Aside from some interesting looking planets, it’s pretty hard to make a game set in space that doesn’t look like a bunch of tabletop miniatures on a spray-painted background. Star Raiders looks at this trap dead on, and then flings itself into it with reckless abandon. There isn’t much to look at in this game, with every asteroid and enemy craft appearing lifeless in the game’s sparse lighting. Of course, when you do destroy one of the bigger enemies, the game’s frame rate takes a sever hit, lowering itself to single digits, which really allows the game’s graphics to impress you, because the explosions look completely flat and entirely devoid of impact. They might as well be cardboard cutouts. On the subject of cardboard cutouts, allow me to introduce point 2.
Point 2 – The story and the missions that went with it was mind numbingly dull.
When you have a mission objective in your game which is literally “do it again”, you know you’re swimming upstream from the get go. Star Raiders fails to understand that repetition isn’t fun, especially when these blue whatchamacallits are apparently important to the plot. You could have fooled me, because the cinematics that pop up every now and then showcase a bland bunch of stereotypes, with a main character voiced by what sounds like the team’s community manager. There are obligatory walls of text before each mission, but the game’s HUD makes them impossible to read, except of course if you choose to sit about an inch away from your screen. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the text in Star Raiders puts the text in Costume Quest to shame, because at least the text in that game was somewhat readable from a distance. Although, even if you can’t read the mission description, you’d still know what to do, that being kill everything that moves, and then blow up a big ship. Occasionally, collect a blue wotsit. It’s predictable and bland, with much the same being said for our final point.
Point 3 – It isn’t fun. At all.
See enemy, shoot enemy with two missiles. Watch enemy explode, auto switch targets to next enemy, repeat. Occasionally change ship modes to strafe around turrets. Once your ship energy runs out (and it doesn’t recharge), you die, respawn, and continue to play, with a time penalty being the only thing you have to suffer. Well, apart from playing more Star Raiders.
So, to finish I’d like to say sorry. I couldn’t finish Star Raiders, and I feel useless for even trying to play it in the first place. How Atari could allow this to be released onto digital platforms in this state I have no idea, but then when you look at Atari’s digital catalogue, you realize that the quality control just isn’t there. If you’re asking yourself “is that all there is to the game?” My answer is pretty much yes. There’s a rudimentary upgrade mechanic, but that only ever amounted to “buy the best gun to blow things up”, and there are some leaderboards. No multiplayer to speak of, so there’s no blowing up your friends in some kind of vaguely redemptive dogfight mode. There’s just you, some missiles, and the infinite, headache inducing blackness of space. I played Star Raiders; you should never play Star Raiders. That’s pretty much the long and short of it right there. Sorry.