Atari 50: Major Havoc

During the Golden Age of Arcades, Atari definitely managed to put out some very impressive titles, each one for the most part very distinct and almost none ever felt like carbon copies of other titles. But out of all of them – and especially the ones I’ve tried via my Atari Flashback Classics on my Switch – the one that’s been standing out to me has been Major Havoc.

Created by Owen Rubin and Marc Cerny, this game was released in a limited amount in 1983, and considering what also happened that year, that was a very good thing. But even with that, this game was quite a complex and very unique one for it’s time.

Long ago, the Vaxxian Empire took over the galaxy with most of humanity abducted and enslaved. However, some scientists were able to escape. Fast forward to now, with different space stations of the Empire still being controlled by the security robots despite the Empire’s collapse. Fortunately the scientists that escaped managed create a clone of a human hero named “Major Havoc” and have dispatched him to fly his ship the Catastrofighter to lead a clone army against the Vaxxian robots, destroy the reactors on their space stations, and liberate humanity.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. Because not only is this game a shoot-em-up, but it is also a platformer of sorts as well. Now that kind of intermingling between gameplay styles is commonplace these days, but back then it was a bit unheard of. Yet somehow Cerny and Rubin managed to pull it off.

The game starts off as a typical shmup, with you trying to shot down enemy ships. After which you then have to properly dock your fighter with the space stations and then get to the reactor, set it to self-destruct and get back to your ship before the station blows up.

Okay, this is interesting way to start…

I like that little detail when your character is simply waiting.

Sounds complicated? Well, it actually isn’t because you only have to touch the reactor to start the countdown. It’s getting to said reactor that’s the tricky part, as well as trying to get out, which calls for some serious level design-something the developer duo was able to pull off, because while you are in the station it turns into a platformer, but there are security forces/obstacles in each station that will try to hinder you, plus the station is completely low-gravity so when you jump, you will keep going up so long as you are holding onto the jump button. Once you let go you drop back down and you can’t jump back up until you touch the ground. However, if you hit the ceiling or walk/run into a wall you will find yourself dazed for a few seconds, so there’s some real-world physics involved there. If there’s any kind of obstacle when you hot the wall/ceiling you lose a life and you have to start again. Fortunately there are oxygen power-ups that are scattered all over the station so you can use those to replenish your oxygen as you go.

In all, this is an arcade that stands out due to its multiple gameplay styles that were unique for its time, and its use of vector graphics allowed for more details that would have been very difficult otherwise. Much like with most classic arcades this game is hard, but quite addicting. Plus the fact that the “interludes” between stages added a bit of Breakout-type gameplay was a nice touch.

Not only that but for this game to have been released in the year of the infamous crash was a surprising one, but as most historians know, some of the best Arcade titles did come out during this time before the collapse, though the Arcade industry wasn’t as impacted by the crash as the home console industry had been.

So if you’re looking for a different kind of Atari arcade game, check this one out!

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