System: Atari 2600 Publisher: Atari Developer: Atari
Genre: Shooter Type: 2-player 1-on-1 combat Circa: 1977

The Atari 2600 was the first video game console that I ever owned. Actually, it belonged to my brother, but as his interest in it waned, it became my inheritance. Some may think it's unfair to review games that are "too old", but I spent so many hours on this thing. I feel these reviews are more of "retrospective" and a way of sharing and reliving those memories. Don't expect me to give some ho-hum history of the Atari 2600. There's already a million sites for that. And I don't even remember what year it came out (or even what year it was that we actually bought one), and I'm too lazy to look that kind of information up.

So what better way to begin this trip through time than with Combat? This is the game that came with the Atari 2600 system and possibly the first video game I ever laid eyes on in person. I may have been to arcades before, but I really don't remember, and I know that at the very least Combat was the first game I ever actually played. I remember being in my bedroom and hearing strange noises coming from downstairs. I went down to see what was going on, and discovered that my mother and brother were playing Combat (incidentally, that would be the first and last time I'd ever see my mother playing a video game.) I remember not knowing what the hell was actually going on in the game, but I knew that I couldn't wait until I could have a turn at it.

I'm thinking that this must've been before I actually started going to school, because I remember getting up the very next day and parking my ass on the floor in front of the 2600, which, thankfully, was still hooked up. I turned the thing on and that's when it hit me like a ten-ton brick. Yes, the most emotional video game moment of all time for me was not finding out some floozy gets the axe in Final Fantasy 7, but discovering the awful truth that you needed TWO players to play Combat! Oh, sure, you could play it by yourself, if you didn't mind shooting a helpless target that can't fight back. (They didn't have a little something called "AI" back then.) Maybe I wouldn't have cared so much, but this was the game that was packaged with the system. What if you were some single shmuck who bought this thing and didn't have a second player?

But, hell, I was able to make the little block move and make it shoot. For my first time ever playing a video game, I suppose that wasn't half-bad. Sometimes, I even tried to simulate a two-player game by holding down the fire button on the second controller - at least now I'd have to stay clear of my own raging bullets.

GRAPHICS: 2.5/10
This was one of the first home video games I ever played so it's difficult to be that hard on it. I'll admit I didn't know what anything was supposed to be, at first. But the cartridge label contains a list of all the "games" that are included on Combat: Tank, Tank-Pong, Invisible-Tank, Biplane, and Jet-Fighter. Okay, now that I know they're supposed to be tanks, I can sort of see it. Things don't truly start getting into the "acid-trip" zone until you look at the planes and jets. For Atari 2600 planes, I guess they're okay, except that when they turn, they contort in various awkward shapes. The Bomber, which is about three times the size of a normal plane, looks like it's struggling to make every twist and turn - so much so that I felt like I was shooting it to put it out of its misery.

The jets are another story. I remember that before I read the label, I didn't know what the jets were supposed to be. But when they turn at a certain angle, they look exactly like party hats, so that's what I assumed they were. Even today, I find it difficult to not think of them as little party hats flying around. Some plane and jet levels have two huge blocks in the middle of the screen, which represent clouds that you can fly behind. I guess those were easy enough to figure out.

SOUND: 2.5/10
Combat's sounds were simplistic, but realistic enough. Basically, all you ever heard was the drone of your tanks, the engine of your planes or jets, the sound of your bullets being fired, and the explosion when you scored a hit. That was all that was really needed.
Combat's control scheme was simple enough. After all, Atari 2600 controllers consisted of only one button and a joystick. For tanks, you'd press Up and Down to move forward or backward, Left and Right to rotate, and the button made you shoot. But the tanks moved awfully slow and turned at a sluggish pace. The planes and jets were a little more fun to control, since they were constantly moving. But for some unknown reason Atari reversed the controls for them, so that now Up and Down would rotate. This was confusing to learn, especially after I just got used to the tanks! What the purpose of this change was, I'll never know.
Many Atari 2600 games had really elaborate stories in their manuals. It would probably take you longer to read some of them then it would for you to lose interest in playing the game. I don't remember what kind of story, if any, that Combat had in its manual. It suppose it could be best described as a game of warfare, but no one ever actually loses for real. You can't destroy your opponent - only spin him/her around. So, the worst damage you could do is give someone a really bad headache.
Unfortunately, Combat offered zero challenge for single players, since it's a two-player only game. And the challenge of the two-player game depended either entirely on luck or the skill of the other player. This isn't really a good thing, but then again, Combat wasn't really intended to be a game that challenged players, but rather just to give people something to do with the console they just bought.

The gameplay was simple - once you began the game, you'd have a limited amount of time to shoot your opponent as many times as possible, while trying to avoid being hit, yourself. You'd know when time was running out, because the scores would start flashing. Whoever has the higher score when the game ends is the "Winner".

FUN: 2.5/10
Even though the tanks are what Combat is most remembered for, let's face it - this part of the game just didn't work too well. Unless you played the version that had the ricocheting bullets (Tank-Pong) any match with tanks consisted of you and your opponent marching slowly towards each other, firing continuously, until one of you started spinning. Invisible-Tank was even more ludicrous. You can't see your tank unless you shoot. I suppose the logic behind this was that it would enable you to hide from your opponent, but the problem was that you couldn't see where you were going - which resulted in holding down the fire button so that your tank would remain visible at all times. So, essentially,it was the same as playing the normal Tank games, only now your tanks were flashing. Maybe the idea was to give the other person a seizure.

Tank-Pong was rather cool, though. Your bullets would ricochet around walls, so you wouldn't always have to be so close to your opponent to hit it. But it still seemed like more luck was involved if your bullet would bounce the right way.

There's only a couple of things I'm going to say about the planes. First of all, the easiest way to win Combat would be to sucker your opponent into playing as the Bomber. Trust me, it doesn't stand a chance against the three small planes. It's too big of a target and its projectile doesn't cover a wide enough range. I've never seen the Bomber win in a two-player match and I've often seen it get hit over and over again with no chance to react. The only other thing I want to say about the planes is that they were exactly the same as the jets, only they moved slower, so there was almost no point in playing them.

The jets were the best part of the game. They moved quickly and if there was any fun to be derived from Combat, it was in pulling those fast aerial stunts, sneaking up behind an opponent, or warping from the bottom of the screen to the top (or vice versa) for a surprise attack. I loved being the single jet in the three jets versus one jet setup. It was so easy to run circles around those three jets, being such a small and difficult target to hit.


So this concludes my little restrospective on the very first video game I ever played. Combat is a game that I can't honestly say has stood the test of time too well, not even as a two-player game. After getting my Atari 2600 up and running, I tried playing it for a few minutes with my boyfriend, and I think we both lost interest rather quickly. But still, Combat brings back good nostalgic memories. It's a cart I'm glad to look over at my collection and see sitting in the pile.
OVERALL SCORE (not an average): 2.5/10



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