Difficulty: Factory Default. Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life for every five copters destroyed. This game accommodates both 1-player and 2-player games.
Current Record holders
1st: 2,009,000 - Tom Larkin - 1982
2nd: 319,670 - John Hooper - 1982
3rd: 130,800 - James Carter - 2000
2,257,850 - P.Hall / D.Davis - 1982
Some games, especially those from the 80s for some reason, really hate you. No no, I’m not talking about the enemies in the game or the storyline or anything – the actual machine itself hates your fucking guts. This game hates you – yes YOU. Why? who knows, but playing this game for any period of time will reduce you to a snivelling baby huddled in the corner, trust me. How does it do this, I mean it’s only a game right? Well, I’ll tell you.
First signs aren’t promising. At my first attempt of loading this baby up in MAME I became rather confused. All I could see was a small green vector shape in the middle of a fully black empty screen. Not much of an attract sequence that, not likely to pull me towards the machine in the crowded arcade that one. Hang on, 1980? Ok, well that arcade has to be pretty bare so it probably wouldn’t take much to get me playing. But wait, I stick my money in and the screen *stays* blank, just now some other tank like shapes are moving towards me. Better get moving then right? Well I would but the poxy jeep only moves a little bit and then stops for no reason at all, what the hell? Oh nice – invisible walls, this just keeps getting better. Shit, now my shots are hitting seemingly random invisible walls instead of smashing into the mighty tanks. Fuck that – switch off, go and make a cup of tea.
Tea in hand I return with a sense of determination and off to trusty klov.com it is, I mean I know it was 1980 but that can’t be right. Immediately it all becomes clear. This is one of those fancy games where the majority of the graphics are actually a stick-on bezel on the actual machine and in this case it really is the majority of the graphics i.e the bloody walls and everything. Now see, MAME does include all of that stuff, but usually I simply find it annoying so by default I have it all turned off – not an option for this game it seems. Back in MAME and I start to switch on the artwork and bezels like a madman before booting the game up again, and lo and behold, the arcade jesus has performed a miracle – I was blind and now I can see! Looks rather good as well I have to say, game on!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That isn’t the game hating you for goodness sakes, you’re being overly harsh – after all the original machine wouldn’t have any of these problems. Well, you’d be right. In fact this isn’t even one of the hate filled episodes I spoke of, this is simply me being a tit. Glad to clear that one up.
So anyway, onto the game. I don’t know if any of you remember a game on the Atari 2600 called “combat”. One of the best games on the little wooden breadbox for sure; it was essentially two tanks (and then later planes and stuff) that rolled about various mazes shooting the shit out of each other. I don’t know the dates, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t at least in part influenced by this bugger (what? Atari “borrow” ideas from other games? NEVER!). The controls are the same pretty much, rather than controlling the four directions you rotate left and right and then have two other buttons accelerate and fire – easy enough.
Looking at the records briefly we see a very interesting story. Top score in 1982 of 2 million. Next score down, same year 300 thousand. Finally in the year 2000 someone felt the need to challenge for the top honours and got, ahem 120 thousand. That’s quite a difference that. Either this Tom Larkin has some mad skillz (see? I’m down with the kids. No no, not in that way officer) or everyone else is absolutely shit. This gives me hope in a funny sort of way, I mean I’m not getting anywhere near 2 million, but the rest has to be achievable right? right?
Straight into the first game and we’re off! Immediately a couple of tanks come creeping round the corner and I’m off like a whippet. This little “jeep” of yours is pretty nippy, certainly a lot quicker than I expected that’s for sure. Right come here tank, whizzzzz, booom! Take that!
HOLD IT RIGHT THE FUCK THERE.
Now, I may have been seeing things but I’m pretty sure that when the points flashed up there it said “20 points”. TWENTY POINTS? The record holder has 2 MILLION points for fucks sake. Am I playing the same game?? Takes me a while to calm down I have to tell you, and in that time another tank trundles over and shoots me dead. The score isn’t on the screen during the game, but when you lose a life it flashes up briefly. Shit, I read it right, no missing zeros – 20 points. Damn.
Ok, my only hope here is that despite the fact that this game was made nearly thirty years ago, there is actually a rather funky multiple bonus score system at play here and I don’t actually have to literally shoot 200,000 tanks to get the top score – and strike a light there is! A big noisy helicopter comes sweeping onto the screen and once shot down the message “tank score + 10” pops up. Ok, that’s pretty bloody stingy – even though I don’t really know what it means, but it’s a start.
So, with my anger abating, I sweep about using my old “Combat” skills to find some crazy angles with which I can shoot the tanks before they get a chance to get me. It’s bloody tricky though I have to say – not being able to reverse is a complete pain in the arse and although you whip about at a decent pace your rotation speed isn’t anywhere near responsive enough. Nothing illustrates this better than the helicopters that seem to come along every few seconds or so – they are right buggers to shoot down as they strafe across the screen homing in on your position as they go, while you end up a sitting duck as you slowly rotate so that the angle is just right to knock them out of the air.
Before long I’m looking at the screen through my fingers as my last life goes. Boom, dead. MISSION COMPLETED.
Hold on there, wind the tape back a minute. No, not the score, before that.
What in shitting christ is that? You die for the last time, game over, and the game then tells you mission completed? The cheeky fucker. Ok, we’re all realists here – arcade games are designed to make money, we know that – Hell, we don’t even begrudge them that. But to gloat in such a way once your hard earned money has been spent is taking the piss somewhat.
Picture the scene: A northern english family, 1980, struggling to get by. Money is tight, god it’s tight. The pits are closing down, can hardly afford to feed t’babies day in day out. Tell you what though little Jimmy, it’s your tenth birthday after all, me and Grandpa have saved up our wages for the past few years, take this 10 pence and spend it on whatever you like. Maybe get some new cardboard for the soles of your shoes, really splash out on something luxurious – Go’orn, treat yoursen lad. So, young Jimmy scampers down the street on his way to the butchers, maybe he can even afford to buy some food that hasn’t fallen onto the floor with his new found riches, maybe he can even afford a whole sausage. But then he sees it. In the local arcade window the faint glow of flashing lights grabs his attention. Jimmy has never seen such a sight and before he realises it he is in the arcade and in front of the machine. Family instinct kicks in and he first checks the coin return slot for any neglected money, but then without even thinking his 10 pence coin is in the slot and deep into the belly of the machine. His stomach rumbles, but he doesn’t care a jot, he’s in and deep in his heart he has never been happier. The next 37 seconds are a blur, Jimmy can’t even reach the buttons properly, but he’s playing alright until his last life is gone. “MISSION COMPLETED”. The joy literally bursts out of Jimmy – he’s never achieved anything in his life that didn’t involve coal and now here he is, not only playing an arcade machine, but playing it so well that he’s completed a mission. What a feeling for little Jimmy. But then, what’s this? The buttons no longer seem to do anything, try as he might little Jimmy can’t get his jeep to move. It takes a while to realise, but the game is over. But what of the mission? With raw fear in his eyes Jimmy rushes to the arcade attendant and tugs him towards the machine pointing to the game as he goes. His confusion turns to despair as the man explains that, yes indeed the mission was completed, but not YOUR mission – the machine’s mission to take your money and then spit you out. In fact the man can barely hold back a laugh as he sees the score; “750 points? What sort of score is that you slag? Now piss off out of it”. Oh, you misplaced cockernee arcade attendant. Poor Jimmy. Poor poor Jimmy.
Now, in no way whatsoever was that a way to hide my wonderful score, although to tell the truth I can’t remember what it was – up there with the records though I’m sure. Ok, it was 750 points. Jesus.
Ok, longwinded and laboured story out of the way I approach the next turn with not only a spring in my step but a different tactic. Play to your strengths Mr Miyagi used to say (either that or “Wax on, Wax off” – I forget), and the biggest asset this little jeep has is speed. So, instead of sitting still trying subtle angles, I’m going to steam all over the place like a mentalist and see how I get on.
Oh and how I get on – at first at least. It’s certainly a better way to approach the tanks as their turret rotation speed is actually slower than yours, so a quick whip round the back as it were and you have a nice opportunity to get a shot away before they even take aim. The helicopters as well are pretty confused when confronted with a jeep thrashing its way directly towards it and I took a fair few out at close range without taking any hits. I’m actually starting to enjoy myself a little as well – surprisingly, for a game as old and primitive as this there are some nice little graphical touches, your shots cause a little ricochet like flash when they hit the walls and the tanks and helicopters don’t simply explode, but they sit there as wreckage for a while. The sound effects are also quite effective despite being very simple. The game starts with a string of morse code (fact fans: apparently this spells out “don’t register” in protest of the return of draft registration) and the sound effect for the tanks is especially nice, with a good squeakiness about it.
As ever with these things I am shaken out of my brief pleasure as I am shot dead by a tank I’ve already killed. That’s right, the wreckage that I was just singing the praises of but a paragraph ago bloody shot me! Now that my friends in NOT cricket. It’s true though, sometimes when you shoot a tank, it would appear that only the tank part dies and the turret stays alive, able to adjust its aim and everything! The cheeky bastards. This of course scuppers my new found tactic as again and again I swish up to a tank, shoot it to death, turn to whizz to the next one only to be shot by the newly formed wreckage. You can’t even re-shoot the fucker either, not only does it stay alive, but it becomes invincible. Slags.
Ok, it’s clear that I’m simply not getting this game. That was a much better display yet my score is a paltry 1610. Compared to the 130,000 I took the piss of at the beginning that makes me out to be a complete mug. However, the show must go on, so a third and final go is on the cards. This time I shall use a combination of tactics – I shall strive to combine the speed method whilst retaining my role as king of the angles. This has to be the way forward, I’m sure of it.
God only knows how such large scores are possible, as you can see I am so far off it isn’t even funny. I can only assume that there is a trick to basically playing for as long as you like that I haven’t even begun to discover. I did find that the extra lives are quite plentiful, essentially every 5th Helicopter you shoot gives you an extra jeep so you could in theory play for ages if you were good enough. Still, that being so, a score of two million must take hours and hours to rack up and frankly it would be a rather painful way of spending your time. It begins to make sense that nobody has challenged the big scores since 1982 actually now I think about it. Twin that with the fact that the game obviously hates the player’s guts and you have a right barrell of laughs on your hands. I’m sorry machine, little Jimmy may have fallen for your charms, but if I ever find myself in his situation I’ll simply walk on by and tuck into a nice cumberland instead. MISSION COMPLETED.