The Atari Vault Collection Should Have Stayed Back In Time
By Gwendolyn L. Spelvin
Nothing says retro gaming like Atari, and for the 1970s and 1980s players that were kids in this era, having access to a collection of games featuring Pong, Centipede, Warlords, Millipede, Asteroids, and Space Duel may be just the thing to have to get through a midlife crisis.
When the Atari Vault Collection was slated for release, it was a bit up in the air what to expect. Initially it appeared as if it would be a remastering of sorts, which would have been great seeing the graphics of the classics get a makeover. There was also confusion as to what titles would be included; no word to what entries would make the cut and from what Atari system was mentioned.
To little fanfare the Atari Vault Collection hit the Steam store and other retailers. What should have been a nice runaway hit for the company turned into a melee of hit or miss mostly forgotten titles sandwiched in between a stunningly updated GUI, and select menus surrounding graphics that haven’t been seen since 1980.
But hey, at least an Atari title now has an auto-save function, right?
Developer Code Mystics had nerve enough to include additional titles no one cared about even back then via systematic updates. The irony is that what Code Mystics and Atari chose to include isn’t even scratching the surface of the original Atari catalogue and seems to feature titles that were the bottom of the pudding cup instead of the cream on top.
Sure, we get to reminisce over a very horrible graphic infused 3D Tic Tac Toe, Checkers, Bowling, and Flag Capture with glee, but totally assed out of Pac Man, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Kaboom, Snoopy and the Red Baron, or the ever epic Space Invaders.
Seriously, Atari. How the hell do you have a vault collection without the quintessential Space Invaders? That’s like having Atlantic Records without Aretha Franklin or Led Zeppelin.
Okay. Most of the initial releases featured Atari arcade titles, with dashes of Atari 2600 entries for flavor. That’s fine. However, since more entries were being added via the updates, it is a shameful epic fail to include the titles that were barely on player radar back in their prime.
The biggest slap in the face to players (outside of omitting Space Invaders and the original SwordQuest) is the complete exclusion of any Atari 5200, 7800, and ST titles. Seriously, no one over at Quality and Assurance thought adding these systems catalogues wouldn’t be a great idea?
Geez. What the hell are the players actually paying for with the collection? From the looks of it Atari just got one over on its old fan base yet again by selling its trash in a pretty pink bow to the blind ignorance of nostalgic customers.
Players that can ignore the faults will be cruelly surprised when their entry of playing choice crashes and burns in execution. For whatever reason, control schematics are horrible and reek of lazy programming.
Atari PC emulators over ten years old have better control mechanisms than this thing.
Case in point; entries like Centipede and Millipede, which were originally designed to be played with the trackball component lack proper control mapping for full in-game functionality. Due to this, expect less than stellar accuracy or speed in the epic battle against the bugs and a lot of deaths.
Entries meant to be played with the original Atari joystick like Pong or Asteroids are just a death blow burnout. Control schematic is sketchy at best, and more often than not controls are not intuitive and present a very noticeable lag once engaged, hindering high scores.
Yes, there is controller support; this does little to deal with the sensitivity issues with the haphazard controls. Using the keyboard or mouse natively does little in the controlling action either no matter what level gauge of sensitivity is set, costing countless lives, restarts, and continues.
This is being very generous here, as most native joystick titles’ controls may not work at all.
But hey, at least there is V-sync, right? Wrong. It just doesn’t work. Attempting to use it in any configuration will cause instantaneous deterioration of the graphics that will make the visual experience impossible to enjoy. Try not to get excited about the nostalgic manuals; documents are presented at such a low resolution rate that they are virtually illegible to read.
But hey, at least the GUI they are contained in looks absolutely awesome, right?
Damn it, Atari. You had the right idea but the wrong implementation. I get the whole authentic bit, but its 2016 and perfectly okay to modernize your titles, especially when every free PC emulator on the market plays your catalogue smoothly and with no problems better than your official releases.
Most classic games have already crossed the threshold into newer engines via remastering, so no worries there; players will be alright with changes. Let go of the ghost and come into the 21st century. If Nintendo can do it, so can you.