Better known as a ubiquitous flea market find than a bona fide classic, Combat is definitely a questionable choice to receive the update treatment given to such titles as Pac-Man and Dig Dug. While the original Atari 2600 game holds up well as an early two-player shooter, there's very little about it that screams out for a remake. But that hasn't stopped Infogrames before, so nearly 25 years after its original release, Combat has been reborn -- as a generic 3D shooter.
An update of an older game should ideally maintain the spirit of the original while adding enough new material to make the modernization worthwhile. Unfortunately, the gameplay and visuals of 2001's Combat are so different from the 1977 game that it would be impossible to tell the two were related if they didn't have the same name. Instead of deliberately paced tank and airplane duels, the modern version puts you in control of a speedy, futuristic hovercraft in a battle against a variety of generic enemies.
Looking past comparisons with the original, Combat has the overall feel of a shareware game one might download off the Internet. The graphics are unimpressive but adequate, and there's enough action to hold your interest for a little while. But without the benefit of nostalgia or any interesting features of its own, the game quickly loses steam.
Interestingly enough, the most interesting element of Combat is mentioned nowhere in the manual. The "Goodies" folder located on the CD contains the game's soundtrack as mp3 files, a map editor, and "Stella," an Atari 2600 emulator that allows you to play the original Combat and the unreleased Combat II on your PC.
Graphics: While the visuals are not ugly by any means, they are overly simplistic and totally diverge from the style of the original.
Sound: The techno-ish soundtrack is enjoyable and can be listened to on its own thanks to the mp3 files in the "Goodies" folder.
Enjoyment: Combat is a basic shooter that fails to capture the feeling of the original or improve on it in any significant way.
Replay Value: There is a little variety to the repetitive gameplay, which greatly limits replay value.
Infogrames' Combat is a tribute to the early eighties original. The similarities between Combat (1977) and Combat (2001) are few and far-between. The original game sold in a bundled package with the Atari 2600 system and necessitated two players. Prepubescent tankers faced off against one another on electronic battlefields represented by simple graphics. The original did not offer the best gameplay on the ancient system, but it did keep kids glued to their TVs. Even with over two decades worth of technological advancements in the video game industry, Combat (2001) delivers a gaming experience as bland as its progenitor's graphics.
Let's start by talking about the original Combat. Even though I was in diapers when the game was first designed, I remember playing it on the 2600 my father bought for me and my siblings with the money he earned from his second job. Tanks, fighter planes, machine guns, and missiles rounded out the features of Combat and, coincidentally, the doodles I produced on class notes from the second grade to college. The game's graphics may have been crap, but blowing up tanks and downing enemy fighter jets was the coolest thing in the world to me. I played that game for hours and especially enjoyed the tank game that utilized ricocheting shots -- tank pong. Ah the good ol' days....
Now, in 2001, Infogrames publishes Combat with revamped three-dimensional graphics and Internet capable gameplay. Sound good? Not so fast, cowboy. Missions are played out on maps that are reminiscent of early 1990s 3D shooters. Hovertanks replace the tanks, biplanes, bombers, and jet fighters of the original. You must pilot your tank in a third-person perspective, which makes the game frustrating for those used to using a first-person perspective to navigate (and you can forget about using a mouse -- keyboard or joystick only). The level design does not utilize a full 3D world -- there are no tunnels or buildings with multiple floors. I couldn't help but be reminded of DOOM when I navigated the elevator and terrace filled landscapes of Combat. I just don't understand why Magic Lantern Playware decided to design the game with a poor 3D engine rather than sticking with the original's 2D environment.
The hovertanks used in Combat obey physics that Sir Isaac Newton would have been proud of. The tanks follow Newton's laws of momentum and motion. Step off the gas and a very weak damping force pulls your tank to a halt in a couple hundred yards like a hockey puck sliding across a recently resurfaced ice rink. This is very similar to the physical model used in Asteroids and, as I recall, not Combat (1977). The result of the lack of friction, between tank and pavement, is a piloting nightmare. The game does have an emergency brake feature that can be used when faced with cliffhangers, but not integrating the brake into the game's engine puts a burden on the gamer that is unwarranted. Imagine playing a shooter in which your hero is constantly fighting on ice and you'll get the idea of how this game plays.
Combat's soundtrack is sprinkled with futuristic music that must have been taken from Buck Rogers or The Ice Pirates. The music pounds away with fast beats and synthesizer sounds. It's fairly entertaining and does a good job droning out the game's bland sound effects. The tank's cannon burps energy pulses with subdued pops. Even the constant drone of an Atari 2600 tank is more entertaining than these sounds.
There are plenty of budget shooters out there and this one doesn't stand out from the crowd. The game could have used the old Atari classic as a template and just boosted the game's look, features, and sound. That would have been an awesome game to play (at least from a standpoint of nostalgia) and a bunch of people probably would have played it on their coffee breaks.
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