Click here to view the Berzerk (Atari 2600) Description page for screenshots and more information.
Review by tankMage (January 2018)
Berzerk is perhaps the third or fourth Atari title I have played and my first attempt at reviewing a game for this console. Usually I break these reviews up into categories such as graphics and story, but I’m going to take a more relaxed approach to this one. This title was released in 1982, coincidentally the year I was born, and pits your stick figure against a gauntlet of murderous robot stick figures. Players can move around and shoot their laser in eight directions, while the robots are limited to just four directions. Of course, the bad guys have a numerical advantage, which makes up for the fact that they can only fire left, right, up, and down. Touching an enemy or getting hit by a laser will result in death. The walls are electrified, which means touching them will also kill you. Fortunately these same rules apply to the bad guys.
Like many Atari games, there are multiple variations of Berzerk (a grand total of twelve according to some sources), some of which are more difficult than others. Which brings us to a sticking point with this game: Evil Otto. According to the manual, Otto is some kind of butcherous mutant that bounces around making life harder for our hero. Otto did not appear in any of the six variants I had access to, which is really inconsistent, when you stop to consider that half of the versions of this game lack one of it’s stars. With that said, maybe I didn’t get far enough or had the wrong settings on, even though I took time to fiddle with the modes. While Evil Otto’s conspicuous absence was a bit of a let down, I confirmed his existence by looking him up, so players that want the version of Berzerk that features him will have to look around a bit for the right copy.
Evil Otto aside, Berzerk is a fun game. The story doesn’t matter (in fact I forgot what the game was about a few minutes after reading the manual), this title is all about good old fashioned arcade style fun with a tactical element to it. There’s not much to do aside from walk around, rack up points, and survive, but that’s the beauty of it. As simple as Berzerk may be, it can draw you into it’s world, which is a mark of quality. There are only so many different types of rooms and repetitive isn’t a strong enough word to describe the enemy lineup, but you never know what kind of situation you will find yourself in after exiting a room. Sometimes you’ll be mobbed by robots from the start and have to act quickly to survive. In other instances you can take your time and bait the bad guys into walls or even get them to destroy each other. You may even have to flee for your life if there are too many robots shooting at you at once. The action only heats up as the game goes on and the enemy becomes faster.
The graphics and sound effects also set this game off really well. The walls and robots change color from room to room and cover the entirety of the Atari 2600’s modest pallette (to the best of my knowledge). Getting shot or walking into a wall results in your character flashing like crazy and making a weird buzzing sound. And the robot laser fire has a strange musical quality that comes in the form of electronic bass notes. A lot of the sound effects and details that were present in the arcade release of Berzerk are missing, but this is a fairly good port considering the Atari 2600 was already three years old when the arcade version was released, which is a considerable amount of time in an era when great strides were being made in the world of computing.
Berzerk is basically what I expected from an Atari title, it’s simplistic, trippy, and addictive. A surprising amount of strategy is needed to master this game and I found it hard to put down as I felt compelled to achieve ever higher scores.
If you are reading this, you were either around for the glory days of Atari or you are curious about the past. I fall into the latter category and found Berzerk to be a good introduction to the Atari 2600 despite it’s quirks and inconsistencies, so give it a try if you are interested in this era of gaming.
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