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Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space (Atari 2600) artwork

Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space (Atari 2600) review


"The '80s was a time of renewed interest in bedrock American ideals founded in rugged individualism, entrepreneurism, and invention. The decades of essential spiritual growth America had gone through from the '60s up to the early '80s was coming to its close, and a new time of reclaiming the American psyche had begun. Allegorical symbols such as the face lift given to the beloved Statue of Liberty practically represented our own process as a nation of "growing up" into liberty and equality while ..."



The '80s was a time of renewed interest in bedrock American ideals founded in rugged individualism, entrepreneurism, and invention. The decades of essential spiritual growth America had gone through from the '60s up to the early '80s was coming to its close, and a new time of reclaiming the American psyche had begun. Allegorical symbols such as the face lift given to the beloved Statue of Liberty practically represented our own process as a nation of "growing up" into liberty and equality while recapturing the pride of our past, while iconic symbols such as the Space Shuttle fueled our imaginations, represented our ingenuity, and gave us a certain optimism for our future. Up until the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, practically everyone's eyes, ears, and minds were focused on the Space Shuttle program.

This game was the first Space Shuttle Simulator, and though it was developed in the passing years for other consoles of the time, the Atari 2600 adaptation was the first, and overall, my favorite. Despite the fact that it was developed for a console system as limited as the Atari 2600 was, the attempt to implement most of the details prevalent in a Space Shuttle mission was largely successful. A choice of missions is presented, described in detail in a very thick manual that came with the game. Each mission represents a simulation of an actual Space Shuttle mission, each taken to an unexpected degree of complexity, requiring the player/pilot to master more complex controls and learn more skilled piloting practices as he goes along.

The player will have to master these controls to manage launching and landing gear, primary and secondary engines, opening and closing cargo doors, etc, to go through the entire Shuttle mission process. This process will include flight preparations, launch, stabilizing the orbit, orbital mechanics, docking with a satellite, deorbit burn, reentry, and finally a safe landing. This makes the game into a game of skill, effort, vigilance, patience, timing, and even luck. It's a training session for potential astronauts everywhere. The joystick controller is used to manipulate the control panel, but also in use are the console panel switches, for which cardboard overlays are provided to mark each one appropriately. As you can imagine, these missions take a lot of time and effort, and can only really be mastered over multiple attempts. This adds a sense of realistic complexity that one would imagine is involved in operating a Space Shuttle, and though it does at least at first make it seem like a game of trial and error, it also makes it into a game of ultimate accomplishment.

In terms of graphics and sound, this game is the best work ever done on the Atari 2600 console. The bottom half of the screen consists of a visual instrument panel with most of the important readings that map to the Space Shuttle's own instrument panel. The instrument panel monitors a host of important figures, including remaining fuel, X and Y access, micro X and Y axis, "rendezvous" signals, etc. The top half of the screen is a split window to the outside world with graphic space simulation that pushes the limits of the system. The screen genuinely attempts, and with some success, to allow the player to experience everything from space exploration and earth orbit matting, to rough launch and re-entry burn. Sound effects are carefully crafted from the available system power, and carefully mapped to their corresponding visuals, to make as realistic an experience as possible.

This is both one of my favorite titles available for the Atari 2600, and is hands-down the most ambitious game made for any system of the time. Activision hired a well known software developer, Steve Kitchen, to develop this game. He worked closely with NASA to make the most realistic flight simulator possible, and it literally broke gaming boundaries of the day. The result of their effort is perhaps the first ever honest-to-goodness realistic space shuttle simulator in history. More than that, it stands as a testament to how much a good game developer can accomplish on an extremely limited system.

Rating: 8/10

m0zart's avatar
Community review by m0zart (March 27, 2006)

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