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|Rating:||3 out of 5|
Have you ever encountered something very technically marvelous, yet weren't sure what to do with it? That's how I feel about Activision's Space Shuttle - A Journey Into Space game. It's a remarkable sim that takes you on a mission aboard a space shuttle and it's far from the average flight sim. You'll instantly see it's a big step up from most Atari 2600 games. The 32 page manual alone says a lot :)
But for all it's sophistication, it lacks a real "game" element. It's exceedingly cool, but the facets that give it wow-factor don't translate into a similar desire to play it. I might compare it to Activision's StarMaster as that game also makes use of many of the 2600's switches on the console - not just the joystick and fire-button.
On the technical side, Space Shuttle makes use of all the switches on the face of the 2600 game console. Remember flipping a few of the switches while playing StarMaster? This is the same concept... on steroids! To start with the game comes with an overlay - yeah, an overlay for a 2600 game. The cardboard Space Shuttle overlay, called the Flight Deck Console overlay, spans the top bank of switches enabling you to easily identify the proper controls while juggling the joystick in the other hand. There are actually 2 overlays - one for the 6-switch models and the other for 4-switch consoles.
If the difficulty or accuracy of this game comes into question, NASA is credited for making the game possible. This isn't Defender where you thrust and fire. Space Shuttle is a precision mission that tests your ability to maneuver the Shuttle Discovery.
There is no story arc - this shit is real! Your mission is to get off the ground, travel 210 miles to an orbiting satellite multiple times and return home. The satellite's gyroscope has been altered to test your skills. Each subsequent dock is more difficult since the satellite has been programmed to be more erratic with each attempt.
You have to master the controls if you're to be successful. That in part comes from familiarity with the controls on the 2600 console. The joystick and red button (they never make mention of a fire-button) provide directional control. The joystick controls X and Y axis movement and depressing the red button moves the shuttle up & down the Z axis. This button takes on different roles as you proceed to different stages of the mission. You won't pick up all the nuances in the first 5 minutes... or hours ;)
From initiating a count down to opening the cargo doors and monitoring primary and backup engines - you'll have your hands full. There are 3 flight modes. The first, Flight #1, is an auto-pilot flight where you can sit back and see how the mission proceeds. Interestingly you can use the joystick to take control and practice maneuvering the shuttle. Flight #2 is a "ground-based" simulation. Everything feels real except you don't need to worry about fuel consumption and the onboard computers will compensate (help you) when your skills falter. Flight #3 is the real deal and mistakes will cost you. You're not in Space Camp anymore!
Once you get your skills in order, get out your camera and prepare to photograph your results! A player who completes 4 dockings and returns with at least 4,500 units of fuel would earn a Space Shuttle Pilot patch from Activision upon submitting a photo demonstrating said requirements were met. If you completed 6 dockings and returned with at least 7,500 units of fuel, you would get a special message, and sending a photograph of that would get you a special Space Shuttle Commander patch.
The Difficulty Switches come into play, but not in the standard sense. They are part of the Flight Deck Console and you can refer to the overlay to see how their adjustments come into play.
If you enjoy simulations, this may be the game for you. If you're serious about details, this may be the only game for you - on the Atari 2600. The level of detail is insane and it will take a long time to really become proficient at launching, guiding, docking and successfully returning to Earth. Personally, I'm not a huge sim fan and find the detail much too complex for the kind of games I enjoy - I love space shooters. But for the right type of gamer, Space Shuttle could be their holy grail. It's technically amazing and should be enjoyed by those who love mastering the details.
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