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Gravitar Review

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Developer: Atari Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 1983 Also On:None

Hmmm, I’m was kind of up in the air about this one for a few days, but I simply had to dislike it after playing a few times. Gravitar, allow me to state at the outset, is a well-designed, well-programmed and very responsive title. But, it definitely does not deliver in the gameplay.

Gravitar starts with a title screen and then a ‘galaxy’ screen with various planets to go to, and after you land it switches to a view of the planet’s surface. In general, the galaxies look good, but on the planets proper things tend to be pretty repetitive because they’re just different mish-mashes of nearly identical block forms with different colors. In addition, your ship is essentially the same dang program code from Asteroids, just smaller, and the gun batteries that fire at you are simply stacks of blocks. Okay, I get it, this is the 2600, but after staring at a million of these I’m looking for a little more than the occasional UFOs, which suck anyway.

The sound in Gravitar is nothing spectacular either, pretty standard for an Atari 2600 game, and kind of disappointing. You have the typical bullet sounds, exhaust thrusts and so forth, nothing unique that will really catch your attention. I was expecting perhaps a cool little tune or something, but what you get might as well have been lifted straight from Asteroids.

Gravitar actually seems like an interesting, innovative game, at first. Basically, you have to navigate around a spanse of planets, select one at a time by flying into it, eliminate the enemies there and go to the next. On each planet you have to deal with different gravitational pulls and slowly manuever your craft around, thrusting delicately in different directions to avoid hitting the surface and bullets. There are four galaxies in all with three screens of planets. If you don’t want to go to each planet you can try entering the alien base and destroying it, thereby bypassing an entire level. It’s not easy, however, and will give you a good indication of what’s to come. Here’s a sample:

Gravitar seems like a good idea at first but gets boring rather quickly, mainly because playing it is so frustrating. Each planet, as even evidenced by the manual, is pretty much the same. My big gripe is that the planets get nearly impossible to navigate by only the second galaxy. The first few aren’t that bad at all, but once you get to galaxy two forget it. You have some spaces so small I’m not even certain you can move your dang ship through them. The gravity feature is cool and adds to the challenge since it varies from planet to planet, but controlling your ship through the later crevices is grueling. You have to ever so slowly move this way, then that, then this way again, taking more time than you can stand. I wouldn’t mind, or at least wouldn’t have hated the game if they added something to mix it up now and then, but when it comes down to it, all Gravitar is is a progressively more annoying series of tight spaces you move a ship through and shoot lame targets that themselves present no challenge at all. Wow.

Gravitar is, however, a pretty creative game. They managed to capture the essence of the arcade and it was the inspiration for a number of titles released thereafter. The idea is quite original, it’s just the gameplay that fails. In fact, the arcade version was easier, perhaps because the original programmer knew how much this kind of thing could drive someone insane. Some of the levels in the original involve more avoiding flying craft then shooting at static guns, and even have you on planets where you see only a surface of varying heights instead of annoying, maze-like jumbles of lines and blocks.

As you can assume, I only came back to Gravitar a few times to give it a fair chance. I couldn’t give it anymore. The tedious nature of play is too discouraging. I’d say it’s a decent length, provided you could actually get through it, so I’ll give it that, but it definitely doesn’t have any replay value.

With so many other awesome space-genre games for the Atari 2600 like Beamrider, Gravitar isn’t really something you should be making an effort to locate. Case in point, this game was actually released prior to Atari Club members only and then rereleased later (the former being quite a collectible now). If they didn’t give it wide release at first, perhaps that says something about it. Gravitar is impressive when you turn it on, until you get into the actual mechanics, and then it just gets annoying. The fact that even the arcade version wasn’t very popular should tell you everything you need to know. Spend your time elsewhere and play something that won’t give you a headache.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 4.5
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 2
Final: 5.2
Written by Stan Write a User Review