Combat Tank Plus Atari 2600 game

No big surprise here, both labels display tanks and planes blowing things up (this is a war game after all). The Atari artwork has a weird ‘crease’ in the middle which makes it look like a folded piece of paper (maybe that’s what they were going for?). I prefer the Sears picture over the Atari one simply because it's more of a close-up shot and the idea of tanks shooting at biplanes is cool. Take that you stupid planes! Sears wins!

Tank game: The Tank game in Combat had the basis of two tanks controlled by players each moving around a playing field and shooting the other player until time ran out. The player with the higher score would win. There were various types of shots a player could have depending on which level they chose, including straight missiles, guided missiles, and Tank Pong in which the shots would bounce off the walls, with variations upon whether a direct hit could strike their opponent, or a strike required a billiard hit. There was also an Invisible Tank in which the players would be invisible except for a brief few seconds after firing, and Invisible Tank Pong option. Along with the play styles there were also mazes to choose from including an empty field, a simple maze and a complex maze. One notable (and perhaps unintentional) interaction that could be performed in the tank game consisted of bringing one tank up behind the opponent tank such that the cannon of the first was inserted into the rear cutout of the second. Once in this position, by rotating the first tank, a sprite collision could be triggered which would send the tanks into a wild 'jump', during which they usually would pass through obstacles, or leave the edge of the screen to enter on the other side. Combat isn't just any old Atari 2600 game. For many, this tank battle extravaganza was and is the Atari 2600 game. A 1977 launch title, Combat also served as the console's pack-in game until 1982. As such, Combat is one of the most common and "worthless" games of all time. My local record store has an entire stack of cartridges, perpetually covered in dust, and I happen to own two label variants myself. In addition to all the Atari label variants, the game also exists as Tank-Plus (Sears) and as the Zellers "clone" title Frontline (not to be confused with Front Line where you only occasionally operate a tank but generally play as a soldier who waddles around like he has a load in his pants).

Let's get one thing out of the way right now. Combat is exclusively a two-player game. Yes, you need to play with a friend, sitting beside you on the same couch. I can hear the groans from modern gamers, but that's just how things be back then. Video games were a social event, and opponent "AI" was underdeveloped to the point of being laughable. Just take note of those Atari launch titles that attempted single-player modes: Indy 500 has the player circle a track alone in some sort of racing purgatory, Air-Sea Battle and Street Racer feature computerized opponents that simply charge ahead blindly with no regard to tactics, and while Video Olympics does feature some solid Pong AI it's still 96% multiplayer.

Combat is an early video game by Atari, Inc. for the Atari 2600. It was released as one of the nine launch titles for the system in September 1977, and was included in the box with the system from its introduction until 1982. Combat was based on two earlier black-and-white coin-operated arcade games produced by Atari: Tank (published under the Kee Games name) in 1974 and Anti-Aircraft II in 1975. Combat is quite entertaining in its virgin state, but let's get into the modes. Yeah, the modes. This is an Atari launch title so there are a bunch of 'em: 27 to be exact, toggled by flipping the "game select" switch on the console. Players can add obstacles to the play field, creating an "easy maze" or a "complex maze." Bullets won't pass through these newfound barriers, which slows down matches considerably and adds a great element of strategy and positioning. Bullet trajectory can be changed, and like Air-Sea Battle it's possible to play with "guided" bullets that can be steered after being fired.

But the fun really starts at mode 6. We've entered the Pong zone, where the tanks' bullets now ping-pong bounce off walls, either coming into contact with the enemy tank or eventually dissolving. In a brilliant twist, the programmers included some "billiard hit" variations, where a tank cannot be damaged unless hit by a bullet that's previously come into contact with a wall or barrier. Mode 10 brings us to the "invisible tank" games, where the tanks appear only when firing, receiving a hit, or bumping into a stationary object. Novice players will button-mash to keep their tank on-screen, only to be demolished by a clever opponent who's been stealthily tracking their unseen vehicle. You love to see it. As one may have guessed, all these mode variants can be combined, so, for instance, it's possible to play invisible tank Pong within the confines of a maze.

Work up to mode 15 and everything changes. Player now control bi-planes, with a completely new set of controls. The planes conduct combat within a completely wide open arena (no edge of screen barriers) and loop from one side to the other. While it's impossible to stop a plane, pressing left or right controls the speed, while up and down cause the aircraft to rotate. Damaged opponents don't "spin out" in the same way the tanks do, but do remained stunned for a brief moment. The mazes and Pong controls are sadly absent, but players have the option to manipulate shot trajectory and can toggle the "clouds" foreground on and off. There's a "2 on 2" bi-plane game, where each player controls two planes that fly side by side and both shoot simultaneously, and a very bizarre "3 on 1" where one player controls three planes and one controls a single massive aircraft. Following the bi-plane games are a series of jet games. These essentially feel identical, except the jets move in a smoother fashion. The controls here arguably feel the most "normal" and would be emulated in future air combat games, like Konami's Time Pilot.

Game category: Atari 2600 games

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