Airlock (Atari 2600)

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Developed by
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Written by  :  Nick Drew (412)
Written on  :  Feb 01, 2007
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars

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Well paced, fun, and suitably addictive underwater capers from Data Age.

The Good

This is a neat little gem from Data Age, arguably one of their best efforts. The atmosphere is effectively set at the title screen, with the partially submerged submarine sitting isolated in the ocean far from civilisation. Schools of fish can be seen swimming joyously from left to right, and periodically a torpedo speeds past just below the sub.

The visuals here are simple, clean and functional, and serve the play well. However, the real beauty here is in the game-play. This is a strikingly original design, simple in execution, which subsequently moves really well and generates an exciting scenario. The crux of it is a mixture of testing sharp reflexes and good judgement, where often timing is critical.

A typical screen is composed of five levels, that is, horizontal sections spanning the length of the play field, broken up by straight purple lines. On each level there are but two keys, one orange, one white, and you must collect both keys to unlock the elevator shaft to reach the next level. That isn’t the end of the story of course, where as you also have to contend with torpedos that periodically drift across the level, which you must jump over to avoid losing precious time. As well as that there are barriers uniformly placed about the levels which you also must leap over, before reaching the elevator, nearest the second key.

The catch is you only have ten seconds to reach it, before the level becomes completely flooded, and this is effectively visualised as the block being filled in solid blue. If you don’t make it up, the game will cut back to the outside shot of the sub, and will depict you being flushed out of the hatch, and sinking to a watery grave with your vessel.

In terms of variations, game one basically lets you get to grips with the game, and you only have to clear five levels with a basic two barriers per level arrangement, and doesn’t prove too difficult to beat. Game three however, coupled with the difficulty switch being set on hard, which has some very nippy torpedos, makes for a very challenging game, where there are ten levels, two set of five, and the second half has dual sets of barriers, where they are closely arranged, and more difficult to negociate, and it is infinitely easier to fumble, and subsequently drown. Controls are spot-on, as is the collision detection, so you can only have yourself to blame.

The sound effects compliment the game well enough, and are largely pitched low, and get the job done fine. Thankfully, there aren’t any piercing white noises here. The beeps of the submarine radar on the title screen have just the right pitch and tone, which results in a convincing effect.

The Bad

Compared to some other 2600 carts, the selection of game variations is a bit on the light side, with only four, and two of these are simply two player turn-based modes of the single player variants.

The Bottom Line

Air lock is a fast, fun and addictive game, with a unique play style and is decently atmospheric, and has some interesting visual touches. The tight pace creates some exciting moments, and it makes for an entertaining experience. Only slightly marred by lack of variety, but otherwise highly recommended.