Missile Command 3D
by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
At the E3 show back in May, 1995, Atari's big promotion was for their recently-signed deal with Virtuality, and plans for an inexpensive "Jaguar VR" virtual reality headset. While the agreement is now on shaky ground and the headset has been put on hold, one announcement from that deal has borne fruit. It's Missile Command 3D, the first released Atari/Virtuality video game and part of Atari's series of "enhanced classics" for the Jaguar.
Missile Command 3D is actually composed of three games. "Original Missile Command," true enough, is a straighforward adaptation of the 1981 cold-war arcade title. "3D Missile Command" is a near-future version of the original, with upgradeable weapons and a battlefield that spans several screens. Finally, "VR Missile Command" travels to the far future, pitting the player's laser cannons against everything from missiles and bombers to titanic battle platforms and fire-breathing dragons in a variety of virtual landscapes.
While the three modes in Missile Command 3D share the same basic idea -- that of defending six cities from missile attacks -- the results are vastly different. "Original" is a close rendition of the 1981 arcade classic, though it's not an exact clone, and devoted veterans will notice some minor changes. Still, it succeeds in capturing the original's simple charm and hectic appeal, and in the end, "Original" is a delight.
"3D Missile Command" is a misnomer, as the game is not really played in three dimensions. Instead, the player scrolls the screen with the joypad, firing missiles in a 180-degree area of vision while a radar map tracks incoming dangers. Weapons are upgraded with "technology levels," where the player is rewarded for keeping cities intact for as long as possible. But the "3D" mode is flawed; the cone of vision is simulated with a twisting view, which makes it tricky at times to line up shots, and knowing how much to lead enemy missiles requires some experience.
"VR Missile Command" is unlike anything else in video games to date, and is the high point of this cartridge. The six cities are arranged in a circle, surrounded by the defense bases. The action is viewed from one of the bases, allowing the player to look around the virtual landscape and shoot down the enemy with lasers and missiles. Each base has a limited amount of firepower, and players can switch bases at any time, whether for more ammunition or a better attack angle. The nine stages are divided into underwater, aerial, and space scenes, each offering its own dangers and an end-of-the-round boss. The action is fast and furious in this mode, and the player is quickly absorbed into its captivating gameplay.
But even Missile Command 3D is not entirely flawless. Difficulty settings are almost nonexistent; "Original" and "3D" modes have none, while "VR" mode offers three. Fortunately, the game isn't locked into any pre-set patterns, which helps to keep it fresh over time. Also, crosshair control in the "3D" and "VR" modes could have been better. They feel a little sluggish, starting slow and speeding up as the joypad is held down. Accurate aiming requires a little practice, but thankfully the game is lenient enough that pinpoint precision isn't required. Ultimately, these are relatively small flaws, and Missile Command 3D is simply a lot of fun to play.
The graphics in this game are among some of the best on the Jaguar. While "Original" mode closely duplicates the arcade's simple visuals, "3D" and "VR" modes go all out with advanced, up-to-date visuals. Solid and texture-mapped polygons are used everywhere, rendering easily-identified objects against photorealistic backgrounds. The frame rate is consistently high, producing smooth scrolling and seamless animation throughout. The game even includes a fair number of visual extras: a "flare" lighting effect, transparent objects, shimmering water, even an option in "Original" mode to play in a variety of enviroments with user-controlled scaling and rotation.
The music and sounds fall a little short of the graphics' high standards. "Original" discards the original sound effects and replaced them with other, equally simple noises. There's nothing wrong per se, but an effort to copy the arcade effects would have been welcome. The sounds in "3D" and "VR" are spartan, dominated by explosions and weapons fire, with various chimes to tally bonuses at the end of each level. Much better is the background music, which consists of assorted soft rock tunes that play throughout. They are all nicely done, complimenting the action without being distracting.
Missile Command 3D is simply terrific: wonderful graphics, enjoyable sounds, and three very distinct play modes add up to form one simply terrific game. Though the cursor control is a little sluggish, it's nothing to fret over, and fans of action games will quickly lose themselves in this title's various challenges. Never the same twice and certainly never boring, Missile Command 3D is a must-buy title for Jaguar owners everywhere!