Saturday 12 January 2019

Front Line (Atari 2600 review)

Developer: Individeo
Publisher: Coleco
Released: 1984

Front Line is a run 'n' gun game that was originally released in the Arcades in 1982.

It consists of four skill settings and your mission is to advance upwards to invade enemy territory and destroy the end of level fortress. You're armed with a rifle that can shoot in eight directions, but at certain points you can commandeer a heavy tank (slow movement, cannon shot) or a light tank (fast movement, machine gun fire). The gameplay has a few quirks, some of which are a nuisance and others that you can use to your advantage. For example, while attempting to traverse the environment you'll frequently find yourself getting stuck on parts of the scenery and annoyingly having to wriggle out. On the other hand, the limitation of only two enemies being visible on screen simultaneously is beneficial, especially as one opponent prefers to enter from the rear allowing you to craftily leave him trailing behind you! The shifting scenery keeps you constantly engaged, and the vehicle types are different enough to have a real impact on the gameplay. Losing your tank and having to move on foot during the treacherous rock section is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, and it's this test of survival that creates huge satisfaction when you do manage to advance to the next area. Likewise, choosing to abandon your heavy tank in favour of the speedier light tank is an intense game of risk-reward due to the incoming foes that add to the pressure-packed atmosphere. I also love how enemy soldiers quickly scurry away in fear as soon as you enter a tank! The scrolling is smooth, the controls are great, and it's never an issue to fire diagonally before quickly darting out of the way to avoid projectiles.

Front Line is a bit rough around the edges and perhaps doesn't make the best first impression, but underneath its unpolished exterior is a very addictive game. It's also way ahead of its time and it's clear to see how its intense run 'n' gun gameplay influenced future Arcade titles such as Commando (1985) and Ikari Warriors (1986).

Random trivia: The game was ported to numerous other systems including the Colecovision and Nintendo Famicom.

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