Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Top 30 Vertical Shooter for the Atari 2600: #19 Glacier Patrol

Glacier Patrol

Now we turn to a shooting game that has a premise only the 1980's could dream up.  In Glacier Patrol you are stationed at the north pole on security detail. Seems there is an alien invasion imminent and the bastards are dropping semi-intelligent blockading devices that look and act exactly like blocks of ice.  You have to use your heat ray to melt the devices before they seal you in and seal your fate.  To make matters worse, the frigid environment at the pole has dulled your reflexes and made your a bit torpid.  Oh, and the occasional runaway snowball can crash the party at any time.   Yep.  That's right.  That's the premise of Glacier Patrol.

Game play is what you expect.  You shoot at the ice blocks as they fall.  If they land, they form a barrier, not to your shots, but to your existence.  If the blocks seal you off from the sky it is GAME OVER.  You get more points for shooting blocks before their parachutes deploy.  You cannot take out the enemy space ship.  Your character moves much more slowly than the enemy space ship and you must stay vigilant for the snowballs that roll across the screen.  If a snowball hits you, its stuns you momentarily.  You can still shoot, but you cannot move.  You must leap over the snowballs to avoid them.  Needless to say, jumping is distracting and causes you to miss blocks.  Every 10,000 points the sun rises and clears a few blocks and give you a bonus for any empty spots.

Glacier Patrol is fun enough, but it has severe limits.  The premise, while completely bizarre, is pretty fun. The non-traditional idea of shooting to prevent being sealed in is a nice twist and the addition of the snowball adds to the challenge, but those are about the only things this game has going for it.  The basic action is a bit dry.  The slower movement is there indubitably to increase the challenge, but all it really does is increase the frustration.  Like playing a paddle game with a joystick (imagine), you simply cannot move fast enough to be everywhere you need to be to succeed.  This almost guarantees a game-over at some point, unless you are just really good or really lucky.  There is a difference between challenge and frustration.
The ice blocks slide down to fill in any open gaps, so you cannot just stand and defend a single hole, you must move about.  However, you cannot move AND shoot.  I guess the cold weather is again to blame.  Again, this isn't as much about challenge as it is about being obtuse.  The game would be challenging enough without these handicaps.  I suspect programming limitations might also be to blame.

Graphically Glacier Patrol is minimal, but decent. The space ship is very colorful and dynamic in stark contrast to the bleakness of the rest of the game. I realize that it is night at the north pole, but something a little more than black on white with a blue barrier would have been nice.   I realize it is an Activision game and that puts it in a special class, but Frostbite does a much better job of taking advantage of a unique polar locale.

Glacier Patrol shoots for the stars with its non-traditional concept, but its execution falls a little short of the atmosphere.  The game is fun to play for a second, but can quickly become frustrating.  This feels like a game that was well conceived, but then a bit hastily put together.

My best Glacier Patrol score: 4750

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