Insert Credit endeavors to suss out where you should be allotting your video game allowance, sifting out a single title from many and crowning it as The One Game You Need to Get This Week. Don’t consider these reviews, gentle reader. Rather, think of Insert Credit as a mix of hands-on time, informed opinion and intuition.
For the week of August 2, 2010, you should insert credit into: “Halo 2600”
Completely by chance, it’s turning out to be a bit of a retro-centric week here on the IFC Games channel. But unlike the Insane Console History 2.0 video or junkboy’s demake art, you can actually play “Halo 2600.”
“Halo” has been the marquee franchise for both of Microsoft’s Xbox consoles so it’s fitting that the game’s the creation of Ed Fries, a former Microsoft VP. Fries used to be in charge of game publishing for the Xbox and has had a long history in various parts of the games business. When he decided to learn the programming language for the old Atari systems, Fries created a little version of Master Chief–the armor-clad bad-ass who’s the hero of the “Halo” games–as a lark. As he talked about the game with fellow developers at GDC and other laces, he was encouraged to turn his efforts into a complete game. The full game made its debut last weekend at the Classic Gaming Expo, where Fries celebrated by having an extremely limited run of 100 Atari 2600 cartridges available for sale. But, if you didn’t get one of those, you can also play the game here.
The simple controls-arrow keys to move, space bar to shoot-recall pretty well what it was like to use the iconic joystick controller of the old 2600 and there’s a cute yet accurate 8-bit rendition of the haunting Halo musical them on the title screen. The cool thing about “Halo 2600” is how much of the modern hi-res franchise’s feeling comes through in the measly 4 KB of data. You have to find a weapon at first and from there, the same feeling of cat-&-mouse gunplay where you’re chasing and being chased. And, even though Halo 2600 doesn’t happen in the first person , you still kind of have to aim, which happens by moving and shooting at the same time. And deft fingers will let you dodge bullets too, letting you feel like a pixellated version of the SPARTAN cyber-warrior. The 64-room map in “Halo 2600” draws its inspiration from the Atari classic “Adventure” and manages to create the same unique tension in the spare presentation of the game: Will this room have an enemy? Am I going the right way? Where’s the next shield power-up?
Chances are, you don’t have an Atari 2600 anymore. But, “Halo 2600” replicates the experience of that console’s best offerings while channeling the vibe of the present-day’s Master Chief adventures. Best of all, it’s FREE.