Harbor Escape - The Atari Times
An underwater River Raid?
by Jacob HellerFebruary 24, 2014
In 1982 Activision released River Raid, one of the highest selling games for the 2600, and a title which is recognized as one of the best games for the system. In 1983 Panda Computer Games released Harbor Escape, a title showcasing their take on the scrolling shooter formula made popular by River Raid.
In Harbor Escape, the player assumes the role of a nuclear submarine commander who has succeeded in dropping off several commandos in Russian territory. The object of the game is to safely navigate winding and dangerous underwater passageways, all the while avoiding nets and a jagged shoreline. The sub must blast nuclear mines and enemy ships, while trying to obtain a high score. If the game sounds tough so far, add to this the fact that the submarine has an extremely small reserve of air, and must constantly be on the lookout for underwater air tanks in order to replenish this precious commodity. Touch the enemies, the shore, or run out of air, and you'll be swimming with the fishies!
So, is Harbor Escape a worthy spiritual successor to the formula set up by the Activision classic, or does it simply blow the ballast?
The player's submarine is small, yellow, and strangely resembles a phallus. Although despite this, it is very easy to see, and stands out well against the blue water. The air tanks that litter the waterways look like giant torpedoes, with the word "AIR" written on them, making them easy to identify. Enemy ships are not very well drawn, and look silly and pointy. The only other enemies in the game, "nuclear mines," are small, white, and look like tiny spiders. The netting, which must be shot in order to advance to the next level of the river, really stands out well. The nets are large and brown, and look like houses sitting on top of the water. All enemies share a similar fate when shot, exploding into animated clouds of white and red flashing pixels.
The shorelines on the sides of the screen look terrible, and are colored solid black. They are well designed in terms of making the river difficult to traverse; however this color scheme is unattractive, making the game hard to stare at for long periods of time.
The graphics in this game can be described as simple and limited. My major complaint with the art design is the fact that there are so few colors. I counted a measly seven. Although the bottom of the sea is a less-than-colorful place, a few more colors would have gone a long way in helping to make this game easier on the eyes. By 1983 the 2600 could have managed better than this; just look at the original River Raid if you need convincing. Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that aside from the netting which divides the levels, there are only two enemies present in this game. It would not have taken much effort to add at least one more enemy to this under-populated title.
There is no music or soundtrack in this game; there are, however, a number of sound effects. Different sounds are triggered when the submarine's air supply is dangerously low, when enemies explode, when firing the gun, and an almost musical jingle plays when the submarine fills up with air. The submarine's engines even have a different sound depending on how fast the player is moving. The sound effects are pretty good, but there is one overall problem with almost all of the sounds in this game: they all sound as if they were copied directly from River Raid. Again, this does not mean the sound effects are bad, just unimaginative.
Game play does not differ from River Raid. The submarine can move left, right, forward and backward. Pressing the fire button will fire the submarine's gun.
The submarine controls extremely well, and movements in all four directions are quick and precise. The controls actually seem slightly more responsive than in River Raid.
There are two play variants, single player and a two player mode in which each player takes alternating turns. The object of this mode is to compete for a higher score.
While not terrible, Harbor Escape is nowhere near as good as what it is trying to imitate. It is clear that Panda was trying to cash in on the River Raid craze started by Activision. The only people who should pick this one up are collectors who need to fill an empty spot in their collection. Everyone else should stay away, especially seeing as it sometimes sells for over twenty dollars online.
Panda, who's Panda?
(c) Panda Computer Games
I sense some familiarity... (But why did they change the sides so much!?) They still look like boats to me. Those are nets? Pipelines might have been better.
Publisher: Panda Computer Games
Graphics Score: 60%
Sound & Music Score: 85%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 90%
Final Score: 70%
This game might have been cooler if they had somehow incorporated a secret agent theme. See, he has to escape the nefarious super-criminal in a stolen submarine. Every so often he has to blow up the criminal's nuclear missiles (the bridges) that are blocking his path.
Oh, and am I the only one who is freaked out by the sides looking so chopped up? Why would they do that!?
I never played it, though it looks great. It does look really freaky I grant you that.