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Pole Position - The Atari Times

Pole Position

Getting the Checkered Flag
by Ethan C. Nobles

August 4, 2003
If you enjoyed Pole Position in the arcade, you'll like the Atari 2600 port of the racing game. Really, that's all most people need to know. However, if you want a few details, I've got them in spades.

As far as I'm concerned, 1983 was the year in which two of the greatest racing titles for the 2600 were released. After all, Atari came across with the excellent Pole Position way on back in '83, while Activision followed suit with a fine little racer known as Enduro. In typical fashion, the Atari title was heavy on arcade action, while the Activision game provided more depth.

At any rate, both games are fantastic, and I doubt you'll find a better arcade racer for the 2600 than Pole Position. Sure, there weren't many arcade racers made for the beloved Stella console, but Pole Position is very impressive, regardless.

For those either too young or to occupied with other things in the early 1980s to remember Pole Position, I should point out the game was a pretty innovative title. While a good number of racers either gave the player a "top down" view of the track (such as Activision's Grand Prix title for the 2600) or featured bleak, limited graphics (such as Atari's Night Driver released in arcades and for the 2600), Pole Position was rather unique. The player viewed the track from the back of the car, and the screen was filled with bright, detailed graphics. The game was obviously an attempt to convey a three-dimensional environment at a time when pixels were used and before "polygon-pushing" machines such as the Sony Playstation dominated gaming.

The player's task is simple - race around a track and avoid hitting other cars. There's also a time element involved in that the player must first complete a qualifying lap in less than 75 seconds. Once the qualifying lap is over, the player moves on to an actual race in which "extended play" is granted for completing laps in certain amounts of time. There's only one track available.

Firing up Pole Position on the 2600 is a unique experience, to say the least. Upon first glance, the game looks very clean and even has a nice mountain and a cloud or two on the horizon. The player's car is very detailed for an Atari 2600, as it's fairly colorful and rendered in high resolution. Interestingly, there's some screen flicker in the game, but it's used very well. The tops of the tires on the player's car flicker a bit to convey motion. Similarly, the red and white stripes on the side of the road blur and flicker as the car picks up speed, again conveying a sense of motion. There's nothing to speak of on the side of the road, but that's fine - you'll pay more attention to the twists and turns ahead, which are animated very smoothly, indeed.

And then, there are the opposing vehicles. They are, in a word, ugly. I'm talking about nasty old hag ugly. I'm talking about sitting home on prom night ugly. I'm talking about Magnavox Odyssey 2 ugly. The opposing vehicles, indeed, don't even look like they belong in this otherwise pretty game. The vehicles appear on the horizon as yellow blobs, and then morph into rather car-like piles of junk as they get closer. Yuck!

Fortunately, the ugly cars don't take much away from Pole Position as the gameplay is preserved very well. Although the arcade version of Pole Position featured a steering wheel, gear shift and accelerator and brake pedals, the 2600 version relies on the trusty old joystick. The arrangement works out better than you might think. The steering is responsive, and gears are selected by pushing the joystick up or down. The brake is activated with the action button, and the accelerator stays mashed down unless the brake is applied. That's fine because, at the arcades, I always kept the accelerator all the way down, anyway. The only thing that's extremely different is the arcade game featured billboards on the side of the road which would cause a wreck if hit (collisions in the game only slow down the race, thus robbing the player of some time). The lack of the obstacles on the side of the road make the 2600 version a bit easier than in the arcade. Going off the side of the road, of course, slows the car down considerably.

As for sound, it turned out pretty well on Pole Position. The car "revs" up nicely through the gears, and passing cars can be heard. There's some brief music introducing the game, and that's good enough for me, too. Pole Position never relied heavily on sound, so replicating it on the 2600 was, I suppose, easy enough.

All in all, this is a respectable port of an arcade title, and is well worth adding to your collection. The only major problem with this title is that it's a bit one-dimensional, thus diminishing it's replay value. However, that was the case with the arcade title, too.

This is a better title screen than 7800 PP2!
Not a bad rendition of the popular arcade game.
The crash animation leaves something to be desired.
Pole Position
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Driving
Graphics Score: 85%
Sound & Music Score: 80%
Gameplay Score: 90%
Control Score: 90%

Final Score: 90%

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