Missile Command

August 7, 2007

I know you have fond memories of standing at an arcade cabinet diligently defending cities from unnamed, hostile aggressors using only a trackball and a trio of buttons. Enemy missiles, smart bombs, and ships threaten the pixilated landscape, and it’s up to you to save them. In 1980, the presentation was sufficient, but the concept just doesn’t hold up in today’s market.

Missile Command is played, technically, exactly the same today as it was over 25 years ago. Move your aiming reticule around the screen, time your shots, and destroy incoming enemies and ordnance. Destroy all of the missiles and the stage resets. Lost cities remain lost, but your three missile turrets are rebuilt. Clear enough stages and you’ll start earning more points (x2 score, x3 score, etc.) and extra cities are awarded at score landmarks (the first is at 10,000 points).

The arcade version used a trackball to move the reticule, and it brought a certain exactness to the game. It felt like you were actually moving the sights of your turrets because the reticule speed and the trackball speed were linked. You knew how hard and in exactly which direction to roll the trackball to get where you needed to go, and the same quality doesn’t translate to the 360’s analog stick. This makes normal mode difficult and the unfortunately named throttle monkey mode – in which enemies move at twice their normal speed – nearly impossible.

If these changes make you yearn for the game as you played it in the arcade then you’re in luck. Missile Command features a classic mode, and everything will look just as you remember it. Sadly, the Evolved mode’s control problems are also present in the classic version. Upon realizing that Classic is no more fun than Evolved you’ll find yourself playing Evolved just for the updated visuals. This is one place that Atari really could have stepped up and brought Missile Command into the 21st century. As with the other features in this game, however, Atari took the easy way out. Visuals are updated but the concept is largely unchanged. Cities are lined up on a two-dimensional plane with turrets spread between them. This, in and of itself, isn’t horrible. Changing this setup would fundamentally change the way the game is played (Additional mode? Anybody listening? Atari? Bueller?) The original featured a monochrome backdrop, and the update isn’t much better. Bland deserts and empty skies are all that you’ll have to look at in the distance. Where are the other cities? Where is the infrastructure? Where is anything worth looking at?

Missile Command is a disappointment on all fronts. It’s a lazy update, and Atari is counting on you to purchase it without playing the demo beforehand. Missile Command hasn’t made the transition to the modern day well. It’s true to its roots, but the 360’s controller absolutely kills this arcade classic. If you really have a yearning to play classic Missile Command – and have fun with it – then your best bet is to find an old arcade cabinet.

Score: 1/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.