In Retrospect: Raid Over Moscow

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By Kodiak

It was with shrill protestations from some of those who lived in fear of imminent nuclear war during the 1980s that U.S. Gold released Raid Over Moscow on the Commodore 64 from the same development team, Access Software, that created Beach Head a year earlier in 1983.

It wasn't just a few hysterical harpies-gone-bonkers that threw a strop at the game's release; the Soviet Union's government also got in on the act, singling out poor old Finland for an off-the-record tongue-lashing, no doubt with brows appropriately furrowed, just because it allowed such an offensively-premised game to be imported... Obviously, compared to actually pointing real nuclear weapons at every major city in the West, an 8-bit computer game with primitive graphics and unrealistic gameplay stood as the more compelling political issue.

The game was even banned - allegedly - for a time in Germany, ostensibly for the negative psychological effects it produced in young people! (Interpretation: The German government's real motive was probably that it didn't want to provoke the Kremlin).

However, as I found when finally I played it, the only verifiable negative psychological effect it produced in me was crushing disappointment.

Now, before the howls of derision from its fans bellow out, let me first say that the game has some redeeming features and could have been so much better, all of which I get into further below.

But it has several major problems that debar it from consideration as a true Commodore 64 classic, so if you're a huge fan of the game, either look away now or brace yourself for what follows:

  • The graphics are ugly and utilitarian, much like its predecessor, Beach Head and the visually unimproved successor to both games, Beach Head 2.
  • The pilot in the hanger level is a giant compared to his craft but then gets teleported - and shrunk - to fit inside it in what constitutes one of the wackiest visual effects you'll ever see on the C64.
  • Hangar scene
  • Almost every level of the game looks like it could have been written in BASIC rather than the C64's 6502 assembly. (and this charge is likewise levelled at its two Beach Head stablemates), so lethargic, ponderous and simplistic is the gameplay.
  • The explosions are simply pathetic, barely animated at all, seemingly taken from the Zaxxon textbook of feeble blasts.
  • The sound effects are hopeless too and again, could have been written in BASIC; actually, I literally encountered some type-in games back in the 1980s with better sfx than this.
  • The use of the standard C64 charset for the scores is another reprehensible act of gross game development negligence... and yes, others back in 1984 were doing the same, but that's no excuse.
  • Apart from the first two levels / scenes of the game, none of it is remotely what I personally could have hoped for in a game called Raid Over Moscow... destroying things with a bouncy frisbee thing, for example... what on earth were the developers thinking?

Now, that all said, the fundamental concept of a Cold War themed game was solid and some of the ideas of R.O.M. could, if better implemented, have cemented its status as a bona fide classic.

For example, I really liked the hangar idea, so much so that it inspired the pilot-out-of-plane elements of my game in development, Parallaxian.

I also very much admire the idea behind the low level flying raid on Russian territory, even if it was crudely executed.

And the Strategic Air Command overview scene was another highlight.

SAC map

But where was the actual "raid over Moscow"?

Where was the flak, the surface-to-air missiles screaming up towards you, the incoming fighters, and above all, the bombing over the target that the name of the game merited?

It is of course, easy to be critical looking back at it from 2021, with the knowledge of programming and designing for the Commodore 64 we have accumulated over the intervening years.

All I could say in my own defence is look at Dropzone, also released the same year by U.S. Gold.

And yes, while its gameplay was era-typically limited, it was a technical tour de force, and may have been the first ever C64 game to deploy wavetables for its sound effects, which were on a different planet (ahem!) to those used in R.O.M... its scrolling and overall slickness were also years ahead of the vast majority of its peers on the platform, so my point is, with the right development team, R.O.M. could have been so much better. `

Nevertheless, it's still a fundamentally interesting idea and arguably a milestone in the progression of gaming on the C64, as well as an objective lesson in using controversy as a marketing ploy.

But a C64 classic?

No way!


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