Atari Poop

Radar Lock

Greetings, Atari Poop readers! Our usual columnist for this piece, Pierre, is out on a top-secret adventure. Thus, I, Eric Bailey, Editor-In-Chief, am taking his place for a special-edition substitute. Will you survive my sabotage? Let’s find out with a look at a true Atari classic, Radar Lock!


Radar Lock is a fantastic video game. This is a first-party Atari release from 1989, rather late in the console life cycle, when many North Americans were already hooked on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). During this period, though, the developers at Atari were truly mastering the tricks of maximizing their beloved hardware, leading to some of the greatest cartridges ever made for the system; including a 1 More Castle favorite, Solaris.

In fact, if you like Solaris, you will be plenty ready for Radar Lock. Developed with the same gameplay engine, you will notice many visual similarities: The same gradient-shaded starship graphic, similar “dashboard” that takes up the same amount of screen space, a nearly identical take-off sequence, and the glorious simplicity of fast-paced dogfight combat, complete with crisp animations and wonderful explosion effects.

Just be careful not to pick the wrong starting mode, though, or you will begin without any ammo. And that is no fun. Learning how to use the map can be a little difficult, too; unlike Solaris, which has interstellar exploration (and is so amazing for its time, by the way, in its grand scope), Radar Lock chooses a purer focus on the combat. Really, if you like Solaris’s style but wish it were more gunfire-centric, Radar Lock is the Atari 2600 game for you. You receive 50 points for each of the enemy craft you destroy — what high score can you reach before you run out of fuel?

I am not sure why it is called Radar Lock, however, as there are neither radars nor locks to be found.

Hey, want to see a complete gameplay .gif from me, from title screen to reaching 1,000 points? All for under 1 megabyte. Let’s Play Radar Lock:


Please keep in mind: Due to compression, about 2/3rds of the actual gameplay frames were skipped in order to form this animation. In other words: Real-time gameplay is about three times smoother than this! Excellent!

Radar Lock Fun Fact: This video game was used by the United States’ government as a training tool in the early 1990’s for a select squadron of Air Force pilots preparing to enter the Gulf War theater. Even now, you can see why, as Radar Lock has many lessons to offer would-be fighter pilots:

• Familiarity with the concept of an artificial horizon
• How to “lead” enemy fighters into automatic gunfire
• Fuel management
• Basic dogfighting tactics
• Evasive action
• Opposing maneuvers
• Dealing with high-pressure situations
• Use of a digital interface
• Experience with a heads-up display
• Map usage
• Exploiting competitive nature toward air superiority
• The concept of per-craft value
• Score-keeping tradition
• Becoming an “ace”
• Physics of flight
• Altitude adjustment
• Nosediving
• Climbing
• Ailerons
• Turning
• Mid-air appearances
• Differences between sky, surface
• Winning at all costs
• Dealing with isolation
• Conquering rapid differences in sound
• Victory
• Defense against multiple opponents
• Joystick controls
• One-button rapid-fire operation
• Ammo count
• Symbolism

… Wow!