The Many Faces of . . . Berzerk

By Alan Hewston

"I think I'm going Berzerk . . . . would you like to come too", lyrics from the Berzerk song on Buckner and Garcia's "Pac-Man Fever" album. With Winter now over, those of us up North can stop going Berzerk and hit the outdoors more. Alas, this often means less playing time of our good old video games, but we'll keep bringing you more reviews every month.

Hopefully you've had a first hand encounter with Berzerk at the arcades. Hearing "Intruder Alert, Intruder Alert", "The humanoid must not Escape" from across the arcade - where it would draw a crowd to see what was all this talk about. One of the first speaking games, instead of helping you, it taunted you - if you ran away without destroying all the robots you heard "Chicken, Fight Like a Robot!"

Stern made a simple maze game concept into their first big hit by adding voice digitization. I'd like to think of Berzerk as the Great Grand Daddy of Doom. After all, it is the first "kill or be killed, maze shoot 'em up". It spawned off its own sequel Frenzy, also by Stern, and has been copied many more times with a few generations of enhancements, such as Castle Wolfenstein, and Wolfenstein 3-D, and Doom. In Berzerk, up to 11 killer robots fill the maze and you must escape without being shot by or coming into contact with anything. Robots are 50 points each, plus 10 bonus points when all the room's robots are destroyed. An extra life at 5K & 10K (or every 5 K Vectrex).

I've been brainwashed by the Atari 2600 version of Berzerk, which I've played all too often. That is, I did not recall that the arcade version indeed had robots shoot at you in all 8 directions. I've been brainwashed to thinking that the 8 directions of shots from the robots was only added to the sequel, Frenzy. I was confused seeing this on the Vectrex version of Berzerk, but assumed that Milton Bradley just combined the diagonal shots from Frenzy into one game and still called it Berzerk. Why else would the robots be firing at you diagonally? Darn this game is much harder this way - let's try the 5200 version. Same thing - even harder. Atari 8-bit version, you guessed it. Obviously I need to do my homework here. So, from now on, I'll do more homework on checking out the arcade version of each game here. Were you brainwashed too?

Frenzy, the sequel was pretty much the same game as Berzerk, with some minor additions. Now, Evil Otto, the smilingest villain of all time, could be destroyed, albeit temporarily, if you shot him 4 times. But he'd come back, again and again, eventually as a pair of evil Otto's - coming at you from opposite sides of the maze. The mazes were similar, but much more complex, and then some of the walls were partial walls that could be shot through. There were more robots per room, and they could also shoot you through the partial walls. In general, the skill level started off slower, and with lots more robots to shoot you got more killing satisfaction for the same $.25 investment.


"A bug in the Vectrex version increased my score 300K, and 140+ levels - I'm not really this good."

Arcade Game Designed in 1981(?)by: Alan McNeil of Stern (also did Wizard of Wor)

Classic Platforms: Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8 bit, Apple II & Vectrex.

Ported to the Apple II by Jorn Barger, Atari designers (unknown).

Categories: Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

Sequels: Frenzy (1982) also by Stern, Alan McNeil. Ports on Colecovision (by ?) & Apple II by Steve Baker.

Have Nots: Apple II (N/A), Vectrex (37)
Unfortunately I do not have an Apple II, nor Berzerk for it, but my limited experience on an Apple II leads me to believe that the quality of the Apple II vector style graphics would make it very similar to the Vectrex version, but likely with primitive sound effects, but likely to have better control, and game options.

The Vectrex version is pretty much as I expected it to be. The Graphics are decent (6), considering that they are only monochrome and the screen is small. The sprites are crisp and well defined, but so small that they are hard to enjoy. Unfortunately, if you have the full compliment of 11 robots, plus their bullets and yours all moving, the screen flickers making the action slower and hard to see. Wow! is level 150 awesome (see photo). The Gameplay is enjoyable (8) pretty much all there but lacking a pause, a two player option, and any game/skill settings. The Sound is nice (8), but there is no speech and other effects seam to be lacking. The Controls are very responsive (8) but that small, left-handed joystick makes it tough to get used to. The Addictiveness is pretty good (7), but such a small, monochrome screen, with a small controller is not as thrilling as the medal winners.

Bronze Medal: Atari 2600 (40)
The Gameplay is very good (7), but also what is most lacking in this version. There are no diagonal shots by the robots, limited numbers of robots and simple mazes. But, one could argue that the Gameplay is better for the following unique options, not included elsewhere: A children's version for simple skill, playing with bonus lives on/off, rebound Evil Otto, and head-to-head two player mode [just kidding, wanted to see if you Wizard of Wor fans are reading this]. The Graphics are pretty good (7), and although simplistic and lacking any details, certainly do not detract from the game's playability. The Sound is nice (8) and is only lacking speech and minor sound effects. The Controls are perfect (10), which helps to make the Addictiveness super (8), as its simplicity and skill variations bring you back for more.

Silver Medal: Atari 5200 (43)
Speech synthesis!! Despite not being required in the game, the 5200 version gets a perfect (10) for Sound for its inclusion of taunting in a voice, not unlike the "Cylons" from "Battlestar Galactica". You can toggle speech on/off. Unfortunately, there are no sounds for when your shots are fired, and a sound delay when you destroy a robot, but I assume these poor features were part of the arcade game that I've also forgotten. The Gameplay is most excellent (9), but could be better if not for the following frustrating feature. While exploding, the robot explosion/debris field takes the shape of Evil Otto's face, but takes so long, that a subsequent shot is blocked by the debris. Further, if you are not patient waiting for it to clear, you are fried by it. Again, maybe the arcade version was like this, but it makes the game harder/frustrating for no reason. The skill levels (see the manual) allow you to start with robots at 11 varying levels of difficulty in speed, intelligence and shot frequency. Starting level 11 is probably as fast as they get. I'd prefer the skill level 1 to be even easier than what it is, but alas, this is not the Colecovision. The Graphics are crisp (8) and have only one minor defect that affects play. For some reason, (bad programming perhaps) your diagonal bullets go right through the bottom of the robot's leg - without affecting them. As usual, the Controls are awkward, but with the proper joystick can be comfortable enough (8) and perhaps not detract too much from the game. The Addictiveness is enjoyable (8), but the skill level is so hard that it may turn you away - that and the joysticks.

Gold Medal: Atari 8 bit (45)
Once again the joystick breaks a possible tie. The Gameplay is very nice (8) and repeats the 5200.

In fact, ditto everything for the 5200, save for a few differences, such as the Controls are flawless (10) which also boost the Addictiveness score to Superb (9). Again the Graphics are crisp (8), and the Sound is perfect (10). This is the version that you'll want to play - providing that you can find it. Aha! A catch! Yep, for some reason, this game never made it to a cartridge, so for those of you don't do disk Drives - sorry. Same story next month when I plan to review the many faces of Jr. Pacman for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64.

(After surviving a hard drive crash, Alan Hewston can again be reached at Hewston95@stratos.net

Feel free to as if you are looking for the Atari 8-bit version of Berzerk. I finally have a TI 99/4 system, and some games for this column, but have yet to get it working.)

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