The Game: So, you’ve always wanted to pilot the Liberator? If you’re talking about the Atari Force’s trusty little flotilla of space fighters, you’re in luck. Your four fighters take up positions at the four corners of the screen, and you use a trackball to aim a cursor; hitting the fire button fires the weapons of the ship nearest the cursor. Basically, the “Malagon Army,” according to the introductory screen, has pulled off a strategic (to say nothing of logistical) coup in invading the entire galaxy – and you and your four fighters are supposed to free…well…the entire galaxy. Hopefully you packed a lunch. At the beginning of your mission, you’re trying to pick off Malagon scout ships in deep space. You then move on to a succession of planets where you have to take out missiles (and the ground bases that hurl them at you) and enemy satellites. Letting a missile through can begin to cost you ships quickly, and when all four fighters are fragged, you’re finished. (Atari, 1982)
Memories: An interesting game, Liberator, even if it breaks my heart by teasing me with that name and then having nothing to do with the starship of the same name from the 70s BBC space opera Blake’s 7. (Actually, it would almost make as much sense to adapt this game to that storyline as it did to try to attach it to the Atari Force comic books, which were shipped with numerous Atari VCS cartridges but had no prior presence in the arcade.)
It almost seems as though this game might have been intended to be the “first game in a series,” but as it was, the Atari Force never made serious inroads into the coin-op world. (Similarly, Atari’s then-sister company, DC Comics, wasn’t able to successfully break Atari Force out of pack-in comics included with 2600 cartridges.)
In any case, Liberator almost plays like the flipside of Missile Command – instead of launching the missiles toward an inbound enemy, from the planet’s perspective, you are the inbound enemy. (And what of that whole galaxy of enslaved souls? Isn’t anyone mounting an uprising against those Malagon invaders to make your job a little bit easier? Of course not!)
Liberator has only recently surfaced in legitimate home versions, though even analog joysticks on modern consoles can’t deliver the accuracy of the trackball – and the devil lies in that particular detail where game play is concerned. Don’t judge Liberator too harshly on that basis.