Retro Review: Rescue on Fractalus Atari 800/800XL/130XE

Rescue_on_Fractalus_coverA craggy inhospitable landscape, a thick corrosive atmosphere, bad tempered and deadly inhabitants who will go all out to kill you while you attempt a daring, hot drop rescue and save as many of your fellow pilots as you can. All in a days work when you take to the skies of Fractalus. Can this excitement fit into 48K? Is it possible?

I love George Lucas, he is right up there with David Crane and Nolan Bushnell in my 'Guys I admire' list, but I'm not much of a Star Wars fan. Sure in 1977 I was first in line at the local flea pit to see what all the fuss was about, but any love for the Wars in the Stars was soon to be replaced by Glen Larson and the epicness that was Battlestar Galactica (The original one, NOT that new and totally dreadful effort that SKY put out a while back) So why is Mr Lucas up there and not Mr Larson? Simple, Glenn did not create Lucasfilm Games.

Back in the 80's Lucas was pushing boundaries all over the place in film, special effects and sound. Lucasfilm Games produced three unique and visually spectacular games that had a deep story typical of the man. The first of these was called 'Rescue on Fractalus' a flying combat game that holds the honour of being the first computer game to frighten the controller right out of my hand.

The Story

The story is a simple one, pilots have been downed on a hostile planet. Their ships are smashed and time is running out, you have to navigate the craggy chasms under heavy fire and rescue them. The atmosphere is a thick acid soup that hinders visibility and will destroy a flimsy space suit in under a minute, meaning that you have to land as close as possible to rescue the downed spacer while he huddles in the wreckage, away from the harsh environment.

Graphics and Gameplay

The game uses fractal technology to create the mountains and valleys that you fly through, this is enhanced by the limited visibility of the thick Fractallian atmosphere. Atop these mountain peaks are the enemy anti aircraft guns doing their very best to get a lock on you and shoot you down. Added to that, kamikaze saucer shaped craft that are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to halt the rescue mission. Luckily your ship is armed with a singe fire torpedo launcher that will destroy most anything with one shot. As day turns to night things get even more tricky as you have to rely solely on your instruments to locate not only the pilots, but the sides of the mountains too. Luckily the instruments are well laid out and easily readable, the inspiration taken from an x-wing no less, you will soon be used to juggling altitude with wing-tip distance as you try and land with pin point accuracy in the dark while fending off a barrage of turret fire.

He's Dead Jim...

The actual mechanics of the rescue are quite straight forward, when a pilot appears on the scanner, move toward the beep until he is almost under you and land. Your ship is equipped with shields that must be dropped (or it will fry the pilot!) before he will emerge and then make his way toward you. A tap on the airlock will tell you he has made it and wants you to quickly open the door, if you delay his suit starts to melt and his frantic banging slows as the atmosphere overwhelms him. Further refusal to let him in brings a swift and gristly death to the poor guy you were sent to rescue, so open that door fast! Once safe inside, a little energy is replenished to the ship and you are ready to fly once more, on to the next until the quota is full and you can fire the boosters and head for the Mothership where your score is tallied and the next level is opened.

Terror, Alien Style

Going up levels increases the aggression, accuracy and frequency of the anti aircraft towers and more and more saucers will be thrown at you. Things are changing on the ground too. Every now and again you will see a pilot that looks a little different, after dropping your shields he will run toward you as normal and there will be the usual pause as he looks for the airlock, only this time its not one of your boys but an enemy alien disguised as a downed pilot! He rears up and tries to smash his way though your canopy, if he succeeds the atmosphere kills you in an instant and its game over. It was at this point I discovered that games can cause sheer panic as I dropped the controller, let out a shriek and stabbed at the 'S' key on the keyboard, the only solution is to fire up the shields and fry his slimy alien hide, then explain to your parents that have just rushed into your room what all the fuss was about. Well, I was only a kid. Woe betide you if you just happen to leave the airlock door open when one of these aliens walk by...

This game is excellent on so many levels, visually impressive in 48k, deep gameplay, surprises and tension hardly found in anything else I have played before. The sound is well done, when a beam strikes your shields you can almost smell the ozone as they crackle and fizz as they take one more for the team. Its well presented too, If you are lucky enough to find one with the packaging complete, the instructions are written in a way that sets the scene in your imagination and is visually supported by full colour photographs showing scenes from the game using real actors and props, unheard of these days. 

Going Deeper

If you liked the look of this game, try the other 'fractal' games from Lucasfilm, 'The Eidolon' and 'Koronis Rift', both are excellent and like 'Rescue on Fractalus' are pretty unique experiences. 

Atari Age have the manual scanned for you to see in all its glory

Electric Eggplant have a video from the 1984 press conference

Game play from YouTube

Last Updated ( 19 September 2011 )  


I am the original first generation. I wandered in to an arcade in the late 70’s and never really got over it. I don’t have a favourite system but I do have a lot of favourite games and spend most of my spare time playing and writing about them. On sunny days you could find me outside, but only if my longboard is with me.

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(Link to this comment) Ewokmic 2011-09-21 14:30
Did this ever come out on the Atari 400? I need something to add to my games colelction (if you can call Missile Command sitting all by itself a collection).

Also, what's wrong with the new Battlestar? I like the old one but the new one is top!
(Link to this comment) PageVGP 2011-09-21 21:21
(Yay! another 400 owner!) If you have upgraded the memory to 48k then yup it should work just fine, if not then im afraid its 800, xl xe only. I am going to be putting together a list of 400 games that work in 16k soon, so keep an eye out for that. Star Raiders really should be in your collection! (a review of this is being written right now)

And the new Galactica? Starbuck a girl? No way! ;-)
(Link to this comment) Ewokmic 2011-09-22 15:31
I haven't upgraded, in fact didn't realise I could. I should look into that. thanks!
(Link to this comment) PageVGP 2011-09-26 06:49
Quoting Ewokmic:
I haven't upgraded, in fact didn't realise I could. I should look into that. thanks!

Here you go! this should help get you some more bytes... 2

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