You and a fleet of ships are being sent in to take down a fortress bigger than Stallone and Schwarzenegger combined, controlled by a dictator who doesn’t care whether or not you can pronounce his name correctly. This was Beach-Head from 1983, an action game developed by the wizards at Access Software.
If Access sounds familiar to you, it might be from their near monopoly of golf sims with Links in the nineties and for putting a fedora on one of its own in the groundbreaking CD-ROM title, Under a Killing Moon. But in the early eighties, they would start with blowing up the bad guys in titles like this one.
Before games like Halo made putting together air, land, and mechanized combat in one place, action titles like Beach-Head did the same thing on PCs in putting together a series of varying challenges to keep the game feeling fresh. According to Bruce Carver in a story on Access Software for Commodore Magazine in 1987, as far as he knew, the game “was the first piece of 64 software to contain five independent games within one program”. It was straightforward action from start to finish, though much of it consisted of avoiding obstacles than in blowing away enemies.
Like a lot of games, Beach-Head came out from Bruce and Roger Carver’s inspiration over a topic near and dear to them. In their case, it was old war movies and they thought of trying to bring together everything they liked about those into this game. Bruce confesses that when he worked on the game in 1983, it was right in his basement.
In Beach-Head, you started off looking at an overhead map with a set of dots representing your attempt at being MacArthur. Two ways in were available – a direct confrontation through the channel, or a “secret passage”. If you went through the passage, you needed to guide one ship at a time through a lagoon of mines with torpedoes shooting at them in all directions. Losing a ship meant you had less to work with when you fought the enemy fleet on the other side.
Because that’s what’s next. Taking control of a ship’s cannons and facing a fancier version of Air, Sea Battle in front of you in a 3D-like setting, you needed to blow away planes as they flew off the enemy carrier. After doing that, your guns converted over to lobbing shells at enemy ships as you fiddled with with the angle of your shots hoping your next one would be a direct hit in an attempt to inject a little more 3D into the action.
Once you sent the enemy fleet to the bottom, and depending on how many ships you had left, it was time to storm the beach with tanks! Depending on how many ships you manage to save, that’s how many tanks you would get to drive through a side scrolling obstacle course with mines, barriers, and an occasional enemy turret just asking to be turned into a crater.
Then, once you made it through that, you get to face off against Kuhn-Lin and his superweapon, a giant turrent on top of a small mountain. Shooting from the bottom of the screen, you needed to hit enemy ports as they opened up on the mountain. Once you blew up all of those ports, the cannon exploded and you won the game! Having extra tanks was also very helpful at this point since the cannon would inevitably destroy one of two before you were able to nail all of the ports.
Beach-Head also allowed multiple players to compete for high scores (one at a time, of course) across different difficulty levels. It was ported to a number of platforms such as the Amstrad, Commodore 64, the Apple II, and the BBC Micro and a spiritual remake, Beach Head 2000, would even come out from budget-software publisher, WizardWorks which, from what I’ve read, wasn’t as fun as the original had been.
The ad was pretty goofy, but showed some creativity in sticking a screenshot showing the air defense part of the game in the porthole and the fortress attack in the binoculars. It also took the opportunity to show off what else Access was capable of bringing to the table.
Beach-Head wasn’t quite “The War Game To End All War Games!”, but for armchair admirals dreaming of storming pixelated beaches in search of despots back then, it wasn’t a bad way to pass a rainy afternoon. Or for the Carvers to realize their ideas for a game bringing their love of war films to PC screens everywhere.