During the 80s, we were probably doing what many other families were during the holidays in the US — sharing time with friends and family, munching on turkey and mashed potatoes, and simply being thankful for the moments in which we can get together.
And that the Cold War never turned hot as it did in Access Software’s 1984 action game, Raid Over Moscow. If Ace Combat ever went 2D, this might be as close it could have gotten.
Instead of feasting on turkeys, the USSR has decided to stick ICBM forks into the world with a surprise attack on the US and Canada in a bid for “world domination”. The SALT IV treaty was supposed to have disarmed the world’s nuclear arsenals, but it looks like the Soviets have managed to hide a few. With the US without any nukes of its own to defend itself for playing by the rules versus the skullduggery of the “evil empire”, it falls on a space station and its high-tech bombers to stop the onslaught!
This was a really fun action game for PCs ranging from the Apple II and the Amstrad to the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum. It combined a number of different challenges, much like Access’ Beach-Head which was also released in the same year, to create a high-speed race from space to the heart of the Kremlin in order to end the attack.
In an interview by Commodore Magazine in 1987, the Carvers spilled the beans on Access Software and the hits they were renowned for such as Beach-Head. The idea for Raid was actually dreamt up “in the back of a van” as the team drove home from 1984’s CES in Vegas. At the time, the USSR “was in hot water with most of the nations around the globe” so a game involving a fictional strike against Moscow had a good chance of doing well since they figured “most people wouldn’t care”.
At the time, the USSR really was in hot water. They had invaded Afghanistan, had shot down a civilian airliner (Korean Air Lines Flight 007) after mistaking it for a spy plane, and were the brunt of Reagan’s rhetoric which predicted that they would end up on the “ash heap of history” and categorized them as an “evil empire”. Things looked pretty bleak, but with movies such as Rambo: First Blood Part II and Octopussy casting Soviet strongmen as convenient bad guys, there was definitely a market out there for plenty of Cold War fiction that the Carvers wanted a piece of.
After picking a difficulty level ranging from Beginner to Suicidal, players found themselves staring at a screen from “SAC headquarters” showing a hemisphere of the world with the US and Canada on one side and the USSR on the other as seen in one of the screens above. Suddenly, a launch is detected telling you which Soviet city — Minsk, Leningrad, or Saratov — the missiles are coming from and what the target is — like New York — along with an ETA for impact.
The first order of business is actually to get out there and do something. That meant flying a plane from its isometric, zero-g hangar, without blowing up. Though the ad says “3D graphics”, this was the flat, 2D kind using clever artistic tricks to create 3D effects. But that just doesn’t sound as impressive.
I remember that being the hardest part in the game for me. It was so tricky to carefully float your plane while countering drift and in keeping it off of the flight deck, and then timing your exit to coincide with opening the hangar doors — before they automatically closed a few moments later. Why they didn’t simply leave them open for me until I left must be one of those “safety precaution” things that was never told to anyone.
The neat thing about this was that the sequence didn’t end if you got a plane out — it let you take as many as you could out of the hangar for the attack as extra lives. So the better you did here, the better your chances at staying in the fight below.
Once out, it was down to surface to blast your way across the Soviet landscape in a side-scrolling shmup blasting through Soviet ground defenses while flying by the nape of the Earth to avoid their radar while also trying to watch out for buildings and trees. On higher difficulty levels, the ground could also kill you.
Once you made it through the countryside, it was time to destroy the missile silos as your plane hovered at the bottom of the screen, shooting up at the silos’ “weak points” which showed up as open ports to blow them apart for points. Or you could wreck the command center controlling the silos instead and just end things. Planes would also come in to try and shoot you down and you were also being timed — the clock that starts counting down from that SAC screen wasn’t for show.
Then it’s back up to start the attack all over again against another city. Once all three main sites are taken out, it’s time to head to downtown Moscow armed with a rocket launcher. The player moves left and right in a trench to avoid enemy fire from soldiers up on the walls along with tanks rolling in while firing at a line of doors at the foot of the Soviet Defense Center to find the right one taking them into the reactor room.
Inside, players will need to fight a robot watching over the reactor. It’s indestructible from the front, angry, and if you have enough guys left over from the previous attacks, will try and chew through them. The only way to destroy it is to hit it from behind using “disc” grenades that bounce off of the rear wall. Think TRON, only in the hands of the US military, and that’s what this was like.
This was a crazy, classic boss fight and depending on the difficulty level, you would have to beat down anywhere from two to five of these things. To make it even more challenging, you were timed on the last one because it’s ignoring the reactor which is beginning to go critical.
If you won after that, you saved the world! Your score was tallied up and you could go and try it all over again. I spent so much time just trying to beat it once that scoring wasn’t that important to me, but once I got the hang of things, I couldn’t stop playing through it again and again.
Raid Over Moscow wasn’t ported to any of the consoles, but it did get a neat free-to-play remake which you can find here for download. And yes, getting out of the hangar is just as rough as it was way back then.
The game was also controversial in Finland when a Communist-affiliated member of their parliament questioned whether it was even right to sell the game. The resulting controversy only served to spur sales, however, and Finland has been fine ever since. One other oddity related by the Carvers in their interview above was a group that came in from the Netherlands complete with cameras to interview them on the game — only to find out that they wanted to know where their idea for an orbiting space station really came from. They confess that the idea came to them “a year before” they had “heard about the President’s Star Wars Defense System” though the film crew apparently thought otherwise.
This is a game that stands, at least in my mind, as one of Access’ best arcade inspired games from that era along with Beach Head. It also uses a lot of ideas that gamers can find parallels with in games today from weak points to boss fights.
Raid Over Moscow also wasn’t shy about blending different gameplay elements together to create a coherent narrative of action whether it was trying to escape your own hangar to blasting it out in Red Square, a design approach that has proven popular in titles such as EA’s Bond vehicle, Everything or Nothing, to more recent titles such as Activision’s Black Ops II.
It’s a great, timely slice of the Cold War packed in with plenty of fun, and challenging, action. Not a bad trip back into the eighties.