There’s been a lot of hubbub about the Atari VCS after it launched it’s Indiegogo campaign last week. It made a pretty good chunk of pre-order change within the first day, almost reaching $2 million and it is over that right now.
The thing is…I’m not really sure why.
Of course, you’d expect me to say that or to otherwise crap on it as I’ve made it clear that I’m not in any way sold on this thing. Atari is trying to angle this as some sort of revolutionary game streaming console but you can do that straight from the hardware of more powerful game consoles right now. Those consoles have plenty of game content and a flood of new titles will be announced at E3 next week. To me, this still feels like Atari trying to do something to raise the value of their brand so they can sell it off for a few more million bucks than it is currently worth.
One glaring issue is that there are no exclusive games announced for the VCS at this time. It will come with the Atari Vault which is a nice compilation of games BUT, you can buy that compilation for your PC right now for a mere $10. It’ll have Tempest 4000 on it at some point but you’ll also be able to get that for the PC/PS4 where it will certainly run better. There are a few 3rd parties listed for it but none of them are AAA…or even AA studios that create content that people recognize. Perhaps with E3 this will change but for an initial reveal, this is very underwhelming and pathetic.
One thing that people are very curious about is what kind of power an AMD A10-9700 has. The answer: not much. This is a hybrid CPU/GPU (called an APU) that is a generation behind AMD’s current star Ryzen. There are a number of other APU’s on the market right now that could give the A10 quite the beating out back in the woodshed. Yes, it can ‘run’ some modern games but certainly NOT at “4K @ 60FPS” like was touted about the console early on.
In fact, by this video showing a rig that has specs similar to the VCS, it will struggle to run many games at anything above 720p resolution. There are a couple of examples below that run at 1080p but several: CounterStrike:GO, Doom, Rise Of The Tomb Raider and so on, have to run at 720p and low or medium graphics settings. Also keep in mind as you watch this or consider the VCS in any way- Atari is asking you to pay around $300 for this thing, the same amount of money would get you a more powerful PS4/Switch/XB1 or a game rig that will outclass the VCS by a light-year or two.
Whether we like it or not, power does matter. I remember when the WiiU was Nintendo’s primary console and it became a failure. I loved the system. It DID have a number of fun exclusives and some 3rd party support. But that support dried up soon after launch when big studios saw that the console was struggling to sell. It lacked the power of the new PS4 & Xbox One, was a pain to develop for and so developers decided to keep their investments safe with those consoles and PC. Of course Nintendo is a case of often being the underdog in power but still managing to sell very well – the Wii was a perfect example of that; as are the DS handhelds which were outclassed by Sony’s handhelds but they received the games that people wanted. Nintendo not only has franchises that millions of people buy just on the name alone – Super Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Metroid and so on. They also have the talent with vision and a culture of game development to keep those franchises fresh.
Yes, Atari does have IP with nostalgia attached to it but it also can’t compare to what Nintendo or even Sega have done with their franchises. Atari has been a publisher, not a developer, for the past 15 years or so. They currently are made up of people that know licensing…not how to make a solid, fun game. The company hasn’t released a remake of any of their old IP in years that was highly praised or refreshed it in a way that made it feel unique and worth buying (BattleZone VR doesn’t count as that was sold to Rebellion in 2012 and they are the ones who refreshed that; it’s no longer an Atari property). All of the remakes they did attempt to do have been forgotten as quickly as a political hashtag campaign. As an example: remember Star Raiders or Yars’ Revenge on the Xbox 360? What about the three different Haunted House remakes released over the past decade? Asteroids Outpost was abandoned after a laughable Steam Early Access attempt. A number of arcade classics were refreshed for Xbox Live but again, nothing revolutionary was done with them…given new paint and thus playable but they hardly set the world on fire.
Yes I love the Tempest series but let’s be honest – Tempest 4000 is only appealing to a niche crowd of the game market. It’s not going to be the next Call Of Duty or even the next Super Mario. It was amazing how it was remade in 1994 but in 2019, we’ve ‘been there, done that’ plenty of times. Most people also aren’t into surrealistic shooters (heck, even shoot’em ups in general these days struggle to build a new audience, much less something that gamers see as “weird” and say “I don’t understand what is going on” when they do see it). Yeah I enjoyed Tempest 3000 for my NUON. But none of my friends really wanted to play it if they stopped by.
All-in-all, I don’t really get the hype for the Atari VCS so far. Maybe it is down to people also believing it will be a turd and they just want to have one to resell come 2025 when it’s a footnote in gaming history; maybe there are a few true believers in this out there but they are certainly in the minority. Too bad come July 2019, they’ll be hugely disappointed in their “investment”. Recall that the failed Ouya raised almost $9 million and it ended up as a total failure. Of course when the VCS ends up with the same fate here down the road, don’t be surprised to hear a lot of “I toldya so” going around the net.