Atari's Combat does what it says on the cartridge, and does it pretty well. It doesn't look like much, and it takes a short while to figure out what you are and where you're going, but what you're doing is easy - shooting your opponent.
Like many a classic game from this era, it's so simple it's practically offensive. You vs me, no change in loadouts, no quirks, no perks, no faffing about.
At first I thought all I was doing was cycling through maps, but it turns out that they have their own little twists on gameplay. Not only can you mix the combat by what obstacles you can drive behind to avoid enemy fire, you can play with different fire modes too.
One map will be a straight shooter, the next will have guided shots, allowing you to turn them in mid flight. Yet another will have Pong style bouncing bullets, and if you're bored with any of them, you can even choose an empty arena with invisible vehicles that only reveal themselves when you fire your weapon.
If tanks aren't your thing, you can cycle through similar modes with aircraft, both biplanes and jet fighters, with these modes offering multiple vehicles and even 3 v 1 encounters. They're aren't so many obstacles in the sky, but two clouds to hide behind mean you can enter cover, turn without your opponent knowing and hopefully pop out in a more advantageous position.
In any one on one game, pulling off the little tricks that outsmart your opponent can feel just as good as winning a round, if not more so. A well placed shot that was bounced around cover, a mid-air turn that nobody expected... these will live longer in the memory than the score.
It's hard to know all of this exists if you haven't read any documentation or don't have the patience for trial and error upon starting the game up. If you're jumping in without exploring, you're missing out on nearly 30 variations of gameplay. Are they major variations? Not really. Do they keep the game fresher for longer? They sure do.
Many games of this era have that pick-up-and-play quality that is perhaps lacking in todays games, with this multiplayer game offering more bang than you might initially expect. It's simple, it'll be fun while you play it, but you'll eventually have to put it back and let yourself forget about it for a while, dusting it off when you next look for a quick retro fix.
Of the nine launch titles for the Atari 2600, only one was included in the box with the console: Combat.
Combat, developed by Atari, Inc., first released in 1977.
Version played: Atari 2600, 1977, via emulation.