By Tom Powter

It’s astounding how little I know.

Despite having a self-professed knowledge of the gaming industry as it stands today, it was criminal of me to think I knew anything about the past. Atari: Game Over tells the story of the lost E.T. cartridges, which were buried in the Alamogordo desert, but don’t be fooled – that isn’t the real draw here. The documentary chronicles the entire history of Atari, and features the compelling story of designer Howard Scott Warshaw – the developer of E.T. oft considered responsible for the video game crash of 1983.

Watching Atari: Game Over feels like something I should have done a long time ago. It’s amazing to see how far the industry has come since the Atari 2600 – but also, how similar things still are. One could say history is lining up to repeat itself. The time pressures placed on Warshaw to complete E.T. in a mere five weeks saw him ostracized after its supposed failure, despite an immensely high-flying career. Nowadays, the rush to complete a game for Christmas is all too well documented. Big series like Battlefield and Assassin’s Creed are making many of the same missteps documented here – it’s truly a peculiar thing to witness.

Let me start at the beginning however. The documentary introduces us to a number of faces who perhaps only the most die-hard of industry experts and fans will recognise. Despite this, their illustrious histories and gripping stories will have you feeling for them all by the end – most specifically Howard Warshaw, the sole developer of the titular game. His eventual demonisation, despite his earlier rock-star like status, is a sad tale and his final interview tugs at the heartstrings as he sees his past – and not just his past either but the one product blamed for perhaps his downfall – exhumed before his eyes.

Zak Penn does a good job at keeping the excavation sections interesting, but as I said, the real gems of this documentary aren’t to be found at any dig site. If you can get past the typical bombarding of pop-culture references that felt a bit shoe-horned in at times, the story of Atari is laid out splendidly for all to see. It’s accessible, and it’s interesting. Gaming as an industry is a rich, colourful one – yet for years it’s played second fiddle in the entertainment world to film and music. One can’t help but wonder what gaming would have been like if the crash hadn’t occurred in 1983.

In fact, many of these thoughts were racing through my head as I watched Atari: Game Over. My eyes were opened to a catalogue of history that I’d barely waded into before. The rise and fall of Atari, the burying of the E.T. games – they’re all gears in what has essentially formed the industry today. If you’re a gamer like me, you owe a lot to the minds of Warshaw and his party-loving colleagues.

Actually, if you’re a gamer, you owe it to yourself to watch Atari: Game Over. You owe it to yourself to see what could have been the fate of gaming, and you owe it to yourself to see what shaped the industry today. Atari: Game Over is a necessary beast. It’s a humble little documentary, full of emotion and education. It took me through an era I completely missed out on and although I knew the outcome of the dig long-before anything came up, it didn’t matter. I felt like I was there, taking in the history at the same time, and to prevent the Atari, and so the earliest days of gaming, from disappearing into obscurity, that’s probably the most important thing.



DVD Review: Atari - Game Over
4.5Overall Score
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