Star Raiders takes full advantage of the superb graphics capabilities of the Atari computer to create a game so realistic and challenging that it could very well become a standard against which other combat games will be measured. The game plot is simple: in the cockpit of your space fighter, you hop from sector to sector in the galaxy destroying alien ships which threaten the Star Fleet's base stations. Star Raiders has been widely copied by makers of standard video game cartridges - Atari now has a version for the VCS console - but none has come close to the original.

Play demands constant use of four different view screens, each acting independently. There are four skill levels, ranging from relatively easy to virtually impossible to master and, at game's end, you are awarded one of 55 possible performance ratings from Galactic Cook to Star Commander - Class I, although it's doubtful you will see the latter flash on the screen with any frequency.

At the lower practice levels, the defense shields provide complete protection from alien fire, but at higher skill levels things get more difficult. Your objective, of course, is to shoot down the enemy ships, but it isn't easy. The aliens know how to take care of themselves. They attack in swoops from all angles. Their torpedoes can knock out your photons and leave you unarmed, blow away your shields, blast out your engines and navigational aids and turn your ship into so much space debris.

Using your joystick for flight control and the computer keyboard for screen and speed selection, you check the galactic chart for enemy locations. Then engage hyperwarp, activate front viewer, turn on navigational-targeting computer display and put up your shields. A flashing red alarm tells you when you have entered an invaded sector. The alien ships may attack instantly or hang back. Your status board shows their distance and direction, or you can pinpoint their locations by switching to your radar-like sector scan.

The alien fighters attack from both front and rear, often at the same time. Your photon torpedoes fire in either direction, and the selection between forward and aft view screens can be manual or left up to your onboard targeting computer. But be warned - a wrong choice can be fatal. When fighting aliens on aft view the movements of the joystick make objects behave oppositely - as they would in real life.

At the top skill levels, the game moves at a frantic pace, and split-second decisions and reactions are needed just for survival. Video game fans who find that some games get too easy after a while will have no such complaint with Star Raiders.

When fighting aliens on aft view, turn the control around so that the firing button is at the bottom. This makes it easier to bring the enemy into your gunsight.