Berzerk (Arcade) – Review

Retro Resolution Retro Review

System: Arcade
Developer: Stern
Author: Alan McNeil
Year: 1980

Berzerk - Stern - Cabinet Marquee - Image:

Now three and a half decades old, what can be said about Stern’s 1980 all-time classic Berzerk that hasn’t already been written a thousand times before?

  • Game concept derived from Alan McNeil’s dream of deadly robot attacks – check
  • Breakthrough synthesised speech (‘Intruder Alert!’, ‘Chicken, fight like a robot!’) – check
  • Two real-world heart attack deaths chillingly attributed to high-scoring sessions – check
  • Designed as monochrome but retrofitted with colour in response to Defender‘s success – check

Berzerk certainly boasts a plethora of fascinating facts, yet most fail to convey the captivating emotional response elicited during a frantic bout of arena-based robocide. Entrapped within a two dimensional maze of deadly right angled walls, your laser-beweaponed stick man combats Cylonesque killing machines in a bid for freedom.

Expertly exploiting the limitations inherent in the hardware, powered as the coin-op is by a Z80 slower than that of the humble ZX Spectrum, Berzerk is an exercise in studied minimalism. Interestingly, also shared in common with the Speccy is the Sinclair machine’s iconic colour clash, due to the quarter-resolution of the colour map overlaid on the original monochrome graphics.

Berzerk - Arcade - Stern. Image - Retro Resolution

Brilliantly contrasting with the pared down in-game visuals stands the fantastic cabinet artwork, featuring an iconic chrome-effect airbrushed marquee logo alongside side panels adorned with stunning Battlestar Galactica inspired red and cyan robots. The artwork generates tremendous atmosphere, beckoning forth any gamer not already ensnared by the machine’s inspired attract mode utterance: ‘Coin detected in pocket’.

Berzerk Cabinet - original image:

In many respects your true nemesis is not the hoard of cybernetic death machines but the terrifying smiley Evil Otto; conceived initially as an anti-lurk device, this twisted embodiment of an emoticon relentlessly hounds loitering players ever onwards, although skilled players can utilise Otto’s psychotic tendencies to mop up stray tin-men.

Berzek comes close to inducing levels of panic, stress, tension, and bucket loads of fun, comparable to that other seminal arena-shooter Robotron 2084, and shares the latter title’s extremely steep difficulty curve: Berzerk essentially becomes a game of chance once the score reaches towards the ten thousand mark; the unnamed protagonist’s fate can, unfortunately, often be determined not by the player’s skill and reflexes, but solely by the proximity of the robots upon entrance to the next chamber.

Reviewing Berzerk has been a challenge, and taken considerable time – not because so much has been said in so many ways before, but because the game’s hugely addictive nature has demanded so much running, blasting, fleeing (and dying).

Video - Busted_hinge

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