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OVERVIEW  


 The original Steel Talons two player arcade cabinet.
Steel Talons was a helicopter combat arcade game released by Atari in 1991.  It was a spiritual successor to Battlezone, another vector graphics based war game.    The arcade cabinet was a side by side two player cabinet that allowed the player to sit inside while they play to recreate the experience of being inside an actual helicopter cockpit.  The game featured large open world levels in several different terrains, and the possibility of both co-operative and competitive play with the player on the other side of the cabinet. 
 
 

GAMEPLAY

Steel Talons was a helicopter combat simulator where the player was placed into a stage and given an objective to complete.   These objectives could be either combat related, such as clearing out all the enemies on the field, to trying to fly through a canyon without crashing into the walls.  Almost all levels featured some enemies that the player would have to fight, and as the stages progressed and difficulty ramped up, the number of enemies and their aggression ramped up considerably.  
The player could only take a certain amount of damage before their helicopter would explode, but this did not end the game then and there.  Death only depleted the player's fuel supply, which served as both the unofficial time meter and the player's lives.   In earlier levels, the limited amount of enemies gave the player ample time to clear them out before the fuel gauge ran out, but in later levels the player had little room for error before they started running low.  The fuel gauge served as both a time limit for stages, and as a way to get more quarters out of the player, as each additional quarter would refuel the helicopter in mid level.  
 
 Earlier levels featured enemies that were scattered from one another so the player would only have to handle one at a time, and they would also attack much less frequently and from closer distances.  As difficulty ramped up, enemies would be grouped together and attack when they were farther away making them much more challenging to take out.   If the player completed a level, their helicopter would be repaired for the next.  
 
Co-operative play was available if the player sitting next to you started the game selected the same level that you were playing at the same time.  Co-operative play made the game significantly easier as players could either attack enemies together drawing fire and sharing the damage, or by heading out separately and clearing out the level in half of the time.  A co-op game also helped out players by preventing any game overs as long as one player remained alive.  While crashing in single-player forced the player to restart from scratch, as long as one person was left in the stage, the other could start over again with a new helicopter and join in again.   
 
If two players started at the same time, they could also unlock and select a death-match stage in the game which was dedicated to one on one combat with the other player.  Unlike the other stages, this level was much smaller and featured a sort of urban environment with large towers for players to hide behind and try to catch their opponent off guard.  While fun and unique for the time, the combat was somewhat limited as the player only had two weapons at their disposal, and it often boiled down to who managed to sneak up on the other first.  Given the slow moving nature of helicopters, if one player was behind the other, they could often get a missile lock or a good number of bullets into their opponent before they could run away or turn around to fire back.   
 

CONTROLS

 
The arcade cabinet for Steel Talons featured somewhat realistic controls for the time.  It had three major controls for the player to use all at the same time in order to fly and attack.  The first was the joystick that stood front and center in front of the player.  The joystick controlled the tilt of the helicopter allowing it to move forwards and backwards and strafe from side to side.  The joystick featured two buttons, a trigger in the front and a thumb button off to the side.  The trigger controlled the 30mm canon machine guns which had unlimited ammo.  There was no cross hair or targeting on the screen, so the computer aimed at whatever target it assumed you were pointing at.  This occasionally left the player attacking a target they didn't want to when enemies became more clustered.  The thumb button launched missiles which the player only received a certain amount of per level.  Missile locked on to targets automatically after they came into range for a short period of time and would home in once fired.  The missiles were very powerful and would usually destroy a target in one hit. 
 
Underneath the joystick was a set of foot pedals for the player to rest their feet on.  These pedals controlled rotation of the helicopter allowing players to either maintain altitude and change their position, or the change the angle of their foreword momentum.   
 
Underneath the seat to the left hand side was the collective.  This handle controlled the altitude of the helicopter at any given time, allowing the player to rise up beyond the reach of enemy fire, or to hide behind any low cover that was available.  The collective had a bright yellow handle that was similar to a rubber bicycle handle.   
 
The seat itself was also an interesting part of the game.  It came with an interesting feature called the "Rump Thump" which would shake the seat whenever a player was being hit.  This was more than a simple vibration, the Rump Thump felt and sounded violent, as if a hammer was being banged against it, which probably wasn't far from the truth of how the device worked.  It was very piercing and jarring to be sitting in the cabinet while taking fire, and was one of the more distinctive features of the cabinet.  Rump Thump was short lived however, appearing only in Steel Talons and Riot 4WD, but it was in many ways a precursor to more modern arcade setups that have similar, more elegant force feedback and speakers in the seats.    
 
Players had a heads up display on the screen at all times that gave them information about how much fuel they had left, enemies on the radar, their missile supply, and a small screen that either displayed the area map or told them what they were targeting at that moment.  This was particularly useful because the limited vector graphics available at the time left a lot to be desire, and it would look as if the player was targeting grey squares on the ground.  This helped create a better picture of what was going on, and also helped the player know if they were shooting at an enemy that could fight back, or simply a building next to it.
 

PORTS

 
 In addition to the arcade version, Steel Talons was ported to most of the home video game systems of the day.  It was released for both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis.  However, as the game was created by Atari, they took the opportunity to port it to as many of their systems as possible, including systems as obscure as the Atari ST, the Atari Falcon, and a portable version on the Atari Lynx.

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