Thank you Atari for sending us this game to review!
Berzerk was an Arcade game with home ports on Atari 2600, 5200, and Vectrex. It was made by independent game developer Alan McNeil. Unfortunately, I don't remember playing it; if I did, it was likely on an Atari 2600. Based on screenshots I've seen, this Recharged version seems pretty faithful to the original, with the addition of Mission mode (like all Recharged titles), dash moves, powerups, and of course improved graphics. The premise is rather simple: Evil Otto and his robots are trying to keep you from escaping the maze you are stuck in. How long can you survive against Otto and his minions?
The action takes place in a series of screen-sized rooms, not unlike later games like The Legend of Zelda. You can walk between rooms in each of the four cardinal directions (if the door is open). Each room is filled with a certain number of enemy robots, or if you're lucky, item pick ups. If you are too slow in clearing the room out and leaving, Evil Otto will come through one of the doors. Otto heads right towards you, and if he touches you, it's an instant game over. The other way to game over is to be hit enough times by normal enemies and/or their bullets which they shoot at you. It can get pretty hectic, as bullets can fill the screen if there are too many enemies still alive. Some also rush at you, making dodging and weaving just as important as shooting down your enemies, though sometimes the best defense is indeed a good offense.
Power-ups and items are pick ups you might find in levels. These include things like an improved dash, faster movement, healing, or weapon upgrades. Items can also include things like mines, which are very useful in the right situation. Power-ups are activated immediately, and last for a limited time. Items are stored, and can be activated with a button press. You can only hold one item at a time.
The core action in Berzerk: Recharged is actually quite fun, with each room making for a manageable bit of bite-sized action in each room, which is quite satisfying when you clear one quickly or with finesse. Avoiding Evil Otto can also be intense, and it's a relief when you make it to the next room, resetting the clock for when he hunts you again. With that said, adding the dash move to our hero has made avoiding Otto a lot easier.
Like most Recharged titles, there is an Arcade and Mission mode. Arcade is an endless mode where you try your best to earn a high score. Mission mode offers twenty hand-crafted levels where you can play levels that get progressively more difficult as you go on. While Arcade mode has upgrades that are somewhat random as levels are generated, Mission levels often introduce upgrades and set up situations to take maximum advantage of them. Completing Mission mode is a great way to sharpen your skills so you can last as long as possible while playing Arcade mode.
While the core gameplay is fun, a big problem is that there isn't all that much variety. It's enjoyable, no question, but it is a bit repetitive. In many ways it feels a lot like a twin stick shooter, and for the most part it plays that way. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the game doesn't change too much after the first thirty minutes; the enemies change color and take more hits, but it's largely similar. Each room can have different layouts, and while you do see repeated room types, there is still a decent variety. While Mission mode has preset levels, so you see the same levels repeatedly until you win, in Arcade mode it seems like the level sequences are randomly generated. I am not good enough to know if Arcade mode can be 'beaten'; as far as I can tell, it gets harder until you die, but who knows.
I noticed that in Mission mode, you need to clear out every enemy to complete a mission. In Arcade mode, that doesn't appear to be the case; if you leave a room, intentionally or not, you are blocked from returning. So leave when you're ready, but it doesn't seem like where you go, up/down/left/right, matters all that much. It counts each room you've been in as a new room, and what room you've gotten to is part of how the game increases the challenge for you. I noticed at level ten the enemies all become green, or difficulty level two, rather than yellow, which is the first level of difficulty for enemies. At some point they will become red or purple, depending on how far the player gets. They look the same except for the palette swap.
While single-player mode is tough, I'm grateful that two-player is also an option. I tried this game with my son as a second player, and together we got much, much farther. Healing one of you heals both, and having another set of guns really helps. You can mess up your partner though, as items seems to affect your partner, like mines. You can also push them and get in their way when trying to dodge or do other things. It might be wise to split up if there are lots of enemies. Multiplayer is a ton of fun and much more enjoyable than single player. I enjoyed that more than all of my time playing solo.
Morally, you shoot enemy robots trying to kill you, and usually they shoot first unless you have a particularly quick trigger finger. There are supposed to be taunts in the game from enemy robots, but honestly I've never heard one, and I can assure you it's not the fault of my speakers or headphones. Maybe there's too much hectic action to hear them; I'm not sure.
Technically the game ran fine, but I think something is wrong with Steam Cloud on this game. Despite it being listed as enabled, my progress doesn't seem to be shared between my PCs at this time. I had no other issues, and it works on Steam Deck once you correct the resolution, since it defaults to something strangely stretched, not unlike other Recharged games do. Both gamepads and mouse+keyboard control really well. While the mouse is a bit more accurate for aiming, the gamepad feels more natural in this style of game.
Berzerk: Recharged is a fun, if simple remake of a classic game that Atari recently got the rights to publish. I'm grateful that Atari is taking this approach, and bringing back beloved classics like this once again that would otherwise be lost to time. Berzerk: Recharged is a fairly simple game, but I found it quite enjoyable when playing with my son, even if single-player mode felt a bit repetitive after a while. Regardless, it's a decent game that those who like classic arcades or simple shooters might enjoy. Definitely recommend it on sale, but there are other Recharged titles I'd probably recommend over this one if this is the first one you're considering.