Pac Man style maze games were a dime a dozen on the Atari 2600. The original's port to this system was even notoriously awful. Consequently expectations were low when loading this one for the first time. Though I was in for a positive surprise.
The thematic imagination is, as usual in these games, primarily fueled by the cover and – to a lesser degree – the manual. As a 1920s gangster, it is your task to rob banks. Nine per city. Which sounds a bit risky, and indeed, it is. An increasing number of successful robberies calls police cars into the game, always chasing you. But you're not defenseless. Throw a well-timed stick of dynamite to blow them up, which in turn clears the way towards more banks.
Graphics are not something to write home about, even by Atari 2600 standards and certainly not by 1983, when other developers had managed to squeeze much more out of the system. Cars and banks are recognizable, but that's about it. Movement is smooth and flicker-free at least, with the exception of the dynamite which is supposed to be flickering. Nevertheless annoying and distracting to the eye. Different cities distinguish themselves by their street layout and the one colour depicting the non-bank buildings.
This sparsity throws today's players back to the game mechanics pretty much immediately. On this count, bank robbery is obviously represented by simply running over a bank randomly appearing somewhere on the screen. This, with few seconds delay, then causes a police car to appear. As soon as they catch up, a life is lost.
There is some nice fine-tuning at work here. Your car is a bit faster than them (depending on level/city). Therefore, escape is entirely possible if you take the corners efficiently. On top, the dynamite is also subject to one or two seconds of delay, making its usage rather tricky to get right in the heat of the moment. With at most three cars on your trail at the same time, things stay fair, but challenging. A gas mechanic comes on top, acting as an overall countdown per level, urging the player to get on with it.
I will not claim you will play this game for very long these days. I will not pretend it held my interest for more than one evening. Yet, it is well-made for what it attempts to be. Its free-roaming nature, allowing you to enter the next city even before the current one has been fully cleared, gives it a nice spin. If you ever wondered what something like Grand Theft Auto would have looked like in the early 1980s, look no further!
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