"The resistance is about to launch a major offensive against the Intergalactic Empire. In preparation for this, they have captured several battle-grade starships, but they lack the essential power sources for these formidable craft: Klystron Pods."
Of course, the empire has plenty of these Klystron Pods and it is up to you to steal them from several storage planets. Each planet is defended by "Limpet" gun towers, which are powered by a nuclear power plant. You can either fire a few shots at these power plants to disable the guns temporarily, or destroy the Limpets themselves. Just be careful not to shoot at the plants too often or they'll go critical and explode within ten seconds, destroying the entire planet. To steal the pod, you have to hover your spaceship above it and activate the tractor beam, the pod will be connected to your ship with an elastic tow-bar. If you crash your ship or the pod into the background, you'll lose a life.
Sounds easy? Well, not really because there's a little twist - gravity. Your ship is controlled indirectly, you can only rotate it around its center and move it by igniting the main jet, similar to Asteroids. On later levels, the gun towers fire at rather high rates, and some of the planets even have reverse gravity. Thrust was released in 1985 by Firebird for the C64 (the original was a full-price release on the BBC Micro) and even today, many people think it was the biggest budget release ever. The visuals were simple but functional, the title music was catchy and the gameplay was absorbing. Nobody, myself included, thought an Atari VCS version would be possible - however, XYPE's Thomas Jentzsch jumped in to belie us sceptics...
Thrust's graphics are totally amazing. Actually, when the first screenshots were released, I thought they weren't real. The C64 version used crisp hires sprites for the gun towers, pods and power plants and, naturally, the resolution had to be reduced for the VCS conversion but the objects still look great and very close to the original. Even the colours match the C64 palette very well. I noticed a little bit of flicker when a lot of objects are displayed on the same scanline, but it only occurs for fractions of a second and doesn't affect the great visuals at all. If you ruined your eyes playing Pac-Man before, you won't even notice it.
The C64 version of Thrust had rather average sound effects and a great title tune by Rob Hubbard. The "normal" VCS version only has the F/X to offer, but they work very well; in my opinion even better than in the original and although there are only a few different effects they sound good. An enhanced version of the game called Thrust+ with a remix of Rob's title music (which just sounds brilliant!) can be bought from the good folks at Atari Age (at www.atariage.com), and the music alone is worth the money. You won't believe your ears, your VCS never sounded that good!
The VCS controls are very similar to the C64 game, if you compare them to the joystick version released by The Dreams (the original version only supported keyboard input!). However, I think the Atari game is more difficult than the archetype - for example, to use the tractor beam, you have to position your ship exactly at the right spot. If you get used to this, it won't be much trouble though.
If you played the C64 version of Thrust, you'll love the Atari VCS conversion. For me, the game has always been too difficult, even frustrating in places. Thrust and especially it's Thrust+ incarnation is maybe the most impressive VCS game I've ever seen, but it just isn't my piece of cake. You can get both the normal (free) and the enhanced version ($35) at Atari Age. The ROM image of the normal version is 16K and doesn't work with older emulators (and StellaX) which don't support illegal op-codes. I also didn't get it working on real hardware with my (enhanced) Supercharger unit, but it works fine with the Z26 emulator. Thrust+ is available on a real cartridge and works with all VCS models.