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Atari VCS – A New Console Challenge or Dead on Arrival?

The very name ‘Atari’ comes with some serious history when it comes to consoles. The granddaddy of consoles back in the 1970s, Atari are also responsible for the great video game crash of the early 80s, almost consigning the fledgling industry to the dust.

And they’ve been silent ever since.

Oh, there was the Atari ST in the late 80s/early 90s, and they’ve never been truly dead as a brand, but to console players the world around, ‘Atari’ isn’t a name they are proud to support.

Is that all about to change?

Atari has been developing a new game console in the background of everything going on recently. Called the ‘VCS’ (Video Computer System) in honour of its ancestors, the new console is styled to look like a retro machine from the 70s, right down to the joystick controller (though don’t be fooled—there’s a lot of modern tech going on in that innocent-looking device). There’s been a trickle of news coming from the Atari camp for the past couple of years, but it’s only now that they’ve made a proper impactful announcement. Take a moment to watch the official VCS Games Trailer:

What is the Atari VCS?

That’s a lot to see there. What exactly is the Atari VCS and where is it positioning itself?

There’s 4K graphic support at 60Hz. That’s looking at PS5 / XBox Series X type specifications.

But it’s also heavily reliant on the indie market, and Atari themselves have said they are “actively courting indie developers”.

There are a swathe of retro games to tie in to Atari’s history.

Atari VCS Bundle Artwork

And there’s plenty of casual and family fare that wouldn’t look out of place on the Nintendo Switch.

Add to that the idea that you can install Windows or Linux on it to make it a fully-fledged PC and that it also functions as a central media device for your living room, and you have…

…what exactly?

From this writer’s perspective, it looks that either the VCS is going to be a desired killer system that does everything at a decent price point and some retro styling that appeals to the grown-up market. Or, it’s a huge mess that doesn’t know what it wants to be and is lining up to be another in Atari’s long history of mistakes.

I just don’t know which! A quick browse of the official Atari VCS website suggests it’s trying to be a bit of everything—even labelling itself as a PC/console hybrid.

Atari VCS vs The Rest

It’s not specced highly enough to be a gaming PC or properly compete with the PS5 or Xbox Series X. It doesn’t have the clout of either Sony or Microsoft in the AAA games market, and there’s no sign of the exclusives, game developing kudos and loyalty that Nintendo can rely on. Neither is it breaking any ground with its technology (although that old-looking joystick is very enticing).

Can Atari get into the market and be a fourth real contender in the console gaming industry? Is an onboard install of a hundred retro Atari games enough to bring people to the console? Does anyone really want a 70s-esque walnut-fronted console in 2021?

Atari VCS Old vs New Comparison

One thing is for sure, and that’s that a lot of those games in the promotional video look fun. There’s a tight cleanliness to them all that oozes professionalism, and a variety that other consoles would find hard to match.

I think I want one…

The Atari VCS is available from June 15th. However, we’re unsure whether it’ll be available in the UK immediately, with only US shipping on the official site and US retailers in the announcement. Still, doubtless, it’ll find its way across the pond without too much delay. The base model has an RRP of $299, though this doesn’t come with controllers as you’re expected to add your own Bluetooth devices—which is a bit crazy. If you want the cool-looking controllers to go with your new console (which you do), expect to shell out an extra $100 for the ‘all in’ bundle. Based on these US prices, should it come to UK shores, expect to pay anywhere from £350 – £500 depending on the package you were to go for. These prices are awfully similar to those of the Xbox and PlayStation options.