Review by Retro

Reviewed: 04/18/01 | Updated: 04/30/03

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Activision was one of the most prolific companies back in the Atari 2600's heyday when it came to making great, unforgettable games. Among the Activision classics for the 2600 are Pitfall!, Kaboom!, Fishing Derby, Megamania, Frostbite, Seaquest, H.E.R.O., Keystone Kapers, Stampede, and of course, Freeway.

Growing up, one of the oldest and overly popular jokes was ''why did the chicken cross the road?'' The object of Freeway is to guide a yellow chicken from one side of the road to the other. You can either play this game by yourself, or a friend can play it with you simultaneously in a two-player game to see who can rack up the most points by taking the clucking birds to the other side of the busy freeway. Unfortunately, there is not a computer-controlled player to be challenged. The computer is too chicken.

Before beginning a game, you can press Select over and over on the Atari 2600 console, which enables you to cycle through the various levels that are available to play. In all of the stages, there will be two chickens at the bottom of the screen, and the same basic-looking road with its overhead view always resides on the screen. The only thing that does change about any of the levels are the lineups of vehicles that are crossing the road.

Control wise, all you can do in a game of Freeway, is move your chicken up or down. You can't move the birds left or right, or even make them jump. You just start at the bottom of the screen and try to make it to the other side of the road (to the top of the screen).

Of course, since we humans rule this world, the chicken will have to keep both eyes out for all of the trucks and cars that are passing by. I guess it's just not enough that we take almost every egg that chickens lay; we have to run over them too. I would personally stop if I could to keep from running over a chicken that has a fetish for crossing a road, but these drivers are different; they ain't gonna stop for no damn chicken. If you get hit, the chicken will make a chirping sound and will be knocked back a lane or two. Once you successfully make it to the other side of the road in one piece or with multiple scars, you will hear a beep that lets you know you did what you were supposed to do, and a point will be added to your score.

After each successful road mission, your chicken will be instantly transported right back to the bottom of the screen, and you will just have to make it right back to the other side again, and again, and again. Each game lasts for about five minutes. Whoever has the most points when time runs dry, wins the game.

Like I mentioned a little earlier, the levels don't change except for the cars and trucks themselves. For instance, in the first level, there are mostly cars, and the majority of them are moving fairly slowly. As you cycle through the stages, you will see other variations, such as one that is nothing but trucking trucks, and many that are a mixture of trucks and cars. The number of vehicles on the screen also changes. In the first stage, almost all of the vehicles are traveling solo, but in other stages, cars can travel in closely-knit packs of three, on top of there being almost twice as many of the automobiles.

While you play the game, no matter what level you're on, you will notice that some of the cars and trucks move across the screen at a constant speed the entire time. On the other hand, many of them, especially the small cars, change speeds during the game. One minute they speed across the screen like a car that just drank an eighteen wheeler full of caffeine, and the next minute, they might be moving so slowly that you would think they're driving Miss Daisy.

If Freeway is too easy for your liking, you can always change the difficulty with the switch on the back of the console. When you do that, instead of the chicken just getting thrown back a few feet when it gets hit, it will have to start all over from the beginning after it comes in contact with any metal monster.

I've never seen a freeway that I would call good looking. Freeway is probably the best looking one I've ever seen. All of the cars and trucks are very detailed for the Atari 2600's standard. The chickens and the roads appear basic, but are well done. The chickens are especially nice with their animation. As it's running up or down the road, its head moves back and forth as if it were pecking at worms on the ground. When a yellow as egg yolk chicken gets hit by a car, it falls down in a convincing way with its wings spread out. Along with the nice detail of everything and the animation of the chickens, Freeway is also pretty colorful, making it look more appealing. Unfortunately, there is not any music at all in the game. The entire time that you're playing the game, there is a constant murmur of horns and the sound of vehicles speeding by in the background. These sounds that come in place of the absent music, are extremely nice and realistic. Other sound effects, such as when the chicken gets hit by a car, and when you make it to the other side of the road, are memorable as well.

Freeway probably sounds like it would be as boring as sitting in a class listening to one of your least favorite teachers reminisce about his/her life, since all you do is try and guide a chicken across the road, but it is actually a lot of fun, and even a little bit humorous the first few times. It's especially fun to play against somebody you really like playing video games with, and laughing at each other when one of you gets hit.

But Freeway does have its own set of cons. It's fun to play by yourself if you're bored, or if you simply want to challenge yourself by seeing if you can get a certain number of points, but, yeah, there's always a but. Freeway would be even better if it had a computer opponent that solo players could go up against. Pretty much, if you don't have anybody to play this game with, you might get a little bored of it faster than you can call the nonexistent computer a chicken ****.

Some people may also complain about how you can't move in any directions other than up and down. Myself, I think that's just a part of the challenge. If you could move them in any direction, Freeway would be way too easy.

There's not anything innovative about Freeway; it's just good old fashioned video gaming that could be considered an original idea for a game, if it wasn't for it being so similar to that ages-old joke. One of my favorite memories came from playing Freeway with my older brother when I was a kid. Once, when I kept beating him by over ten points each and every game, he said, ''I never liked that joke about why the chicken crossed the road anyway.'' So even if Freeway wasn't a fun game (it is), I would still have that timeless memory to remember it by.

So why did the chicken cross the road? Well, if you look to the game of Freeway for the answer, then I guess it would be the most basic answer that has ever been proposed: To get to the other side. But, as many different answers, both goofy and intelligent alike, that I've heard throughout the years, I believe it's just one of those questions that we'll never know the true answer to.

Rating: 8

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