Surprise! In case you missed it this morning, the Atari VCS 800, also known simply as the Atari VCS, is still alive and is planning to ship later this year.
You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t kept up to date with the Atari VCS as press releases and news coverage have been a bit stealthy outside of its initial announcement and the reveal of what it will look like.
Although we’re only a few months away from release, it’s still unclear to me what this console is trying to do and what its goals are. I’d wager that the average gamer, who probably hasn’t heard much or maybe anything at all about the Atari VCS, is assuming that this is just going to be an extremely expensive way to replay some of your favorite retro Atari games.
It’s very plausible that will be exactly what ends up happening. However, Atari does appear to at least have ambitions that go beyond that simple pitch.
The only thing that feels solid about the Atari VCS is that the price will be just under $400 USD, and that it will feature “over 100” Atari games via the pre-installed Atari Vault service and, through a partnership with Antstream, will also have access to all the games included in Antstream Arcade.
If you’re unfamiliar with Antstream, it’s a retro game streaming service that you can access via a computer and is admittedly a nice fit for the VCS.
Over the last few years on Medium, Atari has been quietly releasing updates about the VCS.
For example, Atari has recently acquired a mobile gaming platform known as Wonder, a company that has been working on the cross-platform cloud streaming service called WonderOS. Atari states that the goal behind the acquisition is allow users to “one day enjoy their home experience on the go.” This would lead one to believe that Atari has aspirations of their Atari VCS product to also act as some kind of service that can be assessed on phones or devices outside of the VCS.
The console is also going to be able to run Windows and Linux operation systems via bootable USB drives and their PC Sandbox feature. The VCS is being touted by Atari as a PC/console hybrid that can run many modern AAA games. This will allow the Atari VCS to do things such as play games downloaded from Steam, GOG, or Epic Games store.
Below you can take a look at it booting up Fortnite from Windows through the Epic Games store.
Atari has also listed instructions for developers looking to create games and port titles to the Atari VCS.
The Atari VCS will support most games that have controller support and are developed in Unity, and Atari also advises that “you can expect a large majority of Linux-compatible content to be fully compatible with the Atari VCS.” There will also be a storefront where gamers can purchase things.
The first thing that comes to mind to me after reviewing what the Atari VCS is going to be able to do is the Ouya. This feels a lot like a more aggressive version of the Ouya built on a foundation of nostalgia for the classic Atari brand.
While it might seem like a plan that could work, it’s important to remember that it’s quite pricey at $400. This is a price range that puts the Atari VCS above current-gen home consoles and will likely not be too far off from the price of the PS5 and Xbox Series X (and of course inexpensive self-built computers).
As far as I can find, there aren’t any developers or publishers committed to making any new games on the Atari VCS. That could certainly change, but it would likely need to really impress in terms of sales in order to catch the eye of anyone other than some adventurous indie developers.
So is the Atari VCS just a really expensive and posh way to play some retro and PC games? No one is going to know for sure until it releases later this year, but on paper it certainly seems that way.
But hey, it is super pretty. If I had $400 to burn, I’d probably throw this thing into my entertainment center.
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