The game tasks the player with finding and destroying an invading enemy fleet of Zylons, while simultaneously defending his own starbases from them. The player wins by destroying all enemies; the game is lost if either the player's ship or all of his starbases are destroyed. After consulting a Galactic Map to see where the Zylons are, the player must then warp to the sector, then find and engage them in a first-person view. The player can repair ship damage by docking with a starbase.
At the end of the game, the player receives a rank and class based on the difficulty level, time taken, and number of starbases lost; only the most proficient players would earn the coveted rank of "Star Commander - Class 1".
The game was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200 and the Atari ST; the 2600 version came with a special touchpad controller. (This controller had a removable overlay, suggesting that it could be used in other games, but none were produced.) A graphic novel loosely based on the game was released in 1983. A sequel In Name Only, Star Raiders II, was released in 1986. A remake was released in 2011.
This game provides examples of the following tropes:
- Bullet Time: Notable for being done completely unintentionally. When a Zylon ship is destroyed, the game draws an exploding cloud of pixels for several seconds. That maxed out the processing power of the Atari computer, so the game slowed down temporarily... which proved beneficial when there was a second Zylon ship nearby.
- Camera Lock-On: Played straight and subverted. If the player turns on his Attack Computer, the screen will automatically switch between fore and aft views to track the enemy. Subverted when the player is engaging multiple ships on both sides; the screen will rapidly flip between the two views, tracking each ship as they attack.
- Cool Starship: Averted, as the player never actually gets to see his ship.
- Critical Existence Failure: Your ship could endure multiple hits... at least until your shields were destroyed.
- Deflector Shields: Although a single hit when the shields were down would instantly kill the player, daredevil pilots would engage the Zylons with damaged (flickering) or destroyed shields anyway just to avoid a time-consuming trip to a starbase.
- Difficulty Levels: At least four in the Atari 2600 version.
- Dolled-Up Installment / In Name Only: Star Raiders II was originally a never-released Licensed Game based on The Last Starfighter. When the rights were lost, it was renamed to be a sequel instead.
- Expy: One of the Zylon ship designs is clearly based on Imperial TIE fighters.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: The only way to travel to a different sector.
- Gameplay Grading
- Interface Screw: Happens if your long range sensors are damaged; you get both the regular view and a mirrored opposite, and must reconcile which image is the right one.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: The player's ship goes down in one hit from an asteroid or enemy photon. Fortunately, the ship's energy can retain a shield which changes hits from fatal to merely damaging some key component of your ship (at easier levels, there's a chance it won't even hurt). The shield itself is a damageable component, so you are at least two photons away from death.
- One-Man Army
- Red Alert: A warning klaxon sounds whenever you warp into a sector occupied by Zylons.
- Spiritual Successor: The Atari 2600 game Solaris was developed by Neubauer as an unofficial sequel to Star Raiders, and incorporated some ideas that were omitted from the original.
- Rank Inflation: Getting a rank of "Star Commander" isn't enough; only the truly best players will get "Star Commander Class 1".
- Space Friction: Not only is sublight travel performed by setting your engines to fire continuously, but getting them damaged brings you to an abrupt halt, leaving you to sputter to the nearest starbase for repairs.
- Streaming Stars
- Subsystem Damage: One of the earliest examples of this trope. Your ship's shields, engines, weapons, targeting computer and scanners can be damaged or outright destroyed. However, as an Anti-Frustration Feature, you can never be so damaged that it is impossible to get to a starbase for repairs.
- Videogame Cruelty Potential: Yes, you can shoot your own starbases. It takes just one hit to destroy them, too. The only valid reason to do this is to prevent enemies from spawning from the debris if you can't save the base.
- What the Hell, Player?: Pressing any keyboard key that doesn't have a function assigned results in "What's wrong?" appearing on the HUD.