Data Age, along with Apollo and Activision, was one of the
first third party game companies to make games for the Atari
2600. While their games weren't as well regarded as their
counterparts, Data Age generally made serviceable but slightly
unpolished games that were mostly original ideas. Data Age
is perhaps best known for Journey Escape (in partnership with
the band Journey) and their shiny silver foil labels that tend
to stand out compared to other companies.
Airlock starts off promising enough. Turning the game on shows a screen with a nicely drawn sub and fish swimming by. This really stands out as most games at the time only showed a simple copyright message and maybe a gameplay demo upon boot up. Airlock may actually be one of the first games to have what we would call a modern title screen. However upon pressing reset everything quickly goes downhill...
The goal of Airlock is simple, escape the sinking sub. To do this the player must grab the key (the bar) hanging on one side of the screen on each level in order to open the hatch on the other side (another bar). Once you've jumped up and opened the hatch you can take the elevator (in a submarine?) to the next level and do it again until you reach the top. You'll have to hurry though as you only have 49 or 99 seconds (depending on the variation) to make it to the top. In addition to the overall time limit, each floor will flood after 10 seconds and as you might guess is fatal if you happen to be on that floor. Making your life more difficult are barriers (blocks) that must be jumped over and torpedoes that roam each floor. Hitting a torpedo isn't fatal but will stun the player for a few seconds but given the short time limit of the game getting hit more than once on a level is most likely game over.
Once you make it to the top of the screen you'll either see your character waving from the top of the sub from the title screen or be greeted by five more floors to get through (variations 3 and 4). This second set of floors is the same as the first but has four obstacles per floor to jump over making things a tad more difficult. The biggest frustration of these new floors is that the obstacles are now in groups of two making it very easy to get hung up on the edges. In fact most of the games challenge comes from either missing the key/hatch release or bumping the edge of one of the obstacles due to the odd jumping arc your character makes. Once you learn to compensate for this the game becomes trivial and can be beaten in under 40 seconds.
In contrast to the title screen, the graphics in the actual game are sub par, even for the time. Your character is a poorly drawn stick figure with stumpy legs and arms sticking straight out. Worse yet, your character has no animation and simply glides left and right. Instead of having distinct graphics, the torpedoes oddly reuse the players graphics, just without the feet. This makes them look like drowning victims rather than torpedoes. Perhaps this is what they originally were meant to be but a change was made in the manual as it was going to press because jumping over drowning people to escape looked bad? Bad graphics aside, the main problem with Airlock is that it's either too short or too hard. Most players will drown on the first level several times before getting the jumping down. Compounding the initial difficulty is that you start the game in the middle of the level instead of on the edge which means you need to run right to get the key then run all the way back to the left to open the hatch in under 10 seconds. This leaves little time for any error and given that it's the first level most players are going to get hit at least once. On all the other levels the player is already at one end so they simply have to grab the key and run to the other side without having to do any backtracking.
One gets the feeling that Airlock was more of a 'cool tech demo' that needed to be fleshed out a bit rather than a game ready for release. While it does a good job at instilling a sense of fear and making the player acting quickly, it becomes extremely dull once the gimmick wears off. To say that there's little replay value would be a vast understatement as most people probably beat the game once or twice then moved on to something else. While Airlock may not be the worst Data Age game out there (which i a pretty low bar), it's not really worth playing other than for the curiosity value.