Fatal Run holds a special place in Atari history as the only 32K game to be released for the 2600 (for comparison, the first 2600 games were only 2K!). However did you know that Fatal Run wasn't the largest 2600 game ever released? That honor goes to the monstrous 64K MegaBoy Educational cartridge which was only released in Brazil. However most of that memory is used for storing trivia questions, it really isn't as impressive as it sounds. Unfortunately either is Fatal Run...
The year is 2089. A collision with a comet has left the earth reeling from radiation poisoning. There's little hope for humanity's survival and it's up to you to help the few remaining people. You must leave the protective fortress Albagon and deliver the newly developed radiation vaccine to the survivors. However your journey will not be an easy one, nefarious henchmen are waiting to knock you off and steal the vaccine to ensure that they will survive to rule the planet. Every driver on the road is out to get you, your only hope is to get them first.
Fatal Run can best be described as Mad Max meets Pole Position. The goal of the game is to race through the wasteland that lies between each town desperately trying to hold off renegade cars, while trying to stay on the road. Although you can destroy cars, speed is of the essence so it's often best to try and avoid them when possible. As you race between towns you'll undoubtedly notice that cars aren't your only enemy on the road. Oil slicks, road blocks, and deadly trees all will damage your car if hit. Make sure you keep your eyes open for fast moving obstacles.
As is the norm, your car comes equipped with weapons (two weapons to be exact): the standard machine gun and the power surge. The machine gun is self explanatory (point, aim, shoot), but the power surge is special as you can only use it when your ammo runs out. To use the power surge hold down the fire button and push forward, if you're successful the car ahead of you should blow up. Try not to miss when using the power surge as it can damage your car if used incorrectly.
Now would probably be a good time explain the gauges at the bottom of the screen mean. The speed gauge in the middle is pretty self explanatory, underneath that you'll see your fuel gauge (don't be fuelish!). To the right of the fuel gauge are four colored bars representing your engines, tires, armor, and ammo. As these resources become depleted bad things can happen (loss of speed, poor steering, death, etc.), but thankfully they can be replenish at the end of each stage. However if you're in a real bind you can try and pick up the yellow diamonds that sometimes appear on the road. Each of these diamonds restores your engine and armor. You can also pick up green dots to replenish your fuel.
If you are successful in reaching the city you will see a small cut scene that tells you how many people you saved. The quicker you reach the city, the more people you'll save (and the more bonus points you'll get). Bonus points can be used to purchase repairs for your car (these are an absolute must!). If you make it the city in record time you'll receive a large bonus, so try and make it to the city as soon as possible. After passing four cities you'll receive a letter of the password which will let you continue where you left off. Each letter lets you start farther and farther, until the whole password is revealed.
Although Fatal Run is one of the biggest 2600 games ever released, it certainly isn't the most impressive. One has to start wondering why this game required 32K in the first place. And while Fatal Run isn't a bad game, it just doesn't seem to have the polish that many later 2600 games had and seem more like a rush job (notice how the driving game engine almost seems to have been ripped directly from Pole Position). Advanced features like an in game password system and opening/closing scenes just can't hide the fact the game isn't very good. Blocky graphics and boring gameplay simply don't add up to fun no matter how much memory you cram into a cart. Maybe there was a reason Fatal Run was only released overseas...