I really can't be absolutely sure about this, but I do think Berzerk on the Atari 2600 was the first video game I ever played. No matter how hard I try, you see, I just can't remember anything remotely video game-y before it. Thankfully, it was -still is actually- a great action game and I wasn't scarred for life.
Berzerk, a 1980 arcade game that was eventually ported to the Atari 2600, the Vectrex and the ill-fated Atari 5200, also happened to be one of the first multi-directional shooters. A proper run-and-gun game, really, complete with stylized colourful graphics that have aged remarkably well, an intriguing bleep and blop soundtrack, a few computerized voices and excellent gameplay. Rumour has it, the Berzerk arcade even inspired Eugene Jarvis to create Robotron: 2084.
The Atari 2600 version of the game, the only one I've properly played and the one I know I can heartily recommend, is surprisingly on par with its arcade predecessor. Besides the shoddy AI and suicidal robots, that is. Oh, yes, and the fact that Evil Otto (the smiley face we oddly used to call mpampoulas; go figure) isn't especially indestructible. Still, the graphics are some of the best the console has to offer, the animation -for lack of a better word- is impressively expressive, the sounds lack the voice of the arcade but help create a convincing atmosphere and the gameplay is as addictive and rewarding as ever. What's more, a Berzerk cartridge will rarely set you back more than a few euro, pounds, dollars or whatever you use to pay for your games.
As for the way the game plays, well, it couldn't be simpler. All the player has to do is use the one-button joystick to shoot some robots (all of them actually), avoid being shot at, avoid touching the deadly electrified walls and exit each slightly maze-like room. Being fast at it can come in handy too, as, after a set period of time, the aforementioned Otto appears and he's a tough to avoid, very lethal, bouncing smiley face. Nasty!
Where to get it:
Berzerk (Atari 2600/VCS): eBay.com, eBay.co.uk, Amazon.com
Berzerk (Vectrex): eBay.com, eBay.co.uk
Remakes & ROMs: Berzerk 3D, BerzerkerBotz, ROM, online remake
More info on Berzerk:
Sensible Soccer (Commodore Amiga)
Target; Renegade (8-bits)