Friday, March 4, 2016

Activision's Freeway: It was like Frogger, but for chickens

This colorful pamphlet contains the instructions for Freeway, a videogame published by Activision in 1981 for the legendary Atari 2600. The game was similar to the much-more-famous arcade game, Frogger, also from 1981. Apparently, the two games were developed independently around the same time, and Freeway is not a chicken-based rip-off of Frogger, in case you were curious about that.

But the concept is similar, for sure. In Frogger, a frog tries to get across a busy highway. In Freeway, a chicken tries to get across a busy highway.1 Why did the chicken cross the road? In this game, it usually didn't, unless you were very skilled with a joystick.

Here's the Freeway description from the cover of the pamphlet:
"If you think driving on a busy freeway is intense ... wait 'till you try to cross it on foot! In Freeway by Activision, your challenge is to guide a chicken across ten lanes of the most perilous freeway traffic imaginable. Be careful, because those speeding cars and trucks don't brake for animals!"
The game was designed by David Crane, whose picture from the back of the pamphlet appears at right. Crane's most famous game as a designer for Activision was 1982's Pitfall! (a personal favorite of mine.

The most infamous game he was involved with (as a programmer) was 1992's Night Trap, which starred Dana Plato and spawned United States Senate hearings that led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

The Freeway instructions detail the various "games" that were available. Different locations (Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, Santa Monica Freeway, LBJ Freeway in Dallas, etc.) represented different difficulty levels. Here's a screenshot that appears in the instructions. As you can see, video games were much less realistic back then.

Note that the chicken only "chirps" and gets knocked backward when it's hit. As I said, games were (thankfully) much less realistic back then. This despite that fact that, apparently, the game's in-development title was Bloody Human Freeway.

Freeway has an average rating of 73% at AtariAge. Reviewer Jason Owens writes that the game "is actually a lot of fun, and even a little bit humorous the first few times. It's especially fun to play against somebody you really like playing video games with, and laughing at each other when one of you gets hit."

Share your Freeway and Atari 2600 memories in the comments section!

1. Full disclosure: I'm writing this post while sort-of sitting on a chicken.


  1. I always assumed Freeway was a Frogger ripoff. Interesting. I came into possession of a huge cache of Atari cartridge pamphlets some years back. The artwork was great on them. Always better than the actual game. I've always wanted to do a post on them. This may inspire me...

    1. p.s. Love the chicken seat tie-in.

    2. Oooh, we might have dueling posts! :) I have 3 or 4 other Activision pamphlets like this one that I want to post in the coming weeks. Launched things off with Freeway. The more posts the merrier!