I recall them saying that the game wasn't meant to be finished or make much sense. It was coded enough to get it out the door and that's it.
I can believe that. My brothers and I were big into the 2600, and they released games at a pretty fast clip, and they were expensive for the day too. I remember playing the ET game, I think one of my neighbors had it, but I don't recall it being as horrible as described.
I think if you know what you're doing the game isn't super horrible. It's still pretty bad though.
The only problem is the goals of the game are so vague that it's not exactly clear what you're supposed to do. Compared to Pitfall where you ran your guy left and right and collected points.