Space has a lot to offer. Wormholes, exploding dying suns, Matt Damon stranded on planets and, of course, loads and loads of…space. I’ve heard it’s very big. Remember that photograph of the entire universe that NASA produced and we on Earth were shown as a tiny microdot in the corner? Well now that whole playground, the whole galaxy indeed, is yours to explore in Elite Dangerous.
I first played the original Elite back on my home computer in the late eighties. Back then the computer was as powerful as a toilet hand dryer but it still let me run the game and it all seemed huge and endless. I was hooked on it for hours watching little white dots move around the screen, dreaming of where I was going.
How does it add up in this 2015 update? The truth…I’m not sure.
So for the newcomer to the series, what is Elite: Dangerous? Well, it’s basically a spaceship stimulator. There’s not a story to follow, only the ones you make up as you go, there’s no hand holding or arrow to point you in the right direction. You start your career in the Sidewinder, a somewhat basic ship with a thousand credits. You begin your journey in a space station and with some missions available on the bulletin board, off you go. This is the crux point for most players right there, as you can jump on that bandwagon and experience this brilliant sense of freedom that you won’t find on any other Xbox One game. Or you will feel completely overwhelmed and befuddled by the hugeness of it all (there are 400 billion planets out there) and switch on Batman Arkham Knight instead. Me? I’m between the two camps.
Graphically the game stands up to the PC version (released 2014) in every level except the odd bit of pop up. The worlds, space, ships and suns are beautiful to behold. You can just get lost in this splendor as you travel in and around the stars, and I guess this will be enough for most players. The details in your cockpit with its pop up huds, control systems and navigation maps are really very clever. When another spaceship hits you and your shields start to collapse around you, the cockpit starts to spark, smoke and break down, something I never got tired of seeing. The soundtrack had to be special to compete with the magnificence of the created galaxy and it doesn’t in any way disappoint. Orchestral strings, choral harmonious voices fill the room when you play Elite: Dangerous on loud and flying through space feels so perfect that you can’t imagine that this music could be made for anything else. The actual sound effects employed in the game are brilliantly emotive, from the hum of the thrusting to the beep of a control panel, all carefully measured and exact. Soundtrack wise, I found the actual space battles not as thrilling as they could have been, but still, it is a very impressive visual and audio package.
You can choose to play the game in many different ways, but the key to Elite is to earn money fast so you can upgrade your ship as fast as possible. The better the ship the easier the missions and whether it’s speed, attack power or protection you crave, they are all important. Controlling the ship is hard to begin with, but there is a training level that you should practice on and YouTube video links to help you on your quest. The ship basically rotates, thrusts, reverses and strafes. It does get easier and becomes second nature after a short while in space; I promise you that.
The hardest thing in Elite for me has always been docking in a space station and here is no exception. The first part involves entering a small gap in the rotating station. Fine, I can just about manage that. Hold on, why is everyone firing at me….Ahh I forgot to get permission to dock…. AGAIN. The final part is landing on your assigned docking bay. This is a nightmare and you will find yourself screeching and banging your ship on the side before somehow randomly landing correctly. I never seemed to understand how to do it properly and so hated that part of the game.
As I said before there is a complete freedom to your actions in Dangerous. You can become a trader, a miner or a courier. Delivering goods or supplies from one end of the galaxy to another. Or you can become an explorer and discover one of the millions of planets out there, scan it and sell your information for money. If you’re the first to discover said planet online, then you may as well name it after yourself!
Perseverance is the key here as the journey across space is a long affair. You find yourself starting at a spot in the distance watching it get a bit closer over time. I found this quite meditative with the sound score, my ship filled with medical supplies and the blackness. Other times I felt like I was on the M1, bored in rush hour.
If it’s the exciting life in space you pine for well that’s all here for you as well. You can join a faction in a war, be a space pirate or fight space pirates. You can choose many different paths and the combat mode is fast and furious. Again, you will find this tricky at first, but it gets easier as you gain more experience for these intergalactic dog battles. Rolling, using your boosters and diverting power from your shields to your guns in crucial moments are all devices cleverly deployed by the developers. It makes the dog fight enjoyable and fun to play.
Online, Elite Dangerous works best as a MMO with players all flying their ships around the universe at the same time. Frontier Developments are also promising online co-op missions, with future installments including the ability to board other ships and walk around them. There is an arena mode in place called Close Quarter Championships, where you can fight it out in deathmatch modes etc… The future of Elite Dangerous therefore looks very bright indeed.
To conclude Elite: Dangerous is lovingly made, beautiful to behold and great to play. So five out of five please? Errr…I’m afraid I was a little bit disheartened. It’s not a game you can quickly delve into for half an hour and then hop off for a match on FIFA 16. It’s a game that requires time and begs for long sessions; it needs your investment and your life. Whilst that was something I had in abundance in the late 80’s, I haven’t got that at the moment, and this Elite Dangerous can only be truly reviewed after 200 to 300 hours of playtime. After that you add or take away that extra point.
But try it….the final frontier is waiting for you!