Review: Elite


Elite is a game that most people will already know about, a space trading/combat game set in a miniature recreation of the universe. This version crams 8000 planets in 8 galaxies into 512k of RAM – a feat that I can only assume involves some use of procedural generation. Elite 2 would go further many years later but at the time this was enormously impressive, though of course the planets themselves aren’t hugely detailed, nor can you land on them – they are merely backdrops for the stations you visit.

ST Format Review
Before I start my review, here’e ST Format’s take on the game.

My Review
As has become my approach for the more complex games in this series, I started with the manual. It starts by telling you a bit about the ship, which is middle-of-the-road, a reasonable trade ship that can also handle a bit of combat if need be. It moves on to telling you about how you progress through the ranks starting harmless, moving through mostly harmless, poor, average, competent, dangerous and elite, and how the law works (if you’re seen doing something naughty the police will shoot at you). Some details on flying with guidance on key controls come next.

I decided to pause this and practice flight, starting with the most precise job, docking. I started by trying to use the mouse, but I’ll save you from making the same mistake. Don’t do it. There’s some strange idea of the mouse being like a joystick, so that if the mouse is in the centre then you’ve centred movement, while if you move it around it doesn’t move in the manner you might expect from a PC FPS, instead it will remain in continuous motion as if a joystick was that far from the centre. There’s also a very odd dead zone in the middle that’s quite hard to guage. So, don’t use the mouse. Use the keyboard.

< Roll left
> Roll right
S Dive
X Climb
SPACE Speed up
/ Slow down

The rest of the manual details other controls for hyperspace and jump options, but my first mission was to dock. As already mentioned, I first attempted this with the mouse. It did not go well, while I did manage to get to the space station (after spinning wildly trying to get pointed at something), I managed to crash into the wall, continuing the theme of me trying these games and being utterly shit at them. I then figured out that the keyboard was better and docking turned out to be a piece of cake. Thank fuck for that.

The space station bears some resemblance to the ones in Elite Dangerous of course, as you’d expect, but vastly less detailed – to dock you just fly at a black rectangle and hope. It’s a bit jerky, but it is at least filled vectors unlike the 8-bit versions. This was actually pretty impressive until much later in the ST’s life when the likes of Damocles and the Midwinter games made larger leaps (both of course offering far more detail albeit in more constrained locations). Sound is absolutely dreadful, no music other than the intro screen, no ship noises and just some annoying beeps to let you know when you or someone else has fired a shot.

So, back to the manual, aiming to find out some more.

******* a couple of days later *******

I tend to play Elite Dangerous as a space trucker and I’m hoping to do the same here (and managed to figure out the buying and selling before going back to the manual – yeah I’m awesome). Noting that I started on an agricultural world and that I could buy food cheap there and sell more expensively on an industrial world, I purchased food and headed for leesti. I left the station and engaged hyperspace, with all its fancy tunnel-effect, and arrived near my chosen world. I jumped to get closer but was interrupted by pirates. After a lot of faff trying to figure out where the buggering hell it was and wrestling with awful controls I finally shot one down for 0.5 credits. That was worth it. Shot down another, ended up taking down 4 ships which I was quite proud of considering how bad he controls are. The lack of yaw in particular is doing my fucking head in. A couple more goes lead to similar outcomes.

The approach to energy is quite interesting, and I think unusual for the time, in that your shields will regenerate from the energy you have stored, but that energy is also depleted by shooting, while the energy bank itself replenishes at a fixed rate – it means that you have to be careful with your shots, not wasting too many. It creates an interesting mechanic and of course Elite Dangerous goes a step further by allowing you to determine biases for where energy should go.

Another interesting mechanic is the idea that you can jettison from a ship to be taken to the nearest safe space, and as your wanted level is tied to your ship, you can clear your wanted status, and you get given a new Cobra [the starting ship] (minus its cargo). This means that if your wanted level is too much, you could sell everything, go back to a cobra and then jettison from the cobra to get your wanted level back to 0 without losing anything. Whether that is intentional is of course anyone’s guess but it allows a way out if the heat gets too much.

Sadly, for me, all these great ideas are tied to a game that controls poorly, making it too hard to get to the game underneath all the jank. I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this, maybe Frontier Elite 2 will be better.

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