If you had to list the most important games of the last 40 years there’s a good chance that Elite would make it. The game was published in 1984 and offered a 3d graphics single player openworld space trading simulation. It spawned a genre of games, of which perhaps the most important were Wing Commander, GTA and Eve Online. Elite has had a couple of sequels in 1993 and 1995 which added features and in 2012 a new sequel, Elite:Dangerous sought and received kickstarter funding. The game has been available in an early alpha and beta form to some backers since December last year and is on track for a launch towards the end of this year.
Elite:Dangerous takes the story from the end of the third game and updates it. The game is a persistent procedurally generated universe (although there is single player option) which will be influenced by players. It will allow trading, combat and be full universe. I played the original Elite on an Atari ST and loved it. At EGX last week there was a opportunity to play a restricted demo and it really felt like coming home.
The demo had you piloting a Cobra in an asteroid field, hunting and being hunted by a similarly equipped AI. The idea was to locate them using the radar then line up, lock up and attack the whilst avoiding the asteroids. At this point they will try to evade and get into a position to attack you. The demo only covered this single ship to ship combat and was instantly familiar if you have played most space combat games. The ship was responsive and there was a good feeling of motion and control although the readouts were less intuitive than I would have liked.
As I expected I lost fairly quickly, but that was more down to the unfamiliarity and being dropped in trying to figure out controls rather than the games specific difficulty level.
Elite:Dangerous has some immediately obvious upsides and downsides. The first upside is that the controls you can use are very flexible. The demo had me using a joystick and separate throttle but it will also work with console controllers as well as mouse and keyboard, just keyboard, game-pads and a variety of flight and joysticks. As you can opt to play keyboard only it should also be possible to use a program such as Glovepie to adapt to almost any control system even if it is not natively supported.
The downside is that space combat which is an integral part of the game is inherently difficult for some who have spacial problems such as sea-sickness and is by its nature difficult. Elite:Dangerous is to be shipped with support for the Occulus Rift and TrackIR which will help some players but not all. It is also possible that it will be possible to minimise the amount of time spent in combat, focusing on the trade and exploration sides of the game but combat will not be avoidable completely.
A second possible issue is with the UI – it is atmospheric, very good-looking and keeps the feel of the original Elite but does not present information that clearly or with a very high contrast. It is possible there is a high contrast version or some configurability but the standard UI will present problems for some.
We will have to wait and see if Elite:Dangerous matches up to Elite in terms of gameplay but what I’ve seen so far is promising in terms of gameplay and has good accessibility for some.
Elite:Dangerous is due to be released this year on the PC and three months after release on the Mac. There is a beta currently available on the PC. This hands on time was on a PC.