The user interface is clean, detailed and easy to use, whether you are using mouse and keyboard or any of the variety of HOTAS set-ups being championed on the game’s forums (or even, if truly lucky, an Oculus Rift set-up, which is also supported).
Dangerous also boasts by far the best translation of a detailed PC control system to a game-pad I have ever seen, with a supreme amount of commands and information available quickly and easily through a simple combination of crosspad and face buttons.
And that’s without mentioning the amazing soundwork – the hefty industrial clanking as you are manoeuvred around a station, the growling pulses and whines of acceleration and movement in battle – it’s effortless and it’s perfect.
Elite: Dangerous has woven a hypnotic and beautiful galaxy within which it is far too easy to become lost. For a game in which superluminal speeds are commonplace, it is perhaps appropriate that it is so easy to lose time playing it.
The original Elite, released in 1984, was one of the most influential creations in gaming history. Presenting a universe of space combat, trading and exploration using less memory than you'd find in the average Twitter profile pic, it set benchmarks in programming which revolutionised the way developers thought about the possibilities of game design.
Imminent updates promise Community Goals - shared objectives where individuals' work towards a goal earns a reward based on their contribution. This could be importing food to a starving populace or , but it's a nice way to help you feel more part of a shared experience in what can sometimes feel like a lonely world.
There is a dearth of official guidance on how to play the game, which is probably more of a reflection of how much of it is really down to you. However, a healthy community in forums official and unofficial, and Reddit, tell you most of what you need to know.
A news feed details a variety of events and gossipy titbits from across the galaxy relating to the steadily unfolding relationship between the Federation and Empire, and player-led activities have also found fame. Should you choose, you can be guided by current events and play a direct part in the story as it unfurls, either by joining a cause or exploiting circumstances to spot a potential trade goldmine.
However, all of your actions count towards your reputation with the universe’s three major factions; Federation, Empire and Alliance. As in life, once lost reputation is very hard to get back, and it only takes a stray scan from an authority vessel or station to land you with a nasty fine and a painful reputation hit. Given the darkness one stumbles through early on in order to get to grips with the game, this system is perhaps a bit too punitive.
The X series never quite learned how to marry its admirable depth with a usable interface or passable storyline, but remains the closest approximation in recent times to the original’s free-form exploration, commerce and combat.
Elite: Dangerous is almost stubborn in its desire to present you with an open-world experience the size of a small galaxy (the game boasts 400 BILLION star systems), yet at the same time bend you to its will. It has a pace which will not be to everyone’s tastes, with several minutes needed to travel and dock between even relatively close stations.
Controversially, developers, Frontier, ditched a planned single-player offline mode merely months before the game’s December launch, citing the need for an always-online server to allow the game’s persistent world to develop and change in accordance with player actions. It is still possible to play the game single player, and thus avoid falling victim to overenthusiastic Han Solo wannabes, but you will still need an online connection to do so.
At this moment, the multiplayer aspects of the game are still in an infancy which makes the decision decidedly annoying at times (particularly if you have an unreliable internet connection), but the ability to join forces with squads of commanders to overthrow a designated foe makes it a still attractive proposition, even if communication with said comrades is tricky at best.
Some missions require the hunting down of targets across two or three systems, with potential locations marked by signals which, again, can take several minutes to arrive at – often only to reveal a few canisters of floating space junk awaiting you.
Mining, exploration, piracy, bounty hunting, naval advancement, trading or charity work are all equally valid career paths one can follow, with a steady progression of bigger and better ships and upgrades available to spend your hard-earned cash on. Advancement is available in three specific areas – combat, exploration and trade – with the ultimate accolade of Elite status available in each (and a £30,000 real-life prize on offer for the first person to achieve Elite in all three).
Elite: Dangerous arrives more than 30 years later into a world where the genre created and inspired by its ancestor (and two sequels) has fallen into slight disrepair.
MMO EVE Online has long provided a fix for those with the immense amount of time and commitment necessary to navigate its intricate webs of trade, teamwork, warfare and intrigue, but such single-player space-farers as Wing Commander, Freelancer and Freespace seem a long time ago.
BY THE GEEKS FOR THE GEEKS.
Illegal activities are very hard to ignore when you are starting out with a paltry Sidewinder and four tonnes of cargo space, although the incredibly harsh and infuriating friendly fire (one stray bullet and every cop in the sector wanted you dead) will be imminently and mercifully fixed.
In time, you will learn that who sets a mission is more important than how much you earn, and a familiarity with the trading tools in the galaxy map is a must before accepting any requests for you to source items, no matter how much cash is on offer. Accept a mission for something you can’t find and you’ll waste fuel, miss out on the cash and see your reputation drop.
And yet the experience of simply flying through space, docking at a space station or fighting with enemy craft has surely never been rendered so perfectly. Distant pinpricks of light become complex and beautiful astral bodies as you approach, with asteroid belts, polar caps, perfectly formed, impossible continents peeking through swirling clouds. Dock at an orbiting station and that speck of light becomes an awe-inspiring backdrop rotating peacefully before you. Go hunting in an asteroid belt and it becomes your battleground. Procedural generation has truly reached uncharted territory.
WE COVER THE GEEK CULTURE YOU LOVE.
But once these lessons are learned, you can get down to the real business of deciding who and what you want to be, and the universe stretches out before you. Much like fishing, or test match cricket, there is a definite element of acquired taste to Elite: Dangerous. If it suits your palette, it may be all the game you ever need.
Published by Chris Taylor