“Space. It seems to go on and on forever. Then you get to the end, and a monkey starts throwing barrels at you.” – Philip J. Fry
Space is great. If science fiction has taught me anything, it’s that space is full of incredible adventures, green skinned alien babes, and dim-witted space-faring aliens just spoiling for a fist fight.
So I’ve always had an appreciation for space and space-related activities. If NASA ever needs a man to go on a multi-year mission to Mars with Tricia Helfer – or to a slightly lesser extent, Kaylee from Firefly – I will volunteer my services.
Anyway, Elite: Dangerous (only on Windows or Mac) is an awesome new game that lets you play out many of your space exploration fantasies, as long as those fantasies don’t involve attractive women clad in tight futuristic attire. It doesn’t do fist fights either. But it does have you covered for adventure.
The backstory to Elite: Dangerous will be familiar to anyone who has played previous games in the series, or indeed pretty much any other space trading and combat game. The year is 3301. Faster than light travel and terraforming have allowed Man to spread across the stars. Space is divided between three great powers. Pirates, traders, bounty hunters, asteroid miners, and mercenaries roam the cosmos.
Set in a 1:1 simulation of the Milky Way, this is an open-ended game where you start off with a small amount of cash and a crappy little spaceship – the interplanetary equivalent of a 1997 Honda Civic – in an unfashionable backwater of the galaxy. What you do next is up to you. You can fight, trade, explore, or all-of-the-above your way to greatness.
Do you want to make money shipping cargo to where it will fetch the highest price?
Or do you prefer to lie in wait in the cold, dark reaches of the eternal night, waiting for unwary traders to fly by so you can kill them and steal their cargo?
Or would you rather work your way up the military ranks of the main interstellar factions by performing secret missions?
Or do smuggling and assassination sound more your thing?
Elite: Dangerous won’t judge you. You can do all these things, though if you do choose to take a more morally flexible approach to obeying the laws against smuggling, piracy and murder, you may find yourself running from the space police.
The graphics in this game – depending on the power of your PC or Mac, naturally – are delicious. Stars, planets, moons, nebulae, space stations and ships are rendered in bright, colourful, crisp, and glorious detail.
Special mention must go to the sound, too. The greatest compliment I can think of for a game of this type is that it just sounds right. From the haunting, Space Odyssey-inspired harmonies when you jump into hyperspace, to the more technological hums, clicks, beeps and automated voice messages of your starship, everything you hear in Elite: Dangerous is just sumptuous. The audio engineers at developers Frontier have done a tremendous job of making you feel immersed in the game’s universe.
The gameplay is compelling. It takes a little time to get to grips with controlling your ship, but after playing the tutorials – and remapping some of the keys after accidentally boosting my ship smack into the side of a space station – I soon found myself whizzing around the galaxy like Buck Rodgers riding a comet.
Owners of HOTAS controls will find it an advantage when dogfighting, but for us plebs keyboard and mouse controls work just fine. This game is also compatible with Oculus Rift, and if you happen to be one of the lucky people who owns an Oculus Rift, I will be your new best friend and never leave your house. Ever. Seriously, call me.
There’s a slight downside to all this amazingness though. For one thing, Elite: Dangerous is online only. Even if you want to play singleplayer mode, you will still need to log on to the game’s servers. Multiplayer is where you probably want to be though, pitting your flying skills and your lasers and missiles against human pilots. Even so, there have been teething issues with the online service and sometimes the game can be slightly laggy. There have also been several bugs reported, which Frontier are in the process of fixing. Lastly, although the game is now in general release, a lot of content and features have still to be rolled out. The developers have promised regular updates and bug fixes to add polish and playability over the year ahead.
Even with these issues, Elite: Dangerous is one of the best games I’ve played in many years. As soon as I get my hands on an Oculus Rift I plan on moving in to the Elite universe full time. So long, wife and kids! Daddy’s a spaceman now!
Final Score – As based on our rating system:
Gameplay – Endless fun – literally. The developers are adding content and will eventually allow you to travel to all four hundred billion solar systems in the galaxy. There’s already enough ships, missions, and interesting things to see and do to justify the price of admission. Some bugs exist at the moment though, and I’m a little bit disappointed landing on planets hasn’t been implemented yet. 40 out of 45.
Controls – Harder to get into than your average game, but not rocket science. Works fine on keyboard and mouse, but HOTAS is better. HOTAS plus Oculus Rift make it an unforgettable experience, by all accounts. 20 out of 25.
Graphics – Gorgeous. But, like all PC games, quality may vary depending on your hardware. Slightly marred by the fact that there is no external view mode currently available – which means the wonders of the Elite galaxy can only be viewed through your cockpit. For that reason… 12 out of 15.
Sound – Your ears will love you for the rest of your life. 10 out of 10.
Story – The only story worth telling here is the one you create. 1 out of 5.
Total Score – 83%, a stellar game with astronomical quantities of fun, and some minor issues which should be addressed with bug fixes and updates. Given the respectable track record of the developer I’m confident Elite: Dangerous will only get bigger and better over time.
Masculinity Score: This is a game about exploring the vast frontier, cut-throat competition, breaking the law, fighting to the death, and space pirates.
Total Masculine Value – One Han Solo (out of one).
Read more: A Review of Star Wars: Republic Commando