"Have you played Elite: Dangerous before? No? Well why don't you come over and land this ship for us?" And then there I am, a flight stick in my sweaty right hand, throttle in my left, trying to land my tiny fighter craft inside an enormous, rotating space station while David Braben--the David Braben, co-creator of the original 1984 classic, Elite--and about a half dozen other people stare intently over my shoulder.
Back in form
Though it's only in alpha after a successful crowdfunding campaign, Elite: Dangerous is already under a bit of pressure itself. This year is shaping up to be the year that space cockpit games make a triumphant return after more than a decade of being all but put them to rest. I ask whether Braben is at all worried watching the genre he pioneered become so crowded again, what with Elite: Dangerous, Oculus Rift exclusive EVE: Valkyrie, and Star Citizen (from Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame) all on the PC gaming horizon.
But Braben doesn't see it as a competition, not really. He sees it more like a wealth of options for wannabe spacers. Nobody would ever play Battlefield, Arma 3, and Call of Duty and then mistake them for the same game, after all. Space is, I'm told, infinite. There's certainly room for variation.
You've got EVE: Valkyrie, which as of now is a lightweight and arcade space combat game. Whether it progresses beyond that for the full release is anyone's guess, but it's an accessible and enjoyable shooter. Star Citizen falls on the other end of the spectrum--it's for the people who want to have a second life in space. The people who think, "I'm going to work 9-5, then come home, pop in Star Citizen, take on a job as a munitions loader for a much larger space corporation and I'm going to enjoy it, damn it."
Then there's Elite: Dangerous.
Elite is the most traditional of the three games. More simulator than Valkyrie, less "life replacement" than Star Citizen, Elite falls in the same "lonesome space cowboy" category as its predecessors, as well as other classics like FreeSpace 2 and Wing Commander.
No, I don't mean "space cowboy" in the Firefly sense. No boots and holster for you! But Elite: Dangerous is, at its core, about exploration... and trade and combat and ship upgrades and space stations and asteroids and pirates and all that. But first and foremost it's about exploration, a "Space: The Final Frontier" of video games.
In the near future--weeks away at most--Elite: Dangerous will enter its next alpha phase, which finally brings the trade and exploration aspects into the game. As a result, you'll finally be able to explore the full Elite: Dangerous map, which is utterly gigantic in true Elite form. Most of it is uncharted and ripe for player discovery.
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