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Elite: Dangerous impressions: Sequel to the classic Elite already amazes in early form

Hayden Dingman | May 2, 2014
"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.

There's going to be an overarching galaxy story, but like in the wide-open world of Skyrim, it's hardly the focus.

"There will be lots of threads that are all important in different ways," says Braben. For instance, you might take part in a "gold rush"--a mass of minerals is discovered out in, say, an abandoned asteroid field and people flock to the area. Over the next few weeks, you might see the abandoned asteroid field turn into a bustling commercial area. Then the raw outline of a space station will appear. And then, a few weeks later, a fully operational space station will open for business.

Or you might stumble on an instanced faction war and be forced to weigh in on one side of the other--and the outcome might forever change the economy of that region.

"Most of the ships you'll meet in the game we're designing to be AIs. We want people to cooperate. We don't want the victims to be players," Braben told me. He says they've already seen quite a bit of vigilantism emerge in the game--people enforcing their own laws against aggressive players.

"It's a bit of a social experiment," says Braben.

Hands-on with Elite: Dangerous Alpha v3

For now, Elite: Dangerous Alpha v3 is a collection of four smaller maps--a space station, an asteroid field, and some combat areas. It's not much, but it's already enthralling.

Even in this limited form, the little details are what make Elite: Dangerous so impressive. The bobblehead on your dashboard; the oily, lived-in feel of the space stations; the clunk guns make when they emerge from your ship's hull; the scream of your ship's engines, and the way you can immediately tell if you're overstressing them by audio alone; getting into a turn-war with a pirate and frantically trying to spot where the enemy disappeared to.

This might be an Early Access game, but it doesn't feel much like one. Most of the time, those "small details" are what separate the good games from the great games--that extra layer of polish that says "Love and craft and care was put into this."

And if you're sick of hearing people gush about EVE: Valkyrie on the Oculus Rift without being able to play it? Well, you could be playing the alpha of Elite: Dangerous right now--which also has Rift support--and getting a feel for what it's like to fly through space in VR. I've put quite a bit of time into Elite now just cruising around with a Rift strapped to my face: flying around the asteroid field, dogfighting a bit, doing a few barrel rolls, and then heading back to base to dock.

Of course, being an Early Access game it could all go wrong tomorrow. Elite: Dangerous could always turn into a complete disaster of a game prior to release--but what's there already is very, very promising indeed.

 

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