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Elite: Dangerous

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Media: Download/1
Players: MMO
Genre: Flight/ Simulation/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Elite: Dangerous is the kind of game that challenges your sense of perspective. In our daily lives, what we perceive tends to be all we care about. We each live in our own worlds. So when something comes along to remind us of how tiny and insignificant we truly are, our view of everything is fundamentally shaken to the core. Elite: Dangerous is one of those demonstrations, a game that intimidates, subjugates, and humiliates you before opening its light-year sized armspan and pulls you into its addictive, rewarding embrace. It is easily one of the most immersive games Iíve ever played.

We rarely contemplate the sheer vastness of our galaxy, let alone the universe as a whole. Infinity is a difficult concept to grasp, after all, when you tell yourself that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth, do you never feel that sting of uncertainty? Elite: Dangerous portrays the heavens as an indifferent yet breathtakingly beautiful void that is both immense and intimate. And not once are you ever removed from the first-person viewpoint of your player character, an unnamed, faceless pilot. Everything you need to know is displayed in the cockpit, and as you manipulate the numerous, complicated systems relating to travel, combat, and cargo handling, you can see the pilot interact with panels, the throttle, and the flight stick. On top of all this, Elite: Dangerous has a slick aesthetic that confidently walks the line between futuristic and utilitarian. Itís a fantastical universe out there, but above all, it is a place for business. The occasional obtuseness of the gameís many user interfaces is wholly in service to the goal of building an immersive experience, and to that end, it is enormously successful. There are a few technical problems, including a stuttering frame rate that unfortunately rears its ugly head when youíre supposed to be riding the emotional high of a successful hyperspace jump. But since this is a persistent, living universe that is constantly being updated, these quirks should be fixed before too long.

Even the most mundane tasks in Elite: Dangerous are made engaging by the outstanding orchestral soundtrack that somehow manages to capture the vastness of space and the human desire to explore and/or conquer. And matching the incredible music is a suite of sound effects that further cement the illusion into place. If you have a good set of headphones or a kickass sound system, Elite: Dangerous will put it to excellent use; the first time you fire up your Frame Shift Drive is a purely magical moment. Engines spool up with a resonant climbing bass note, and the calming voice of your shipís systems provides a seductive dissonance to everything thatís going on outside the ship. Even the sounds of spaceflight (yes, sound travels quite well through space after all), with all its rumbles, groans, and oscillations, keep you in the moment.


Gameplay:

Elite: Dangerous is a space simulator. Oddly enough, that is simultaneously the simplest and most complicated answer I can give. From there, the game is what you want it to be. The only constant is that you are the pilot of a starship that is capable of interstellar travel; from there, it is a very personal gameplay experience. You start with next to nothing and the deep space equivalent of a jalopy and you grow from there. Do you become a contract hauler, transporting goods between stations light years away from each other? Or are your ambitions less honorable and, shall we say, legal? Do you wish to become an explorer of the great beyond, pursuing every unidentified signal that your craft picks up? Or does your work involve illicit commerce? Are you Gordon Gekko on a galactic scale? Or are you Jack the Space Ripper?

There is no answer. You can be all of those things or none of them. Itís your choice, and you have the freedom. And thatís something that Elite: Dangerous provides in spades: freedom. Space is big, and it must be shared. And there are countless roles to fill.

One thing youíll invariably do a lot of is travel between starports and other sorts of various destinations. Each one has its own offered services, including bulletin boards containing quests, shipyards where you can purchase new spacecraft, and numerous places to conduct business. Not every port offers the same services, so itís a good idea to become familiar with the maps and various interfaces that contain relevant information.


Difficulty:

Elite: Dangerous makes one of the most daunting first impressions. Itís like walking up to a skyscraper, pressing yourself flat against the wall, and looking up. There are so many mechanics, so many systems, that the most casual of gamers will undoubtedly shy away from it. But those who give up do themselves a disservice. Elite: Dangerous is an investment. The more you put into it, the more it pays off. And to be fair, your first several hours with the game will be a mix of trial by fire and miserable failure. The Sidewinder is a piece of garbage, and the default pulse laser hardpoints may as well be rubber bands. But everybody has to start somewhere.

Perhaps Elite: Dangerousís greatest sin is in the its tutorials, or rather the lack thereof. "Barebones" doesnít even begin to explain the series of basic missions that give you only the briefest introduction to the gameplay. Youíll learn how to fly, how to fight, and how to dock. But thereís so much to these core pillars that skimming the surface just doesnít cut it. The game urges you to watch a series of linked videos accessible through Internet Explorer, but thatís no good. Long story short, find someone who knows how to play the game or do some heavy reading. You wonít regret it.


Game Mechanics:

Considering the number of mechanics and the sheer complexity of each of them, itís amazing that everything fits onto the Xbox One controller. Thereís some clunkiness here and there, but you get the idea that Frontier did the best they could with what they had.

If youíve played any flight games, simulation or otherwise, youíll be able to easily grasp the basics of flight in Elite: Dangerous. Pitching around and manipulating the throttle to your satisfaction is handled quite similarly to other games that grant you full 360 degree movement. There are two control schemes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Youíll want to become acclimated to certain parts of both if youíre going to get the most out of your craft. For example, one scheme has the Right Analog Stick bound to yaw, while the other has it bound to lateral throttle. This becomes extremely useful when youíre attempting to comply with docking standards, which are quite strict.

Travel is much, much more complicated than simply pointing your craft in the general direction of your destination. Most missions require you to travel between systems, and your basic throttle wonít do it, at least not if you want your ETA to be within the next few years. Luckily, there are two other modes of travel: supercruise and hyperspace. Both require a fully-charged Frame Shift Drive, but they allow for different speed thresholds. Supercruise allows you to travel reasonably quickly within a system; itís how youíll make your way between stations or planets that donít happen to be light years away from each other. However, you must steadily decelerate as you make your final approach; if you slam on the brakes a few light seconds away, you will overshoot your destination by a lot. If you drop out of supercruise without decelerating to a safe speed, you will damage your ship. Hyperspace is a bit more simple; by opening the galaxy map, plotting a route to a different system, and lining up with the proper vector, your ship will do the rest for you. Just make sure you turn as you exit hyperspace, unless you want to become intimately acquainted with the nearest solar body.

One thing youíll need to get the hang of is juggling flight controls with headlook controls. Your navigation and ship panels can only be accessed by looking at them, and you wonít be able to get much done without these panels. Luckily, theyíre easy to access and with practice, youíll have it down pat.

In the end, Elite: Dangerous manages to deliver something that few modern games even come close to providing: a truly freeform experience. Itís not a quick fix kind of game; if youíre in it, youíre in it for the long haul. It can be an exasperating, overwhelming experience, but those who persist will find themselves closer to living even the boldest of hard science fiction fantasies.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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