Too Big Issue


Author: Russell Wills
Publisher: Superior/Acornsoft
Machine: BBC B/B+/Master 128


Well, there really isn't much to say about this game that hasn't been said before, unless you've been on Mars for a good fifteen years you will most definitely have heard of this game, possibly the most advanced game for its time this century. Created by the now infamous David Braben and Ian Bell, this is a space trading and shooting game, set far into the future where Space Travel is commonplace and nearly everyone makes their living by the stars. It is up to you, Commander Jameson, what you make of your career, you start in a fairly downbeat star system, with the lowest spec lasers and equipment, and 100 credits to your name. Your options at the start are fairly limited, either buy some items to trade with, or go out into the stars and shoot for a living. As you are ill-equipped for this sort of thing it is probably best to trade with other systems at first, then when you have the money to buy equipment for the ship, improve it so you have at least a fighting chance of winning!

It is this open endedness about the game which is so very appealing to almost everyone who plays it, there are no real rules of the game as such, you aren't told what you must do, you do what you feel like. If that means blasting the engines off of whatever comes near you then so be it, but if you so happen to shoot a police ship don't expect them to be too kind! The real technological achievement comes in two places in this game. Firstly the graphics used to portray the outside world are quite frankly superb for their age (1984), they consist of wire frame models using hidden line removal (i.e. they appear to be solid, a very difficult and processor intensive feature) and everything is modelled in 3D, be it Space Stations, planets or suns. The main screen consists of a window in which Mode 1 is used for black and white graphics, and Mode 4 for which 4 colours are used to display the text readouts such as fuel, status (green for clear, yellow for caution, and red if you are under attack). This is a novel idea, and works as it conserves memory as well. The second technological achievement is the game size, it is huge, there are 8 galaxies, each consisting of several hundred star systems, each with its own individual characteristics such as the technology level (higher means you can purchase more advanced systems for your craft) and the government type (meaning how the system is policed, obviously anarchy systems are full of pirates waiting to blow you out of the stars, but corporate states are very rich and well policed, meaning it is very unlikely that you will be shot at).

The game is very, very hard at first, with you trading in whatever you can between star systems (the prices of different materials range depending on whether the system is agricultural or technological) and scrambling back to the space stations with your precious few credits. Ah... I didn't mention space stations did I? Well, this is also one of the hardest parts of the game, you have to dock with a rotating space station, getting your ship lined up with the part of it that you can enter through, then holding pattern with the rotation - it is very hard at first, and a Docking Computer is a wise move when you make your first 1000 credits or so! Once you move up though, get a few credits, you can try more risky actions, like trading in illegal substances (including radioactives and narcotics), or being a bit of a bounty hunter. Bounty Hunting is my favourite task in the game, one on one combat with the computer operated ships, if you destroy them then you get a certain number of credits, depending on how dangerous they were.


In the disk version of the game there are quite a few ship types to watch out for, the toughest being the Mambas and Kraits (real pirates ships) and the Boas and Pythons are the real cargo carriers which can be shot at and if you succeed in blowing them up you can have their cargo, as long as you have some fuel scoops to pick up the cannisters! Fuel Scoops I hear you say - yes, you can buy a lot of equipment in this game, depending on what job you want to do you may want to pick up better lasers, mining lasers (to turn the asteroids you find into smaller minerals to scoop up), more missiles, docking computers, energy bombs (wipes out everyone in the area except you) or escape capsules. This really gives you something to aim for in the first stages of the game, especially the docking computer - pure heaven when you get it!

Also included in the game is the Elite ranking system for combat, basically you start of as 'Harmless' but after shooting a couple of ships you may be regarded as 'Mostly Harmless', and so on right up to "Elite"! For this though you must get about 6400 kills - believe me it is a lot of shooting! Other ranks you progress through are Poor, Average, Above Average, Competent, Dangerous and Deadly, it really is satisfying when you see your new ranking, and it takes a lot of work! Then of course there are the secret missions...but we won't go into those as I don't want to spoil it!

Anyway, this is superb fun, and it shows exactly what the Beeb is capable of, since 1984 this game has been ported to every format under the sun - and if you have an Archimedes then that contains what is probably an even better version of Elite than this - but not by much! This of course is not the original release of the game, it was first released by Acornsoft, and ran on the BBC B only, but this new version contains enhancements if you have a Master (coloured ships, no loading from disk after initial loading) or a 2nd Processor (more advanced gameplay), which is great value for money! One thing I would say is that this new packaging lacks the Novella 'The Dark Crystal' originally supplied with the game, and although interesting it doesn't do much to enhance the game play or the already excellent Flight Training manual.

This game is a must - you really should play it if you haven't already!

Russell Wills

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