Elite Review | Personal Computer News - Everygamegoing

Personal Computer News

By Acornsoft
Acorn Electron

Published in Personal Computer News #082


Standby for blast off for the most amazing and addictive game yet to appear for the BBC. Indeed, for any computer. A game so impressive that it moved PCN's most hard-bitten Commodore 64 loyalist to comment, "It's even worth buying a BBC just to play it."

Elite was written by two Cambridge undergraduates, Ian Bell and David Braben, who have extracted every ounce of performance from the Beeb.

The result is a unique 3D space adventure with real-time action. It's a game of almost unbelievable complexity, combining the best of a 3D space flight simulator, arcade-style space battle and mindstretching trading strategy game.

To make even modest progress in the game you'll need a full range of flying, combat, navigational and entrepreneurial skills.

You command a Cobra space ship and your task is to fight and wheel-and-deal your way across eight galaxies with over 250 recognised planets in each.

Buying and selling goods and commodities generates profits that can be used to equip your ship with all manner of extra armaments, defensive systems, computers and cargo space.

Profits are greatly enhanced by shooting down pirates, for which credits are instantly paid by the GalCop Bank Federation Monitoring Authority.

You can trade with worlds that vary from corporate states to anarchies. Corporate states are safe and offer only modest profits. Anarchies can provide rich pickings but carry the highest risk of attack from pirates.

Your combative skills can be used to increase your rating from harmless through competent and dangerous to deadly.

Only the most skilful achieve the prized rating of 'elite' - the objective of the game.

To do that you have to arm yourself to the teeth which is expensive. Hence the need to become a canny trader and an ace space duellist.

Your problems start as soon as you launch yourself from the planet Lave's space station. You are not allowed to land on any planet's surface. The only place you can land is a space station and this requires a delicate docking procedure.

Space stations spin to create an artificial gravity and the only entrance faces the planet's surface. So you must get your approach right and then match the spin of your Cobra to that of the station.

By sheer fluke my first attempt was a complete success. Thereafter, my lack of skill was punished mercilessly.

Practice makes perfect and I found that using the keyboard rather than joysticks provided a better delicacy of touch.

Docking procedure perfected, I hyperspaced off to my target planet. A couple of space jumps and I was almost within range of the protective cover of the space station (any space combat in this zone sounds the alert to the deadly Viper craft of GalCop (the police), which come screaming out of the station all guns blazing on a "shoot first, ask questions later" basis).

Suddenly, with little warning a pirate craft came swooping in from nowhere and strafed me with his pulse lasers. Diving and rolling did little to throw him off my tail.

With the three-dimensional radar at the bottom of the screen I could see where he was. But try as I might it was nigh on impossible to get him in the sights of my lasers.

A self-seeking missile proved to be a more effective weapon. But to target and fire seemed to require four hands, three eyes and two brains. I was blasted out of existence.

To date my most successful mission lasted as far as a fifth planet. Before being vaporised I was showing an insignificant profit of 100 credits and had not even been able to equip myself with an extra laser, let alone a fuel scoop, escape capsule, energy bomb or any of the other armaments that could have ensured survival.

By then a queue of people had lined up behind me in the office, all fighting for the chance to play the game.

Elite has to be played to be believed. The graphics are dramatic. You are offered views through forward, aft and side screens showing the action in 3D wire graphics at a speed that will leave you breathless, and with only the minimum of flicker.

At the bottom of the screen is a multi-coloured display giving information on the state of your shields, missiles, laser and cabin temperature, altitude, forward speed and energy banks.

Navigational aids include a 3D radar display, compass, and right/left roll and dive/climb indicators.

The sound is something of a let-down giving the usual zap-em sound effects. With the thought that has gone into this game one would have expected a bit more imagination here.

Without hesitation I give Elite a maximum rating. It is a whole new generation of game that will leave your nerves shot to pieces, your brain cells blasted, and your whole body in a state of complete confusion - and that's after only the first battle sequence.

It will take you literally months before you have explored the depths and subtleties of Elite and you will be thankful that Acornsoft has provided a save routine to store your current game status.

Successful pilots can enter Acornsoft's monthly competition for the most skilful players. Those playing at a more leisurely pace can draw inspiration from the enclosed novella based on the game and written by science fiction author Robert Holdstock.

All players, whatever their skill, will benefit from careful study of the enclosed Space Traders' Flight Training Manual - a work of art (and humour!) in itself.

It's the most addictive game I have ever come across and the first that could truly claim the title of 'mega-game'.

An Open Letter to Acornsoft

The staff of PCN demand (beg, plead) that you either convert Elite to other machines, or license a third party to do so. It offends all rules of natural justice that opportunities to play this game of unparalleled excellence should be restricted in any way.

Ralph Bancroft