Game Review: Elite Dangerous

Billions of star systems are ready to receive you. Plot your course back to our home system and see if men are really from Mars and women inhabit Venus, do rover circle-work on Uranus, or even the sun itself. Before you do pick an activity, you’ll need to do the boring flight check, though. Did you remember to pull the landing gear up?

Are you leaking oxygen from that last collision? Do the engine systems have juice diverted properly to them? Do you have the appropriate permit documents to even be out here? Do y- oh, we’ve just exploded into a fireball. Damn. This shit is hard.

If you’re not crusty enough to remember the original 1984 Elite, it was largely about the same things as this reboot: raping asteroids of their precious metals, haggling at ports to get space moolah, using said spoils to buy into bigger ships, and dogfighting with pesky AI and human space jockeys. Sounds pretty stellar, however, doing any of the above requires a ridiculous amount of prep and rigmarole. The punishment for trying to cut around those responsibilities: death by at least a dozen ways you probably haven’t thought about.

Overheating the engines might turn you into a flaming comet. Mechanical systems could fail and leave you hopelessly adrift as a cosmic castaway. Some space pirate might score a shot on your O2 supply and if you can’t fix it up it’s asphyxia for you. Cocking it up will relegate you back to a cruddy Sidewinder starter ship, and then the grind begins again. A low-risk skip through No Man’s Sky this game most certainly is not.

Impressively, the ludicrously complex PC controls have being adequately shoehorned down onto a DualShock 4 controller. For example, tapping the ‘boost’ button does what you think it should, but holding the same button down will toggle nested d-pad options.

After a bit of memorisation you won’t feel like a space octopus controlling lights. landing gear, cargo scoop, and camera controls. We wouldn’t say it’s ever going to feel super easy, but it’s certainly workable, and being offered a crazy amount of fine control is what makes Elite so damn cool.

Impressive craft customisation is Gran Turismo-esque. You can kit ships out with chaff launchers, surface scanners, lightweight alloys, room for passengers, and even bays to launch other ships, then get weird with neon lights and bobbleheads. Your ship figuratively, and literally, drives the experience. It’s a massive time sink, though, and the vanity stuff costs actual human money. Boo.

You’ll also have to invest time in training. A smattering of tutorials detail fighting, warping, docking, and planetary landings, then leave you to figure out the rest. Here’s where space station mission boards come in. They generate legal, illegal, combat, transport, and aid-based assignments.

At Baker’s Prospect, for example, Angelique Melendez wants us to deliver data, but unfortunately we lack the necessary rank. Okay, we’ll assist Xavier Alford, who’s looking for a smuggler to deliver stabilisers – but it turns out this job requires nine cargo spaces. Great. Theoretically, you can make your name transporting VIPs or delivering medicine to plague-ridden worlds; realistically, you’ll spend 15 minutes trying to time your drop out of hyperspace before crashing into a station antenna.

It’s not like Elite: Dangerous lacks content. Take the Powerplay feature, whereby you pledge allegiance to a galactic faction and vote each week on, say, who to negotiate with or which side to take in an impending war.

This governs what missions you get. The down side being, space is so hideously large that it hardly seems to matter. Persistent multiplayer is also hampered by caveats: you’re able to select nearby players from a drop-down menu and request a seat in their ship, but it’s rare they’ll ever actually let you. If you’re more into shooting people? They’ll likely have a much, much bigger laser than you.

Elite: Dangerous captures the magnificent desolation of space like no other game. We’ve turned off our engines and floated in the presence of purple gas giants. We’ve looked across seas of a million asteroids. We’ve also yawned a lot. For every moment awed in the presence of a monumental celestial body, there are ten in which you’re lonely, humbled, and really quite bored.
Score: 6/10

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