2006-04-25 1002 Review: Elite: The review.

Right on Commander!

To a certain generation of gamers, the words above caused a woop of joy like no other. They meant success, greatness and countless intangible feelings of achievement.

They meant you were one step closer to becoming Elite.


Elite is a series of games the started life on the BBC microcomputer back in the mid eighties. Somewhat incredibly it packed 8 complete galaxies into just 32k of memory and revolutionized gaming in a way only matched by Tetris and Mario.

I first played the Commodore-64 version, as reviewed in Zzap64 Issue 1. Here’s a link to the scanned review – it’s well worth a read. In fact, all of Zzap64 is worth a read, but that’s another blogpost for another day.

The basic premise of Elite was a simple one. You’ve got 100 Credits and a ship – the Cobra Mark III. There’s 8 galaxies out there to explore. Initially, you’re just a Harmless nobody, but your rating soon changes to Mostly Harmless then up through the ranks to Dangerous, Deadly then that most coveted title – Elite.

What made Elite unique was it’s open-ended nature. Exactly what you did and how you did it was entirely up to you. The game offered a mixture of trading, exploration, piracy, bounty hunting and ship expansion. Along the way you’ll meet Tribbles, and the insectoid Thargoids and carry out missions. Elite is a completely immersive environment that can easily consume days, weeks and months of your time.

Fast forward a few years and Elite gets a sequel – Frontier. It’s more of the same (thankfully) with more missions, better graphics and the ability to change ships. There’s several sub-plots going on that you can follow if you wish. Fast forward again and First Encounters comes out with more missions, better graphics and more ships again. The formula didn’t change, somewhat controversially though the control method did. While the original Elite control method didn’t exactly follow the laws of physics, it made the game instantly playable. Frontier offered a complete physics model for everything from the movement of the planets, to gravity and ship control. First Encounters changed it again.

Thankfully, everything else stayed the same. Trading – an intrinsic element in the game – is just as much a fine art in FE as it is in Elite, and the same English sense of humour pervades throughout.

Which version of Elite you prefer really boils down to which control method works for you. While the graphics improved through the sequels, this isn’t a game that demands a high pixel count. The original wireframe Elite has all the depth and realism of it’s texture mapped sequels. I’m re-playing Frontier right now, and loving every minute.

You can too – these classic games are available for download. PC Elite, Elite Plus (the superior high-graphics version) and First Encounters can be downloaded from Abandonia, and Frontier is available here along with lots of manuals, game history and more for both Frontier and First Encounters.

See you around Barnard’s Star! ☺

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