It’s been about 28 years since I last played Elite.
The game was a transformative experience; a whole universe contained within a cassette tape and experienced, via my trusty old ZX Spectrum, through a 12” CRT portable TV screen.
Although my copy was without the pilot’s guide user manual (it may have even been a bootleg, sorry David) I gradually got to grips with the complexities of the game and spent many months trading and voyaging the universe.
Three decades later, I want to do it all over again.
The most recent version of the game, Elite: Dangerous, has recently come to Xbox One as part of the Game Preview programme. This is the first time the series has made the journey to console and at E3 last week I got some hands-on time with the Xbox One build and a preview of the new CQC (Close Quarters Combat) mode.
The first thing that sprung to mind as I took my position in the dimly lit demo room was just how similar the game feels to the original. The basics of the game are completely identical; the minutiae of space travel, the trading mechanics, the exploration of the universe… This is Elite.
The biggest concern with the transfer of Elite: Dangerous to console was the migration of the game’s array of keyboard commands to the Xbox One controller. The solution is simple, elegant and once muscle memory takes over, fast. Each of the Xbox One’s face buttons (A,B,X,Y) brings up a different HUD overlay of commands, each of these are mapped to the directions on the controller’s D-pad. Once you have worked out the lay of the land you can switch between commands quickly and effectively. One the Elite ambassadors at the E3 demo could use them so quickly that the HUD didn’t even have time to display before the action was received.
Controls aside, a short time with the game does not do the overall Elite: Dangerous experience any favours. It’s a sprawling, grinding, epic journey that can take months to consume and explore. Nonetheless, I saw enough to know that the game has survived the move to console intact. The Xbox One build itself is certainly impressive, running at a full 1080p and looking beautiful.
Perhaps cognisant that Elite: Dangerous is not your typical console experience Frontier Developments were also keen to show more of the game’s new CQC combat mode.
CQC is a completely separate experience to the main game. It features its own specific spacecraft and control mechanics to ensure that dogfighting in space is as speedy and responsive as it needs to be. The mode certainly looks fun, evoking everything from Star Wars to the combat sequences in the recent Battlestar Galactica series. CQC offers a variety of interesting environments and space stations to weave among, offering plenty of cat-and-mouse gameplay opportunities. All in all it looks to be an worthwhile addition to the game’s feature set.
The continual evolution of Elite: Dangerous was mentioned often at the E3 demo. In addition to the game’s recent Powerplay expansion there is more free content on the horizon that will expand the game, answering some of the accusations around lack of substance.
With the likes of Star Citizen, No Man’s Sky and even Star Fox Zero offering their own takes on space exploration and combat, the genre is suddenly a little crowded. But there is nothing quite like Elite, and the Xbox One version should open the game up to a whole new audience.
For me, it was just a pleasure to sit in the cockpit once again, stare into the inky blackness of space and begin a new adventure. It felt familiar. And it felt good.
As Han Solo said recently, ‘We’re home.’
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