A moment's silence please while we remember. A long time ago there was a game. This game struck a chord with a generation of games players. It put you at the controls of a spaceship and left you to your own devices in a huge area of space, free to trade, prospect, smuggle, pirate, assassinate, and get chased slap into an asteroid by the cops. That game was called Elite. Ten years have passed since Elite was released, and now the sequel has arrived and everything is all-a-quiver.
Basically, Frontier is the same game as Elite, there, it has to be said. The objectives, basic gameplay and game systems are the same, only bigger, bolder and better.
Let us start at the beginning. Your grandfather is dead, bit of a blow that but thee things happen. In his will he has left you a spaceship and his good wishes. The game starts with you sitting in the cockpit of your new crate with 100 credits and a ridiculous number of stars and planets to explore.
At each starport of space station scattered across the star systems you can buy and sell goods and equipment for your ship and scour the local ads for interesting jobs. There is no single objective other than to amass money to buy bigger and meander ships to journey further and survive longer. The ultimate aim is to achieve the status of Elite, meaning you are one dangerous spaceball.
There is a wide variety of ships to use, all with different statistics and each can be fitted out with swish bits of kits including obligatory lasers and missiles.
How you go about things is up to you. Trading in legal goods between safe places is a nice steady living that will keep you going for years. Answering an advert for a bounty hunter and trying a spot of assassination work is generally a rewarding and short career. In between there is the murky world of smuggling and shady deals among the less well-policed systems.
The universe is divided into two main power blocks, the Federation and the Empire. So getting into trouble with one can put you in good stead with the other. The sense of freedom Frontier gives you is glorious, and you have a detailed and truly enormous game area in which to frolic.
The 3D system used to create the universe is excellent, you can adjust the level of detail to suit, and the ships and planets are wonderfully detailed. The downside is speed, on an A600 on the higher detail level it gets very jerky and slow. Frontier really benefits from a faster Amiga such as an A1200. The sound is not at all bad though with plenty of effects and some stirring classical music.
A Mars a day
The game is controlled by a combination of keyboard and mouse or joystick. Flying about in space is weird at first because there is no up and no down, and battles can easily turn into a spinning frenzy as you try and bring your guns to bear. The navigation is handled very well, although it is a real pain if you do not use the automatic pilot. The game is well constructed and nothing is particularly complicated, so once you have read through the manual once and tried out a few flights you will have the hang of it. It is best to start with a spot of commodity trading then build up to a couple of the simpler missions to get some dosh together for better ship before you try anything really dodgy. To tackle the serous stuff you need to pack a much heavier punch. Getting to the heavy-duty ships will take a long, long time.
One of the pains of the original Elite was docking with the space stations. It required plenty of practice and involved lots of frustrating explosions. Frontier gives you the choice of three starting positions with different ships and equipment. The recommended starting position comes complete with an automatic pilot, a real boon. Elite purists can start at the original starting position with the same Cobra ship s Elite.
Big, huge, massive
The sheer size of the game is frightening, the star maps are huge, there are millions of worlds to visit and you will never see all of it. It does not suffer fools gladly either; flying to a star system without a starport, running out of fuel or indiscriminate firing will all land you in trouble. Staying clear of the law can be difficult at times, once you get a reputation or incur a huge fine you had better pay up and be good. The law has a very long arm.
The game has a very nasty copy protection system. At certain points you have to enter letters from the manual, but the program does not tell you if you have input the right one. If you get it wrong, you are thrown out of the game later on, which is very annoying if you have just saved your position. There is no doubt that Frontier is an excellent game, there are dozens of ways to make money and get that ship you always dreamed of. But, it requires patience, and it is easy to muck things up and end up a fugitive from somebody or other. Combat takes a little practice, and it really helps to write prices and availability of goods down as you go along. Frontier also demands a meticulous approach, and some battles are very long winded and frustrating.
Aficionados of the original Elite may be a little disappointed, sure the 3D routines are stunning but the bare bones of the game are pretty much the same only bigger. It would have been nice to have had more interaction with the universe instead of constantly flying about and fighting.
If you missed out on Elite then you are in for a treat. The basic concept is simple and the addictiveness is horrifying. If you find yourself getting hooked then you have a game that will last and last. There will always be another world to see, another few credits to earn and another spaceship to fight it out with. The universe is yours, try not to dent the ship, eh?
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