Developed by David Braben and the rest of the Firebird Software team, this influential home computer game involves space combat and interstellar trade. Players begin as the captain of a bare-bones ship, who must earn money for fuel, repairs, and improvements. Some money can be made through trading runs between civilized, (relatively) safe sectors. There is much more profit in runs to distant stars, in regions patrolled by outlaws and pirates, but much more risk as well. Eventually, players can use earnings to improve their ship with powerful weapons and defenses that allow them to stand up to brigands, or perhaps to even engage in a little pirating themselves.
Elite is a free-form space trading and combat simulation, commonly considered the progenitor of this sub-genre. The player initially controls a character referred to as "Commander Jameson", starting at Lave Station with 100 credits and a lightly armed trading ship called Cobra Mark III. Most of the game consists of traveling to various star systems, trading with their inhabitants, gaining money and reputation. Money can also be gained by other means beside trading; these include undertaking military missions, bounty hunting, asteroid mining, and even piracy. As the player character earns money, he becomes able to upgrade his ships with enhancements such as better weapons, shields, increased cargo capacity, an automated docking system, etc.
The game utilizes pseudo-3D wire-frame graphics; its world is viewed from a first-person perspective. It has no overarching story, though a race known as Thargoids play the role of antagonists: their ships will often attack the player-controlled ship, forcing the player to engage in space combat. Combat is action-oriented, taking place in the same environment as the exploration. The player must use various weapons the ship is equipped with, as well as manoeuvre the ship, trying to dodge enemy attacks. The player can also choose to attack neutral ships; doing so will decrease the protagonist's reputation, eventually attracting the attention of the galactic police.
Elite is notable for its expansive game world, consisting of eight galaxies and 256 planets. The player is free to travel to any of these planets, provided his ship has enough fuel for the trip (the ship's fuel capacity is limited for a journey to the distance of seven light years).
When this game came out (Originally on BBC computers in 1983) the computer game scene was very calm. The games that dominated the industry were platform and arcade games, most of them replicas of Pac-Man, Space Invaders or Jet-Set Willy. Elite came along to change all that. Imagine, in that era of computer games, what it meant for a game to be so complex.
The scenario of the game is pretty simple. You are a space trader with a little ship, and your main task (at least when you start the game) is to transport cargo between planets. This is where things get complicated. The game has literally hundreds, if not thousands, of planets to explore, and each one of them is unique. There are both technologically-advanced planets (producing hi-tech cargos) and primitive planets (most of these produce just raw materials, if anything), and so on. They also have political systems; some are democratic and allow free trade, while others can be more hostile and attack you on sight.
Of course, in games, space isn't empty. Many other races (and their ships) exist in the game. Some of them are peaceful, others are not. At the start of the game it is wise to avoid combat with other ships (since you can be destroyed very easily), but consider also that more money is gained by trading with dangerous planets. For instance, a planet that has a problem with pirates will pay more for delivered cargo than a peaceful planet.
You can also decide about what you will do in the game. You can stay a simple trader or you can be a space pirate and steal cargo from other ships (watch out for the police). Either way, your main task is to make more money and to earn more fame. By making money you can equip your ship with better weapons etc, and by earning fame you advance in rank. The highest rank you can achieve is the "Elite" status, but you have a long road ahead before you reach that rank. At certain points in the game, you receive predetermined missions. The mission types differ- their requirements can be simple, like transporting a package from one planet to another, or more complex, like killing a certain pirate, and so on.
The graphics in the game are primitive by today's standards, but they do their job. The ships and space stations (where you dock for loading and unloading cargo) are depicted with wire-frame graphics, the predecessor to 3D. Colours are very few - there are as many as CGA allows!
The sound is also nothing extraordinary. The sounds in the game are just "blips" and the only music that can be heard in the whole game is on the first screen (a classical piece, to be more precise).
Despite the poor graphics and sound, the playability of the game is enormous... Just consider that this game created (in 1983!) the "space exploration" genre of games. With the exception of better graphics, more enormous galaxies, and more missions and enemies, all the games of the same genre (like Frontier and Privateer, and even more modern ones) are based on Elite. Anyone who likes this type of game should play Elite, at least to see where it all began.
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