Every so often, you come across a game such as Civilization or Warcraftwith so much potential it's staggering. The difference between those games and David Braben's Frontier: First Encounters is that the former games deliver, whereas this one, upon close inspection, fails miserably. This is even more mystifying considering the relative successes of its predecessors by the same designers. All the elements of good gaming are present in the game but the execution (or lack thereof) of the program is disastrous. It seems quite likely that the game never underwent any extensive testing and if it did, the testers were judging it on wishful thinking. Every single attempt at playing this game end with abject frustration. The disappointment is akin to a seven-year old racing downstairs on Christmas morning only to find out all his beautifully wrapped presents are clothes, not toys.
First and foremost on the long list of flaws is the almost totally unusable, user-unfriendly interface. That's assuming you ever get beyond the incredibly difficult learning curve to figure out how it's supposed to work. Frontier: First Encounters can be played with keyboard, mouse or joystick. Unfortunately, they all work about the same, not very well. There is no calibration setup for the joystick so that avenue is a dead end. Using the mouse to pilot your spacecraft is especially ugly and the keyboard nearly useless. What a shame the interface is so messed up! Beyond the difficulties of playing Frontier: First Encounters there are some absolutely stunning and beautiful graphic displays of deep space and planets. Even this is spoiled, though, because no matter what aspect of space flight you choose, whether it's as a commodities transport (trading), people mover, assassination job, galactic bounty-hunter, fortune hunter, space rogue or just plain sightseer, you'll almost always encounter pirates looking for a fight in nearly every system you visit. The combat is so tedious, boring and difficult, it's not worth the effort. What little plot that is available is totally lost or becomes meaningless by the time you've struggled with most aspects of just playing the game.
Great features including an astronomically correct universe, open ended play, nearly unparalleled size (thousands of star systems with individually sculpted suns, stars and planets filled with recognizable characteristics like terrain and cities), nearly fifty uniquely configured spacecraft to fly or fight against and potentially unlimited replay value are simply wasted because of the unfortunate glitches, flaws and bugs encountered during game play. Indeed, even the rewards for successfully completing any of the money making endeavors are not correctly proportionate with their importance and difficulty. Frontier: First Encounters is a game you really want to like and play because of its in-depth potential and space based beauty. However, poor design takes all the fun out of unleashing that potential. Dry-dock this one and let it rust on the shelf.
Graphics: A terrible shame that game play doesn't even begin to approach the level of competency displayed by the graphics. While not outstanding in any sense, the polygonal graphics are indeed nice to look at and in rare cases dazzling vistas of planets and their surroundings are encountered. This area is where Frontier: First Encounters shines the brightest.
Sound: Uninspiring and dull.
Enjoyment: As beautiful as the game can be at times, the wretched interface and game play problems simply ruin the great potential hiding inside the game. The level of frustration makes it nearly unplayable at times. It's basically a case of what good is all this cool stuff if you can't play it!
Replay Value: Ostensibly, this game should be on your hard drive for years and years because of the immensity of the game world. In reality, it doesn't matter that the game drips with replay potential because in most cases, you just won't want to.
Frontier: First Encounters is the third part of Elite series. You are a space pirate and you fly around through the universe in your space craft to fulfill different missions. You can also earn money by trading cargo with other races.
People who downloaded Frontier: First Encounters (aka Elite 3) have also downloaded:
Frontier: Elite II, Elite Plus, Freelancer, Elite, Elite 2: Frontier, F/A-18E Super Hornet, F-16 Aggressor, F-15 Strike Eagle III
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