Frontier: Elite II is the sequel to the award winning classic, Elite, co created by Ian Bell and David Braben. Elite was such a hit because it gave many gamers something they truly longed for, a sense of total freedom. If you're not aware of this classic (and shame on you if this is the case), then I'll venture to explain. Elite started you off with a ship with limited weaponry, range, and cargo capacity. Once you've begun, it's all up to the player to decide where to proceed next. You could make a lot of money ferrying cargo from one planet to the next, or collecting bounties on killed pirates, or ferrying supplies to frontier worlds that needed them, and so on. The amount of freedom given to the player in Elite was something no other game had done at the time, and it laid the groundwork by which all future space exploration/trading games would be based on, as well as judged by, in the years to come. Games such as Wing Commander: Privateer or X: Beyond the Frontier, owe quite a lot to the original Elite.
When Ian Bell and David Braben ended their reign as co-developers, the future of the series was unclear. Everyone involved knew that the gaming public wanted a sequel, and we wanted that sequel to have more of everything...more ships to fly (you only flew one in Elite), more planets, more space stations, more enemies, and so on. Well, David Braben has attempted to give us all what we wanted with Frontier, the ambitious sequel to a well-loved classic. When one tries to follow up a classic like Elite, one can only imagine the stress involved on those who are making it. Elite was a highly ambitious game that stretched the boundaries of what a game could be, and a sequel would have to be pretty mighty to live up to the original. Unfortunately, while Frontier is a good, sometimes great game, it lacks the sheer charm and playability of the original Elite due to a few frustrating problems.
First, the game gives us many more choices in how to make money in the universe. There are now, at each port, bulletin boards with job listings, which can range from ferrying passengers and cargo to collecting bounties on targeting people. The mission selection has been increased at least by a factor of three, and there's a lot of variety within each type of mission that they don't get stale. We now also have the option of landing on planets. In Elite, the only place you could land were those spinning space stations above the planets in question. Now, however, inhabited planets can have space stations and colonies on the surface itself, both of which can be used for landings. This gives a lot more variety in the scenery. The systems these planets are in are also more detailed now than in the original. In Elite, each system had one planet to fly to. In Frontier, systems can be populated with several moons and planets, making for a much more interesting ride.
We also now have many more ships to fly than in the original game. In Elite, you only flew one ship, the venerable Cobra Mk III. While this ship is still available in Frontier (it still makes a great jack-of-all-trades ship), we now have several more ships that can fill more specialized roles. You begin the game with an Eagle Mk. III fighter, a small one manned craft with a puny laser, tiny cargo compartment, and a relatively short range. Once you make more money, however, you can move onto bigger and better things. The bigger a ship you acquire, the more crew spaces you'll need to fill. In the original Elite, your ship was a one-man ship, but in Frontier, bigger ships can require up to ten people as a crew requirement, so make sure you have all your spaces filled, or else you won't be able to take off.
The graphics and sound are improved over the original, with 256-color, vibrant graphics filling our screens with a large universe. The music and sound, which now can run through sound cards, is also nice, and it's great to see that the music from the original game, as well as several other pieces, made it into this release. The game might be a bit dated compared to some of its contemporaries such as Wing Commander: Privateer, but considering the size of the universe, it would have taken too many disks to represent it in that level of detail.
While Frontier does a lot of things right, and can be a delightfully fun game, it also has some annoying problems. The first of these problems is engaging in combat. In Elite, combat was usually a way of life, as one day would usually never go by without an enemy encounter of some type. Frontier is no different in this regard, only its execution leaves much to be desired. When you engaged in combat in Elite, one would basically fly around with the other craft, exchanging pot shots until someone died. This usually involved several craft at once. In Frontier, combat has been made much more complicated. In Elite, combat usually took place at close ranges, and since the enemies were easy to see, it wasn't too frustrating. Frontier, however, is a whole other animal. Combat usually begins at long ranges, where the enemy is quite hard to point out. In order to target the enemy, one needs to click on him in the viewscreen with this mouse. What about the keyboard, you ask? Well, forget it, as there's no key to target an enemy, a rather strange omission in the light of games such as Wing Commander or X-Wing, both of which make targeting enemies an easy task. This, compounded with the problem that, in combat, the controls are way too imprecise and touchy, and you can have a very frustrating experience.
While this next point isn't really a problem, it's serious enough to mention. Remember that this is only the opinion of a humble reviewer, so your mileage may vary. In the original Elite, you could tell that the game had a ton of charm infused by the creators. There were little bits of humor thrown in here and there, and one really felt drawn into the universe. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with Frontier. While the universe is well populated, and you usually won't want for something to do, the universe itself just seems somewhat sterile in comparison to the original.
Finally, we come to the interface, which is downright confusing. The game allows you to use a mouse or keyboard in order to get to different screens, such as maps or cargo. The screwy thing is that, in different screens, the same key can do different things. If you'll look at the instructions, you'll see that many of the same command keys are used in different screens. One would think that, with the number of keys on a keyboard, this could have been avoided, but alas, we're left with a confusing mess that does too much for its own good.
While it may not have the charm of the original, it's got enough choice and freedom to keep you occupied for a very long time. It may be confusing to use and frustrating to fight, but once you get used to it, you'll find that there's a ton of stuff to do in this universe. If you're a fan of the original, or even a fan of games of this type, find yourself a copy and check it out. If you're the impatient type who merely wants to take off and shoot stuff, you might want to pass this one by.
Graphics: Nicely rendered graphics, although a bit lagging in comparison to the competition.
Sound: Good music accompanies your adventures, and can be turned off if you like.
Enjoyment: While the game can be enjoyable, frustrating combat and a funky interface can get in the way.
Replay Value: If you can overcome its niggles, this game has a whole universe for you to explore.
People who downloaded Frontier: Elite II have also downloaded:
Frontier: First Encounters (aka Elite 3), Elite Plus, Elite, Freelancer, Elite 2: Frontier, Gunship 2000 (CD-ROM Edition), F-15 Strike Eagle III, MechWarrior 2 (Limited Edition)
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