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Elite

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Elite

Acornsoft / Firebird (1984)

Synopsis

You take the controls of a stripped down spaceship, learning to trade goods across star systems to raise cash to upgrade your vessel. All of this whilst maintaining your survival by shooting down foe in a quest to raise your profile from harmless to... elite.

Space, the final frontier...


Graphics

Pros:

The original and best HUD layout of them all.


Cons:

Line rendering not as subtle against Amstrad / Spectrum.





Sound

Pros:

Effective sounds when firing on ships, hyperspacing and, er, getting blown up!


Cons:

These are pretty much the only sounds you'll ever hear.





Gameplay

Pros:

Open-world gameplay still plays wonderfully, so you'll be occupied well past bedtime!


Cons:

None.




Graphics

Pros:

Much better line rendering resolving the flickering issues that plagued the BBC / C64 versions.


Cons:

The HUD has been redesigned by Keith, a trolley-boy from Clapham.





Sound

Pros:

Explosion effects pack a realistic punch.


Cons:

Gunfire effects are a bit wimpish.





Gameplay

Pros:

The game plays just as fast as the BBC version.


Cons:

Minimal slow-down when larger objects come into view.




Graphics

Pros:

Nice menu design. Planets and suns are colour-filled. Line rendering is excellent.


Cons:

The HUD is a hand-me-down from the Spectrum version.





Sound

Pros:

Sprightly title music (Blue Danube Waltz) to get you into the mood.


Cons:

The sound effects are a hand-me-down from the Spectrum version ‐ anyone see a pattern?





Gameplay

Pros:

Oodles of playability, plus, in colour.


Cons:

It feels like the Spectrum version but with its coat on.



The Bounty Hunter is Here!




"There was a time when there was nothing at all, nothing at all, just a distant hum. And then a load of these Thargoid aliens turned up and all hell broke loose!" That's not quite how Howard Jones penned his hit single "Hide & Seek", released just prior to Elite, but it certainly recalls a time where I was listening to his magnificent song and playing this dog-eat-dog game religiously. I'd like to thank my ex-neighbours now for their enduring patience!


The Final Frontier!

There was always something a little bit extra special about Elite and that was even before the game had loaded. The container that my version (Amstrad) came in was not the standard plastic tape box with a shiny insert. It was a box that had to be big enough to contain the cassette, a space trader's flight manual, a short novel, a quick key control guide and a ship identification chart. The latter went straight onto my wall, although I clearly didn't take all of the ship names in properly, which you'll note from my video review. It has been 30 years...! I did read the included novel but it felt a little superfluous and it was certainly not mission critical.


Speaking of 'novel', it's probably worth noting that many games were still adopting the widely accepted "three lives and you're out" approach. Elite was styled in such a way that you didn't play complacently, by giving you just the one precious, fragile life. Every moment of your campaign had to be spent checking to make sure that ships weren't flanking you in a surprise attack. You had only one chance to make it across the cosmos and, if it was a long journey, your concentration needed to be sharper than Don Johnson's suits.


You begin your quest at Lave space station with only 100 credits to your name and a Cobra Mk III ship with questionable fire power. Suffice to say, you need some way of earning money to upgrade your ship for you to advance on to greater adventures.

Your concentration needed to be sharper than Don Johnson's suits!

Thankfully, you are able to gain extra credits through trading goods found on sale at each system you travel to, or you can take the bounty hunter route and get paid for getting rid of some unwanted vermin.


No Sinclair C5s?

You can also go down the piracy route but, be warned, you'll have swarms of police in their Viper ships coming after you and, if it's not them, it'll be other bounty hunters looking to make a quick buck out of your demise.


At the space station you can enter the trade views - buying & selling. Here you can buy goods ranging from food, textiles and minerals, to the more risky business of trading narcotics, firearms and slaves. These come at a price suited to the market for that particular system, whether it be agricultural or industrial, and it's your job to determine when to buy cheap and sell big. If you do buy some of the latter high-risk items, then be careful what star systems you travel to. If you enter an anarchic atmosphere then hold on to your horses because it will be a bumpy ride! Luckily, you can read up beforehand about the star system you wish to enter, so the onus is on you to do your homework.


Once you leave the space station it's time to head off with your newly acquired goods to see about making a profit. As long as other pilots don't have any ideas then you can make your way to the next system's space station safely where you can manually land your craft. It's a lot easier to say than it is to do, though! Once you've made yourself a tidy sum of money then you can buy the auto-docking device, which makes life so much easier in the Elite universe! The last thing you need to do is to kill a dozen enemies and then nose plant straight into the space station. Frustrating and humiliating!


Snake In The Parsec!

The goal is completely open-ended giving you the choice to freely roam the star systems as a trader, a bounty hunter, a pirate, or a mixture of all of these. The clue in the title, however, gives away the most sought after goal within the game - to achieve the rank of "Elite". You begin the game with a rank, or status, of "Harmless". This would clearly not be good for anyone's street cred, so to achieve the ultimate prize means you having to play hard and take part in all activites to get there.


This is an addictive and highly recommended game, with no real set pieces. All space flight provides a random set of circumstances every time so that you can never be totally prepared for any ships that come your way. This, along with the open-ended landscape, makes this game an absorbing and brilliantly constructed masterpiece.




Graphics

Differences between the platforms are few and far between. The Amstrad makes more use of colour, the Commodore has a superb HUD and explosion effects.


Sound

Effects are well balanced without resorting to overkill. Amstrad title score is a nice touch, whilst the Commodore version is far too busy.


Gameplay

The BBC/Spectrum versions are fluid and immersive. Hours will seem like minutes, as minutes will seem like seconds!


Overall

It was such an easy call between gold and silver, however the difficult decision came between the Amstrad and C64. Whilst the C64 has a classy looking HUD, better in-game sounds, and sweet explosions, the ship feels clunky and slow to pilot. The game keys feel a little unresponsive with the screen portraying a dampened feeling of inertia. Utimately, it was this loss of playability that kept it from taking the bronze award.



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Platform Winners

Overall Ranking

96

1st Place

Our highest rated game of 1984

Our only space trading game review

Screenshots

...click here to enlarge

ROMs

Amstrad: download
Commodore: download
Spectrum: download

Video Review

Pixel8Games'pick of 1984

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