Five years ago this game revolutionized the concept of computer gaming in so far as it provided scale, depth and open-endedness in a compulsive mix of intergalactic trade and combat guaranteed to totally absorb. And all that in 32K. So how well has it converted?
Alongside Firebird's soon-to-be-released Frontier and Gremlin's federation of Free Traders (reviewed last month), Elite's 2,000 planetary systems strung across 8 galaxies might seem a little confined - but how much space do you need? Elite offers two styles of game- play which should satisfy aficionados of both arcade and strategy games.
You start off with your ship docked just off the planet Lave, an arsenal of three missiles and a pulse laser, fuel for a hyperspace jump of 7 lightyears, 100 credits and a rating as Harmless. At this point you can choose to stock up on various commodities for future trading. By playing the intergalactic stock market you can accrue sufficient credits to stock on 14 types of hardware and armaments - galactic hyperdrives, military lasers, fuel scoops and escape capsules among them. Docking computers might be your best buy though as attempting to dock with a revolving dodecahedral space station involves manual dexterity that wouldn't go amiss at NASA. Then you knuckle down to some raw aggression and commence the long climb through the ranks of Mostly Harmless, Poor, Average, Above Average, Competent, Dangerous, Deadly and, ultimately, Elite.
If this wasn't enough, there a number of different types of aggressive strategy you can adopt as an alternative to the rather mundane career of trading. You can go bounty hunting for pirates, or become a renegade pirate yourself, go asteroid mining or merely engage in illegal trading of firearms, narcotics and slaves. For years if you so wish. Randomisers in gameplay mean no two games will be the same. Good job there's a save option then, isn't it?
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
ST Elite has screens of 16 colours which, for the old hands amongst you (read purists), might be akin to colourising an old Chaplin film. Whilst the mainly mono versions provided a certain atmosphere, it's no surprise the addition of colour comes over as a touch gaudy. But then the solid ad graphics more than make up for this. There's now a realism which no amount of wire-frames could provide. Movement is smooth enough but we're not talking state of the art solid velocities here - we're talking about a game which is five years old, and in this business may as well be five decades. What you've got is a fateful rendition of a classic with solid colour and a few extra missions - no radical overhauls here - the sound department is distinctly on the orbit side of eight-bit.
You can't help feeling a sense of nostalgia as Elite boots up and you scan the galaxy for the best deal to be had. If you've never played it before then it's worth buying just to find out what you've been missing all these years. Otherwise it's time to move on. Watch out for Elite 2 though - any bets it appears on the Archimedes first?