Fly through a huge virtual reality, shoot some people and sell other people some fruit and veg. Elite is back, and it is bigger and badder than ever. Join us on a fantastic voyage of discovery as we explore David Braben’s Frontier...
moment’s silence please while we remember. A long time ago there was a game. This game struck a chord with a generation of games players. It put you at the controls of a spaceship and left you to your own devices in a huge area of space, free to trade, prospect, smuggle, pirate, assassinate, and get chased slap into an asteroid by the cops. That game was called Elite. Ten years have passed since Elite was released, and now the sequel has arrived and everything is all-a-quiver.
Basically, Frontier is the same game as Elite, there, it has to be said. The objectives, basic gameplay and game systems are the same, only bigger, bolder and better.
Let us start at the beginning. Your grandfather is dead, bit of a blow that but thee things happen. In his will he has left you a spaceship and his good wishes. The game starts with you sitting in the cockpit of your new crate with 100 credits and a ridiculous number of stars and planets to explore.
At each starport of space station scattered across the star systems you can buy and sell goods and equipment for your ship and scour the local ads for interesting jobs. There is no single objective other than to amass money to buy bigger and meander ships to journey further and survive longer. The ultimate aim is to achieve the status of Elite, meaning you are one dangerous spaceball.
The universe is divided into two main power blocks, the Federation and the Empire. So getting into trouble with one can put you in good stead with the other. The sense of freedom Frontier gives you is glorious, and you have a detailed and truly enormous game area in which to frolic.
The 3D system used to create the universe is excellent, you can adjust the level of detail to suit, and the ships and planets are wonderfully detailed. The downside is speed, on an A600 on the higher detail level it gets very jerky and slow. Frontier really benefits from a faster Amiga such as an A1200. The sound is not at all bad though with plenty of effects and some stirring classical music.
A Mars a day
One of the pains of the original Elite was docking with the space stations. It required plenty of practice and involved lots of frustrating explosions. Frontier gives you the choice of three starting positions with different ships and equipment. The recommended starting position comes complete with an automatic pilot, a real boon. Elite purists can start at the original starting position with the same Cobra ship s Elite.
Big, huge, massive
The game has a very nasty copy protection system. At certain points you have to enter letters from the manual, but the program does not tell you if you have input the right one. If you get it wrong, you are thrown out of the game later on, which is very annoying if you have just saved your position. There is no doubt that Frontier is an excellent game, there are dozens of ways to make money and get that ship you always dreamed of. But, it requires patience, and it is easy to muck things up and end up a fugitive from somebody or other. Combat takes a little practice, and it really helps to write prices and availability of goods down as you go along. Frontier also demands a meticulous approach, and some battles are very long winded and frustrating.
Aficionados of the original Elite may be a little disappointed, sure the 3D routines are stunning but the bare bones of the game are pretty much the same only bigger. It would have been nice to have had more interaction with the universe instead of constantly flying about and fighting.
If you missed out on Elite then you are in for a treat. The basic concept is simple and the addictiveness is horrifying. If you find yourself getting hooked then you have a game that will last and last. There will always be another world to see, another few credits to earn and another spaceship to fight it out with. The universe is yours, try not to dent the ship, eh?
Amiga Format, Issue 54, Christmas 1993, p.p.62-64
"The sense of freedom that Frontier gives is glorious, and there is a huge game area in which to frolic."
|Falls wirklich gut wird, was lange währt, müßte David Brabens zweiter Sternenhändler ein Traum von einer Fortsetzung sein – selten hat man uns ja sooo lange warten lassen. Und tatsächlich...|
...kann Elite II den ultraklassischen Vorgänger noch übertrumpfen! Die alte Begeisterung stellt sich sofort wieder ein, sobald man in sein Raumschiff klettert und von Planet zu Planet eilt, um mit nunmehr 27 verschiedenen Waren zu schachern. Wer dabei reich wird, darf in Extras investieren, und wenn die nicht mehr in das Einstiegsmodell passen, wäre neuerdings gar an ein größeres Schifflein zu denken. Neu ist ebenfalls, daß unser real existierendes Sonnensystem samt näherer Umgebung als maßstabsgerechtes 3D-Modell eingebaut wurde. Daher ist nun auch nicht mehr Lave der Hauptstartpunkt, sondern ein Planet der Sonne Ross 154, knapp zehn Lichtjahre von der Erde entfernt.
In den weiteren Weiten des Alls dominieren dann allerdings wieder die Phantasiesterne: insgesamt haben die Astronomen von Konami etwa 1.000 Sonnen in der neuen Elite-Galaxis installiert, die von acht- bis zehntausend Planeten und Monden umlaufen werden. Viele davon sind besiedelt, und auf den meisten kann man sogar tatsächlich landen: darüberhinaus gibt es nach wie vor Orbitalstationen. Nach wie vor ist der Spieler auch keineswegs gezwungen, seine Brötchen als kosmischer Kaufmann zu verdienen, neben der Kopfgeldjägerei und dem Bergbau stehen jetzt auch Karrieren im Kurier- und Taxi-Gewerbe offen. Daß Brabens Universum immer noch von Space-Piraten unsicher gemacht wird, braucht wohl nicht extra erwähnt zu werden – wo blieben sonst die heißen Raumschlachten? Wer aus solchen Vektor-Gefechten ordentlich Abschüsse vorzuweisen hat, heimst Geld und Beförderungen ein – und wer weit genug befördert wurde, kommt irgendwann in den „Genuß“ der wirklich heiklen und gefährlichen Aufträge...
Im Prinzip also alles wie gehabt, nur halt zeitgemäßer, komplexer und spannender. Das Gilt auch für die Grafik aus teils animierten Datenblättern und die Aktion-Szenen – da insbesondere am 1200er Kleinamigianer müssen ein spielbares Tempo leider mit Detailverlust erkaufen. Dennoch bietet allesfalls „Wing Commander“ beeindruckendere Laserschlachten, kann dafür aber weder mit tollen Planetenlandungen noch mit annährend soviel Spieltiefe aufwarten. Viele Musikstücke (inklusive des berühmten „Andockwalzers“) sowie allerlei feine FX erfreuen den Sternen-Captain schließlich ebenso wie die ordentliche Maus-/Sticksteuerung, die nunmehr übrigens von Beginn an einen Autopiloten bietet.
Die schlechte Nachricht zum Schluß: Es trudeln ein paar Exemplare durchs Software-All, mit denen das Rückwärts-Schießen nahezu unmöglich ist. Doch sind sie erstens selten, verraten wir zweitens im Know-How, wie Ihr eine solche Bug-Version ruckzuck erkennen könnt, und ändern sie drittens nicht am Fazit – Elite II ist ein spielerischer Hochgenuß! (jn)
Amiga Joker, December 1993, p.32
You know, they said that Elite was pretty fronty. But Elite 2 – is Frontier!
Game: Frontier: Elite 2
Authors: David Braben
Release: Out now
hink of your grandparents and you think of grey hair, afternonn tea, false teeth, deaf aids and your grandma’s slightly prickly face when you kiss her goodnight. You probably find it quite hard to think of them as young, vigorous, and, erm – how can I put this? – romantically active. Go on, mull it over a bit. For all you know, your grandfather might have been the latter-day equivalent of Adam Clayton, taking part in three-in-a-bed pyama parties with all the cutest pre-war babes. Though this was obviously before he met your grandmother and settled down to raise those fine, upstanding and decent folk, your parents.
Hey, hang on a minute, do not turn away now, you have got to face up to it – because that is the background to your character in Frontier. Your grandfather, Commander Peter Jameson (the main man in Elite), was not only a top space hero, he was an insatiable sex stallion. He charmed his way around the galaxy, sowing his wild oats in every seedy spaceport, shanty down and massage parlour from Ayargre to Zelada. You, as one of his thousands of surviving progeny, have inherited a small part of his fortune, namely an Eagle long-range fighter and 100 credits.
However flippant the notion that your grandfather has spawned thousands of space cadets throughout the galaxy, it unintentionally provides a clue as to what could be one of Frontier’s best features. It retrospectively reflects the notion that actions have consequences, that you cannot operate in a vacuum and ignore what effect you have on your surroundings. Frontier could be one of the bravest games in that it is one of the few titles that devotes any attention in trying to tackle this cause-and-effect concept on a grand scale.
In nearly all RPGs and adventures you can do pretty much whatever you want, without fear of reproach or recrimation. You can wander around, killing people and nicking stuff without fearing the consequences. Legends of Valour was one of the few games to incorporate a penal system to punish your misdemeanours, and Frontier has one too. But David Braben has taken the concept a step further – not only are bad deeds such as dumpin radioactive waste or firing a laser in a restricted zone noted, your successes are also recorded.
This aspect of the game is far more interesting and involving than the anally retentive accurate mapping of more than 100,000,000,000 stars. The creation of a real, believable and exciting gameworld does not lie in the lengthy mind-numbing number-crunching process of taking the whole galaxy and fitting it accurately and neatly in a one meg Amiga. Sure, it is an admirable achievement, but it is also rather a pointless and meaningless one, and here is why.
Say, you are living with Stuart and Mark in Bath, and you have got a bit of time on your hands so you want a bit of work. Mark asks you to take a top secret package to Birmingham and he will pay you £25. You know roughly how far away Brum is, so you can work out how much hassle it is going to be, how much it is going to cost and whether the trip is worth making at all.
Stuart then pops up and offers you £50 to take a package to Edinburgh. Likewise, you immediately know how far away it is, how much it will cost you and whether you can make any money on the deal. You can even work out which is the better trip to make, and as a result your life is enriched by being able to make a sensible and informed strategic decision and knowing that you are on to a good earner.
Now, say you are playing Frontier with its 100,000,000,000 accurately mapped planets, and are living on Mars with Stuart and Mark (which is not as far-fetched as it sounds). Stuart has got 340 credits for you if you take a package to a planet in the Formalhaut system, while Mark has got 300 credits if you take a trip to Alpha Centauri. Such huge distances are not only so huge and unfamiliar as to be almost incomprehensive in themselves, but when you try to compare one incomprehensible distance with another, you are bound to be wasting your time.
You know that Edinburgh is further away from Bath than Birmingham, you can relate to the distances and you can estimate how much you should get paid. Unless you are an avid astronomer, there is no way you can know whether Formalhaut or Alpha Centauri is closer to mars, there is no way you can relate to the distances, so there is no way you can decide (a) how much you should get paid for either trip, or (b) which of the two trips offers the best deal. This means that when you are choosing missions in Frontier, you are often taking totally meaningless decisions. As you might imagine, this is a real shame and a total bummer as far as gameplay and strategy is concerned.
STAR TREKKING – ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
As if this was not enough, you never get a feeling for the magnitude of the distances involved in inter-planetary travel because you can accelerate the game time. It is a coomon feature in flight sims, which usually enable you to accelerate time by a factor or two, four or eight to reduce the real time you spend flying from waypoint to waypoint. Frontier has a similar feature, enabling you to accelerate time by factors of 10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000, so every tedious uneventful journey takes roughly the same amount of real time. It all boils down to take off, select your approximate system destination, jump into hyperspace, select your precise planetary destination, switch to autopilot, accelerate time and wait. We are taling, Dullsville, Missouri.
If you have the misfortune to be waylaid by pirates or other marauding blood-thirsty fiends, you are in for a spot of 3D space combat. This can be a lot of fun if you have got an A1200 and you are in a real mutha of ship that is bristling with lasers, turrets and missiles. But when you have got a 500 and you are flying the dog of a ship that you start off with, combat is remarkably unexciting – you can barely catch a glimpse of your opponent before it scoots off the screen. The manual tells you to run away if possible, which is sound advice, even if it is an incredibly soporific tactic – if you want a 3D blast fest and you have got an A1200, go for Wing Commander every time.
The excitement in a computer game comes from character interaction, actionpacked fights and good-looking locations, not being able to fly from Jupiter to Earth, with the journey taking exactly the right amount of time. The gameplay should be all about the cut and thrust of intergalactic living, wheeling and dealing in the space lanes of life. Frontier gives you lots of that, but it is hidden behind all the astronomical nonsense. The precise positioning of the planets should be a subsidiary factor, not an over-bearing, burdensome weight that you are reminded of every time you want to take a shipload of secret plans from Uszaa to Loinack, while avoiding the geezer in the Kestrel airfighter who wants to avenge the murder of his transvestite lover. OK, so maybe I made up the last bit, but you get the point.
SECRET LIVES OF THE STARS
Let us look at it another way. If you had to sell the sequel to one of the biggest selling and best games of 1980s, and you were convinced that it was the absolute business, you would probably be bursting with exciting things to say. The marketing hypesters at Gametek must have been frothing up in their silk boxer shorts at the prospect of flogging Frontier to an Elite-loving public, so here is a digest of what they had to say about the most exciting game of the ‘90s.
Cue drum roll and announcer with pompous voice. "The four main features as outline on the back of Frontier’s box, in Gametek’s order. 1. An intro secquence. 2. Some music. 3. 100,000,000,000 planets generated in accordance with current theories of planet information. 4. Fly 82 basic missions or do not play the missions at all".
Frontier is by no means a disaster – it can be very engrossing and absorbing (you should see the amount of red wine it mopped up off my lounge carpet) – but equally it is not the revolutionary wundergame that most of us were hoping or expecting for. The fun is not instant, it is not even a slow bake for couple of hours on gas mark six, it is make the Christmas pudding in October and leave it in the fridge for a couple of months before you even think about taking it anywhere near the oven (if you catch my drift). Even though there is eventually plenty of entertainment value for your £34.99, you have to play long and hard before you see any worthwile results.
Whether it is David Braben’s obsession with astronomy, the tedious navigation system or the slow and unspectacular poygon graphics, you cannot help thinking that life is too short, that there must be better games to play than this. Yes, we all sigh in a resigned manner, it is a marvellous technical achievement to cram the entire galaxy on to a couple of disks,. Yes, these might be some of the bst 3D environments we have ever seen on the Amiga. Yes, there is limitless gameplay time, but even so, it has to be said that Frontier is just not very much fun. Remember that word? Fun, it had something to do with playing games and enjoying yourself...
Amiga Power, Issue 32, December 1994, p.p.36-39
"You cannot operate in a vacuum."
"It is hidden behind all the astronomical nonsense."
Well, it looks like dreams can come true, as CU's fairy godmother – Slingsby – grants Tony Dillon his lifelong wish of having the first look at the longest-awaited sequel of the decade.
f I had to pick my all-time favourite game, it would have to be Elite. I bought that particular title the very day it came out on the Spectrum and spent the best part of the next year playing it. When I moved up to the Commodore 64, I bought it for that system. And when I first got an Amiga, it was the first game I bought. Nine years later and I've finally got my sticky little mitts on the sequel. It might have taken an age and a half to arrive, but Frontier – Elite 2 is finally finished and in the shops, and it's an absolute corker!
Enough of rumours, though. Time to answer the big question – what is Frontier actually like? Well, it isn't a game, that's for sure. Oddly enough, there seems to be very little in the way of game plot other than the political backdrop to the game. As far as you're concerned, your grandfather has died leaving you a small amount of money and a semi-well prepared ship. After that, you're on your own to do whatever you want. It might sound a little pointless at first, but, in fact, this leaves room for all sorts of adventures and a game that you'll be playing for a lot longer than the five years it took to program!
DO WANT YOU LIKE
Elite fans will be happy to know that the old Elite rating is still in the game, but will be amazed at all the other ratings you can collect. As before, you have a criminal record with the galactic police. Do something wrong, and you'll be a wanted person, so keep your nose clean. There are two new ratings for you to aim for, and to explain these I'll need to give you a little background info. The galaxy is in a state of cold war, between the two superpowers of the Federation and the Empire. Both have spies, soldiers and assassins all over the galaxy, and if you should do any work for either, you too will receive a rank. If you want to, you can progress through the ranks of either, but not both at the same time. As your rank increases, so will the levels of missions that you are offered, giving you more and more money and generally helping you to reach the status of god.
MISSION YOU ALREADY!
Of course, you can't be perfect all the time, and messing up on any kind of mission costs something. In the military, you might be demoted, or they'll just loose faith in you. This isn't too bad, as you can quickly get back in their confidence. The worst thing that can happen is that your reputation drops. Reputation is something you can't see directly, you can only see the reaction. If your reputation is high, then you will get offered loads of jobs and people will be willing to pay extra. If your reputation is low, you won't get offered much, and it's probably a good time to try another star system.
But enough about the background and basics of the game. What is it actually like to play? I'm surprised you need to ask, just take a look at the 97% rating! It doesn't get that for looking nice, I can tell you. It goes without say that the mouse control is incredibly responsive, and that the icon based control panel gives you full access to starmaps and information screens alike and is logically arranged and easy to follow. What makes this game so good is that it feels right. You actually get very involved in the game, right to the point where you really feel like you're in that Eagle fighter, closing in on the Planet Sol, ready to swoop low and land next to the mountain. It's hard to describe the thoughts that go through your head when you're leaving a planet surface and heading for the sun, but the awesome view from your rear window is enough to make you sit back and sigh heavily. If you've ever wanted to be an astronaut, but find that like me you're a couple of inches below regulation height and a few points below the regulation IQ, then just flying around will be enough to keep you entertained for hours.
There are two separate control methods in the game, both accessed by either mouse or keyboard. You can use the original Elite controls, whereby left and right rotate the ship through the z-axis (the one that runs from the nose of the ship to the exhaust port), or you can choose a 'yawing' option, where the ship turns through the horizontal, rather than rotating. The latter definitely feels a lot more comfortable when using a mouse.
PASS THE BUCK
Five years is an immensely long time to spend on a game, especially if you're not Lord British, but this game looks like it's been worth every minute. Visually it is the most impressive game I have ever seen, bar none. You have never seen polygons like this before. By this point, you will have loaded the coverdemo and seen the impressive light sourced (with the light taken from the nearest star in the correct colour!) polygons, but you won't have seen the half of it. The detail in this game is simply staggering. Awe inspiring. Toe curling. Of the first water. Stunning. Unbelievable. And loads of words not available in my Thesaurus. From the depths of space, where a planet is nothing more than a single pixel, you can fly in a straight line right up to a building, complete with doors, windows and even signs if it's a ship. You can see cities from space. You can sit on a planet and watch nightfall, or if you've picked the right planet, you can watch a planetfall. Ever wanted to see Saturn set from one of its moons? You can with this game! Ships are displayed with full external numbers and even ID numbers!
I'm not really sure I can come up with a description of Elite 2 that really does it justice. It's certainly the best game I have ever seen, on any machine. It throws enough challenges at you to keep you going forever, and the amount of things you can change about the game means that you will never get bored of it. A million games in one, Frontier is the game that should earn David Braben a knighthood, if not actually have him canonised. Worth every second of the nine-year wait, without question.
CU Amiga, November 1993, p.p.58-61, 63-64