Frontier: Elite 2 logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

After an eternity lost in space it's finally here, the game that's set to launch a thousand shuttles and keep gamers up at night without any cryogenically-induced suspended animation.

There is probably no-one who has owned a home computer who hasn't at some time or another come into contact with David Braben's trading-cum-action space campaign, Elite. First released on the BBC Micro, its wire-frame 3D went all and sundry foaming at the mouth. As a goggle-eyed 15-year-old I spent month upon month locked away in a dimly lit room, with only my Human League albums for company. As keen as the next schoolboy to reach the dizzy heights of Elite, this reviewer soon got lost in space. Sacking the default character Commander Jameson, I assumed my action hero-type Pseudonym, Wolf Flipside.

Yes indeed, Wolf Flipside: Righter of wrongs, purveyor of purity, guru of goodness, federation freedom fighter and legion of liberation. Well, it wasn't quite like that; there was the odd run-in with the law for smuggling the odd ton or 20 of Arcturan Megaweed, and a couple of errors in judgement due to mistakes in identifying nice, ripe, juicy traders carrying priceless cargo for nasty roughneck good for nothing pirates.

As the incomparable Wolf, I had many exciting and dangerous adventures (well, kind of for a teenager playing on a home computer). In fact there's one particular incident that I remember with some clarity.
We'd been travelling over 20 days, the hyperspace jump from Quaxxon to Zoonce was some jaunt, and talk about dull. All around the half-shadowed interior of my beat-up Cobra, beer cans lay redundant reflecting the lights of the ship's auto-pilot.

In a half drunken stupor I glanced across at the long range scanners, nothing but asteroids for entertainment, and to be quite frank the novelty of zapping lumps or rock had long since dried up.
Another turn of the head and I'm gazing at the Gronk, my ever-faithful companion. He lies snoring his little furry snout off, occasionally catching an itch up his hairy torso with a dozy claw. I begin to snooze myself, and am just beginning to fantasise about a night on Rigel 5 with the four-breasted love sirens when I hear the shrill sound of the scanner alarm. With a start I jump to my feet spilling beer, peanuts and ash everywhere. Cursing my luck, the Gronk sends a proboscis from his snout looping out towards the scanner, seconds later my stomach drops as an aminous image materialises on the main screen.

"By the piles of the Ploeides, it's a Thargoid invasion ship!" I gasped. The Gronk gronked (on his planet, gronking wind in a different colour expresses an emotion) purple wind everywhere, as if in some way summing up the horror of the impending situation. As the ronk clearing around me, an even bigger stinker was dropped; a Thargoid missile was raking its way through the blackness of wytchspace towards the ship. In an instant the projectile had found its lock on my fragile hull, in response I hammered on my ECM (Electronic Counter Measure) and initiated my rear thrusters.

The missile exploded and rocked my craft, just as the rear thrusters initiated themselves. As we shot back the ship centred and put four bolts of military laser into the Thargoid's belly. The inky void illuminated suddenly as the warship's shields failed and 100mw laser burned into its weak underbelly, exploding it into a million fragments of space debris.

The action over, I cracked open another "tinny" on Gronk's beak and lay back in my seat, content in the knowledge that Wolf Flipside would rule the space lanes for another evening.

The true actuality of the events however, was somewhat different. The reality of the situation was a stuffed teddy anteater (please don't ask why anyone should envisage this particular species of mammal should make a nice cuddly toy) and myself, in my bedroom with the curtains shut gazing at a BBC computer, surrounded by empty tins of pop - but such is the imagination of a 13-year old. It wasn't long after that, having reached a rating of Elite, that my anti-grav boots were hung up. But, as they say in movies, that was then and this is now.

After what seems like a lifetime of self-inflicted solitary confinement, Mr Braben is back with the long-awaited Elite 2: Frontier.
While in this self-imposed imprisonment, many rumours floated around as to what would eventually be in Elite 2. For instance there was talk of planet landings and exploding stars. While some of the reports were somewhat exaggerated, on the most part speculation has materialised into truth. The most striking thing about Elite that you notice immediately is that it has no plot. At least no plot in the traditional sense that games generally follow.

DECEASED
The only background relevant to you is that you've been left a paltry sum of cash and a middle-of-the-launch-pad type space ship by your recently deceased grandfather (didn't mean to sound ungrateful - honest paps), in a huge galaxy where you can basically do anything.

When you first boot up Elite 2 it's quite daunting because you just don't know where to start. To tell you it's a vast game area really is an understatement.
In the original Elite there were eight galaxies, in Elite 2 there's just one. However, it's as accurate to the genuine article as amateur astronomer Mr Braben could render it, and contains 200,000,000,000 (11 zeroes) stars with some 30,000 inhabited planets.

So you can immediately gather that to get anywhere of any status in the game is going to take a little bit more effort than the usual climb a few ladders and blast a few baddies malarkey. After you've come to realise your own petty insignificance within this massive arena, the next task is to decide what on earth you're going to make of yourself.

In the original you reached the top notch through a combination of fighting, clever trading and maybe a touch of under-the-counter smuggling. Well in the sequel those elements have been retained, and you could easily play it in the same manner, but would be missing a great deal of the underlying intelligence that exists within it.

To all intents and purposes Elite 2 has recreated a new life ina universe of the future. The political infrastructure that exists in this time is one of cold war espionage and assassination between the Federation and the empire. One of the many decisions you can make is to perform tasks and work for one of these two huge governments, in a way pledging allegiance. Undertaking work as an agent gives financial reward and also rank; the more successful missions you carry out, the higher rank you achieve (yes, it's not just the Elite ranking that's important in this title).

In the original there were only a spartan number of missions littered throughout a vast universe. Elite 2 has literally thousands and includes over 70 different types of mission. On landing at a space port or one of the many orbital space wheels, stations and cities, you can access a bulletin board. It's here that much of your destiny will be decided. To begin with the missions you are offered are quite simple and can very easily be incorporated into trading. For instance, you may well be required to deliver a message or parcel from one base to another.

If you are successful then your reputation is enhanced and more complicated tasks will be pushed your direction. Conversely, if you manage to make a gaseous nebula of a mess of your job, then you lose the confidence of your employers.

The military of both governments are always on the lookouts for recruits, so it's quite easy to enlist here. Again starting out on simple spying trips, if you're successful you'll soon be on contract killing missions or sent to destroy an enemy space station.

Obviously, the stock market aspect of Elite is still in existence. However, fundamental changes have taken place since the heady days of the 80s. For one the prices at each location are no longer static. What this means is that because prices behave like a real stock market, you could actually sit at one port buying and selling commodities for profit, without actually blasting off anywhere.

DRAMATIC
The other probably immediate difference to the trading aspect of the game is that the range of products has increased dramatically. The same is true of equipment that can be bought from the stations around the galaxies. For instance, if you wanted to become a space taxi, then you'd have to purchase passenger cabins.

You can also upgrade just about everything to the nth degree. From engines to lasers and missiles the list is almost endless. It's even possible to purchase something called a Hyperspace Cloud Analyser which checks where a ship has gone once it's in hyperspace.

But, I've left the best till last, because in Frontier you can actually upgrade your ship. No longer do you have to stick with the Cobra, and there are 30 to choose from. The choice really is yours - you can stick to nimble acrobatic combat single seaters or get yourself something a little more substantial like the 2,500 tonne Panther (Volvo of the future) for extensive trading.

So you can see there's an absolute crater full of things you can do in Frontier, but the question that's positively bursting to escape is: What does it play like?

When you first start controlling Frontier it'll feel very alien and different to the Elite you knew so well of yesteryear. For one, the simulation of space travel has been made much more realistic, with zero gravity and directional energy having a lot more relevance than in the original. This at first is off-putting and somewhat confusing, but don't be disillusioned by it. It doesn't take long before you get into the swing of flight or the icon control system employed for accessing charts and equipment. In fact, it soon becomes a very logical system which feels second nature.

It's incredibly difficult to describe what playing Frontier is actually like once you've become adept with the controls. I could give you some long-winded narrative (me?) full of superlatives and theatricals, but I think it's far better for you to find them out for yourself. Let's just say that you get intensely involved in matters.

Visually, Frontier contains some of the highest detailed polygons you're like to see on an Amiga. From the huge space wheels to the domed cities on the planet surfaces, it's all there in beautiful light-sourced technicoloured detail. One of the most visually impressive aspects to Frontier is that you can be out in the depths of vacuous space pointing your ship at a prick of light some six light years away. Then fly at it and watch it grow - you might eventually end up at the window of some complex on the surface of the planet.

ASTRONOMICAL
Everything being astronomically correct, you can watch nightfall from one of the moons of Saturn or orbit Jupiter and follow the red spot. For a game to handle so much, there has to be some pitfall. It has to be said on an A500 machine the update is a rather slow affair and behaves like a it of lame mule. However, detail levels can be turned down and this speed the general pace of the game up.

Frontier is an incredibly difficult title to bracket. There are many different styles of game in it, and many different ways in which you can approach it. It's also quite tricky to come up with a superlative that encapsulates (serious word time folks) the total feeling that Elite 2 generates. It has everything really - great graphics, vast play area and an on-going depth that immerses you further the more you play.

In a word, Frontier is unmissable. It's a star of a product that burns brighter and with a greater magnitude than any other product has for many a year, and you'll love it.



Frontier: Elite 2 logo Amiga Format Gold

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...

A 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.

There is a wide variety of ships to use, all with different statistics and each can be fitted out with swish bits of kits including obligatory lasers and missiles.

Star quality
How you go about things is up to you. Trading in legal goods between safe places is a nice steady living that will keep you going for years. Answering an advert for a bounty hunter and trying a spot of assassination work is generally a rewarding and short career. In between there is the murky world of smuggling and shady deals among the less well-policed systems.

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.


The sense of freedom that Frontier gives is glorious, and there is a huge game area in which to frolic.

A Mars a day
The game is controlled by a combination of keyboard and mouse or joystick. Flying about in space is weird at first because there is no up and no down, and battles can easily turn into a spinning frenzy as you try and bring your guns to bear. The navigation is handled very well, although it is a real pain if you do not use the automatic pilot. The game is well constructed and nothing is particularly complicated, so once you have read through the manual once and tried out a few flights you will have the hang of it. It is best to start with a spot of commodity trading then build up to a couple of the simpler missions to get some dosh together for better ship before you try anything really dodgy. To tackle the serous stuff you need to pack a much heavier punch. Getting to the heavy-duty ships will take a long, long time.

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 sheer size of the game is frightening, the star maps are huge, there are millions of worlds to visit and you will never see all of it. It does not suffer fools gladly either; flying to a star system without a starport, running out of fuel or indiscriminate firing will all land you in trouble. Staying clear of the law can be difficult at times, once you get a reputation or incur a huge fine you had better pay up and be good. The law has a very long arm.

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?



Frontier: Elite 2 logo Amiga Joker Hit

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-Gewerbegefährlichen 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)



Frontier: Elite 2 logo

You know, they said that Elite was pretty fronty. But Elite 2 - is Frontier!

Think 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.

BLAND AMBITION?
There is no single objective in the game, you can set your own target, for example to get the biggest ship, to get the highest 'Elite' rating, or to climb to the top of the Federation of Empire rankings, but your actions are also reflected in other, subtler ways. People who you have assassinated are likely to have friends who will want revenge, the Federation won't want Empire pilots to fly missions for it, passengers won't sit around in your cabins for weeks on end waiting to get to their destination, and the police always know who you are and what you owe them.

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.


You cannot operate in a vacuum.

STAR TREKKING - ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Some sad deluded fellows might be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of being able to fly across the galaxy from one planet to another to see a moon rise above Saturn, or being able to cruise right down on to a heavenly body to visit a favourite city. But such interplanetary travel is also rather pointless. Imagine your disappointment after trejjubg across the galaxy to find that Saturn is not an incredibly spectacular sight, rather a circular series of plain polygons with a few blobs of surface colour. Or arriving at your chosen city to discover that even on medium detail its presence slows the screen update to a painfully slow rate. There is even more disappointment in store when you realise that all you can do is fly over the cities - you cannot actually blow anything up. Shame. Still, if you are looking at jerky but reasonably detailed 3D-polygon graphics, you could do a lot worse than this.

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.


It is hidden behind all the astronomical nonsense.

SECRET LIVES OF THE STARS
Frontier could make you scared to want to fly your ship at night because the boys you insulted down the pub mght be waiting round the corner to beat you up. Instead, it makes you terrified of taking off because the navigation system is so clumsy, the planets are so far apart and flying simply is not very exciting.

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".

Exciting stuff, we think you will agree. To be fair (are we ever anything but?) there is some other stuff about Frontier being the sequel to Elite, and it being very big, and it being in the same style as Elite, oh yes, and it being big. Between you, me, the AMIGA POWER crew and 55,000 other AP readers, I reckon this reflects the fact that Gametek has a deep-rooted insecurity that Frontier is not quite as impressive as it should have been. Size certainly is not everything. If they were scrabbling around for thigns to say about what is supposed to be the ultimate space game, then you begin to get a sneaking suspicion that even they think it has gone well past its play-by-date.

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...



Frontier: Elite 2 logo CU Amiga Super Star

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.

If 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!

RUMOUR CORNER
There have been a million rumours concerning what would eventually be in Elite 2. Tales of planets exploding, moon landing and two-way conversation with intelligent opposing pirate captains have been running riot. A lot of the rumours were at least partly correct. You can land on planets. There is some contact with other ships. The rumours of exploding planets bit, though, was greatly exaggerated.

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
In Elite, your main aim was to attain an Elite rating, gained through a combination of trading, destroying other craft and generally excelling in all fields of the game. Not much of an aim, you'll agree, but it was this freedom that made the game so popular - a fact that David Braben knows only too well, which is why Frontier is more of the same.

Everything that was in Elite is in here, so you can play it in exactly the same way as the original, but there is so much more to the game that you'd be wasting a lot of the genius that went into creating it if you only followed that route.

What your aims are is completely up to you. You could, if you wanted, visit every single planet and moon in the game, but this would take a few months of solid gameplay - even Braben himself hasn't seen every planet in the game! You could aim to become the highest-ranking officer in either of the two military organisations, become the most successful miner in the galaxy, provide the most efficient taxi service ever, be the most notorious pirate in the western spiral arm, the most ruthless assassin, the hottest stock market trader... the list is seemingly endless. In a sense, Frontier is almost a simulation of a completely new life. True virtual reality, if 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!
But hold on a minute, did I mention missions? In the original Elite, there were only a couple of missions to be done, and if you managed to get sent on either of them, you were lucky. Frontier has over 70 different types of missions, and each can be varied in hundreds of different ways. You are offered missions wherever you go, thanks to the handy bulleting board found on every single space station and base. Whenever you land, you can read through the messages which are scrawled there, where some people will be asking for passage, some will be looking for information and the military will be asking for recruits.

To begin with, all you will be asked to do is carry a message from one base to another. Do this well and you'll be offered bigger and better missions until the military start asking you to kill people, destroy enemy bases and start spying on them. Remember, this is only one route through the game.

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.

SPONDULICKS
You might have noticed that a lot of the game seems to based around making lots of money. Unlike Elite, money can get you a lot more than just items to trade with. Of course, there's a massive stock market to trade in (see panel) but money does a lot more than that. You can buy all sorts of additions for your ship, such as bigger and better engines; Hyperspace Cloud Analysers which can check where a ship has gone once it has gone into hyperspace; passenger cabins so that you can run a taxi service; and dozens of other toys too complicated to detail here.

Best of all, though, is the fact that you can, if you like, buy a completely new ship! There are over thirty different ships for sale, from small and zippy single crew fighters perfect for combat to huge, lumbering cargo ships that can just about fit inside space station docking bays, You can still fly a Cobra if you like, but why would you want to?

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
Mind you, half the time you don't need to be flying the ship anyway. Remember how handy the docking computer was in Elite? How you could just point yourself roughly at a space station and the computer would do the rest? In Frontier you have a fully automatic navigational computer, that you can use from the moment you enter a system.

Just target a base from the depths of space and computer will mark out the route on the HUD for you. Then kick in the autopilot, and just let the electronic brain take the strain. You could do everything manually if you wanted to, but who would really want to?

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!

MORE PRAISE
The most impressive thing is that it does all of this with little loss of speed. However, the A500 can struggle with some of the cities. For the lower machines, you can turn off the detail, so it isn't much of a problem. It works on a hierarchical system of detail, where the computer only draws the polygons that it really has to. It works like this. Firstly, the machine checks if you can see the planet. If you can, it'll draw it. Then it'll see if you can make out coastlines, and add them. Then it'll add cities, blocks of buildings, then doors and windows. It really puts most flight simulators to shame, I can tell you!

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.


HOW BIG?!?

Elite had eight galaxies, with approximately 2000 planets strewn across them. Frontier has only the one galaxy, but before you start sighing, check out the size of it. For a start it contains around 211 star systems (that's '2' with eleven zeros, or 200,000,000,000 if you really want to be gobsmacked) and each system can have up to twenty planets. Even if, on average, each system only had ten planets, there would still be two billion planets for you to visit! Only about thirty thousand of the planets are inhabited or inhabitable, but that doesn't stop you pushing back the frontiers and checking out the rest of our galaxy. Yes, that is where the name of the game comes from!

WHAT'S NEXT?

What happens next in the Elite saga is in the hands of David Braben himself. Firstly, and most likely, there could be add on disks, as well as new versions of the game, including an Elite war simulation and a serial link version (due to the time advance facility in Frontier, a serial link option wasn't viable). There could also be an enhanced A1200 version, as David strongly believes that the game could run as fast as the A4000 if changed for the A1200. A CD32 version could also be in the offing, which could be more like the PC version, complete with full texture mapping on the ships and space stations. We wait with baited breath.

TRADING MAD!

The International and Interplanetary Stock Exchanges are huge and complicated affairs in Frontier, far more so than the original Elite. Prices fluctuate rapidly during the course of the game and differ from base to base, not just system to system, and they change every day too. If you really want to, you could sit on a starbase and make your money by just buying and selling to and from the same market as it changes, but this is a very slow way of making money. You can predict what sort of price differences exist between systems just by calling up the list of imports and exports, but it's worth remembering general prices in systems you visit regularly as certain trade routes will bring bigger bucks than others.
Interestingly enough, there are a couple of items on each market which are priced in minus figures, which means that you pay someone else to take them away from you. Predictably enough, these are rubbish and radioactive waste, and removing them can be a costly affair. If you really wanted to save money, you could just jettison them into space, but this is highly illegal and strongly discouraged!

THE ORIGINAL, BUT THE BEST?

Probably everyone has played Elite at one point or another, but if you haven't then here's a quick guide. Elite placed you in the shoes of Commander Jameson, space pilot, in the middle of one of eight imaginary galaxies. Trading and fighting your way through the ranks, your aim was merely to achieve a ranking of Elite. Played across 2000 planets and with over 20 different ship types (although you could only fly a Cobra), the game wowed 8-bit owners with its very fast (for the time) wireframe graphics and exciting space battles. The Amiga version was basically a port of the C64 version, with one or two differences. The text menus had been replaced with an icon based system, and the inky black spacecraft had been coloured in with garish primary colours!

Elite
THE STAR OF THE SHOW

David Braben is one of the few programmers you can really name in the same name as Geoff Crammond, Sid Meier or Archer Maclean. A digital living legend, his games are few and far between, but each one has been even more spectacular and groundbreaking than the last. From Elite, through to Zarch (later renamed Virus) and finally Frontier, he has strived to create games like never before. We caught up with him at the recent ECTS to find out all about Elite 2.

Q: How long have you been working on Frontier?
A: "About five years, but it seems like 20! It took so long because there's a lot in there! I had a few minor problems with Konami, and that's caused some of the later delays. There have been various problems, such as problems with the music but there's no point in having a detailed autopsy of what happened."

Q: When did you first decide to do a sequel to Elite?
A: "We originally started the second Elite not long after completing the original in 1983/84. I was then working with Ian Bell and we decided what we wanted to do was something that was much more than Elite. However, we found that what we wanted to do wasn't practical on 8-bit computers, so we left it. For one reason or another, we went our separate ways, so I've been doing all the coding."

Q: What was stopping Elite 2 from feasible before?
A: "It was too slow for the complex 3D graphics we wanted to use. It's easy to forget the difference between current machines and the Commodore 64 and it was impossible to add all the extra gameplay features we wanted to do. Once you start to make things general, the whole thing becomes a lot more work. For example, all the other ships do their own things - acts as pirates or whatever - so there's a lot of work that the computer is doing that isn't immediately apparent."

Q: What was in your original design for Elite 2?
A: "One of the things that we thought was sorely missing from Elite was visiting individual planets. There were a lot of other things we wanted, of course. The original Elite was fairly asymmetric in the sense that the player was special, everything else was centred around the player. That's much less so now. Really, the spec that we had then was for a very different game to the one we have now. Then, Elite 2 was a purely military simulation with all the original Elite feel to it, but these are things that in time change and evolve. Different things become possible. We never really set out with a detailed spec. The way I like to work is to think, 'I've got this idea, that idea and I'd love to do this' and just get down to writing it. Usually, as you're going along you realise that there are other things you can do. For example, one of the things I never planned for Elite 2 was this internal concept of reputation. It's something you can't see, and it's kept secret from the player and, put simply, is what the people of a certain locality think of the player. You can take passengers, and if you don't get them to where they want to go on time, they start bad mouthing you and your reputation drops. Depending on that reputation, different people will have different attitudes to you. One of the things that struck me relatively late in the day, which is slightly perverse but relatively amusing, is that there are charities in the game. If you donate money to charity, it helps your reputation, but only if you donate quite a lot!"

Q: What things did you want to include, but couldn't?
A: "There are always things that either you can't do or don't have time to do. As you're going along you're always thinking of ideas. I think that most of the things I wanted to put in are there. It's not really a case of things I couldn't put in. It's just that life is only so long. There are things that have struck me recently that I would have liked to have done, but I'd have to unpick quite a lot to put them in. I'm sure that over the next few years I'll release add-ons and things - I'm not promising anything but I'm sure I will. I've put a lot of work into this, and one of the advantages of doing add-ons or new version of the game is that anything extra I do is immediate from my point of view. It's soul destroying, working on something for a very long time when you don't see any change in it. You're just doing the background stuff, whereas the stuff that is added late in the day you get an enormous impact from because you can instantly see the difference."

Q: What's your proudest moment?
A: "Probably the astronomical side. It's one of my hobbies as you probably know. The backdrop to the game is very accurate. I've talked to various people in the University Astronomy department about it, and it's as near as I can make it to fit into all the current theories. The most important one as far as I'm concerned is how often planets occur. What I've done is taken all the data for the nearby systems, and that's what they are really like as far as we know. You see, even with the most powerful telescopes we can only tell where the stars are. We can't see if they've got planets or what they're like except for in one system. Those are all in there, right down to Saturn's moons, and they are all orbitally correct. For the other systems, the ones we don't know about, I've tried to generate the planets according to the current theories of how planets form, so you end up with systems that are there. Obviously it cannot show you what is really there, because we don't know, but it's likely to be very close."

I WANT YOU!

One of the best things about Frontier is that there are literally dozens of different roles for you to play, and you can play any one you want, provided you have the cash and equipment to follow though. Here are just a small collection of different trades, plus the items you'll need to be able to pursue that particular career.

Trader
This is the backbone and crux of the game. Before you can possibly be anything else, you'll need to spend some time as a trader, ferrying goods from one starbase to another, buying low, selling high and all the rest of it. To be really successful, you'll need a large ship with plenty of cargo space, plus enough armaments to keep you safe in combat.

Pirate
This is just one of the trades all open to you in the original Elite. All this requires is a hard ship and a liking for sitting out on the edge of systems and looking for cargo ships to attack. You'll need a fuel scoop to collect the goods that get dropped, and not mind too much when your legal status drops horrendously, making you the most wanted man in the galaxy!

Taxi/Courier
The ultimate test of your navigation skills. You'll need some passenger cabins in your ship, plus a fairly long range ship. Just check the bulletin boards at each station, collecting people who offer the most money and ferrying them as fast as you can. As your reputation increases, people will offer you more and more money. If you want to ferry packages, you don't need to worry about cargo space, as packages are deemed small enough to travel on your lap without a seatbelt.

Assassin/Spy
If your reputation is high enough, you will be asked to carry out assassination contracts for the two opposing forces in the cold war. Do well, and you'll be promoted through the ranks, offered more and more money for more and more dangerous contracts. A good way to get rich, but incredibly risky, as sooner or later the opposing side is going to send an assassin after you!

Miner
No, not the young kind. This is something else you could do in Elite, just by blowing up asteroids and collecting the rocks with a fuel scoop. In Frontier, you can buy mining rigs, set them up on small moons and mine for minerals which you return and collect later. A slow but sure way to make money.