If you’re reading this chances are we share something in common. We are probably male, have an unhealthy obsession with 80’s movies and may or may not have read Armada by Ernest Cline. If you identify with these and have a PS4, chances are Elite Dangerous has come up on your radar. If it has, be prepared for some pain. My first hour with the game was a bit of a dent to my ego.
I always fancied myself as a fighter pilot. Star Wars, Top Gun, The Last Star Fighter and more recently Guardians Of The Galaxy have kept this dream alive for many years. Unfortunately, in gaming terms, these type of game shave either been mind numbingly boring or too easy to really grip the imagination. Elite Dangerous certainly adds something different to the mix in it’s selling points. The game is a future accurate representation of our galaxy with endless opportunities to craft your own path. Unfortunately for me, this is actually the complete truth.
Booting up the game, the graphics, ambiance and menu screens are very impressive, they have the scale, the sci-fi trappings and music to make it feel like you are embarking on a magical journey into space. After reading the box and seeing how you can be an explorer, a pirate, a bounty hunter or even a merchant your starfighter fantasies are fully engaged from the first minute. Create an account with the game, you name your ship and then you are faced with the choice of doing the training missions or jumping straight in. My first hour with the game was spent in the first two training scenarios.
The first impressions of the game are excellent. You are in your cockpit and surrounded by a very grand view of space. So far so good. The tutor describes how you can control the ship with a combination of the usual pitch, yaw, and thrusters tackled by the two sticks and the and the shoulder buttons. The ship feels responsive and your confidence is soaring. You feel like you are going to be the Han Solo of your dreams in this beautiful representation of the Milky Way. Nagging doubts only appear when you notice the sensitivity of the controls and wonder why they devoted a whole mission to simple movement.
The second mission is my reason for starting this running series. It involves you leaving a space station, retracting your landing gear, traveling to another star system and docking with another station. All basic skills you will need with the game. Have you ever seen the moment in these films where the jump to lightspeed happens? Usually, it is preceded by the pilot making the calculations for the jump or some form of preparation at least. Here is where Elite Dangerous moves from making you feel like the king of the galaxy to making you feel like a nerf herder.
The mission begins easily enough. You are in the hanger of a space station and have to select launch, after a bit of orientation you position your ship to fly out of the exit door. It is a snug fit, I didn’t actually hit the sides but as I drifted at speed out of the door I came closer and closer to the edge. Embarrassment averted. Into space, I then had to retract my landing gear and make it 5 km from the gravitational pull of the space station. An easily forgotten button combination retracted the landing gear and suddenly I was alone in space with only the name of the destination planet as a guide.
By pressing the touchpad on the ps4 controller to the left my character leaned to the left and opened up his sat nav for a better word. I saw the named system amongst others. Lesson one, when you get instructions, listen to them. It would have been all too easy to ignore the correct planet and select one of the others, each looked to have an objective beacon on them. I selected the planet and was told to charge my FTG drive. A simple press of triangle charges this and after a four-second countdown, you are hurtling towards the destination at a rate of knots. Here is where my confidence ended. On approach to the planet, I ignored the guidelines of staying within the blue speed zone. I simply applied video game logic and thought I could brake on approach to the planet and coast up to the space station. I got the warning to slow down and slammed on the space brakes. Unfortunately Elite is a simulator and I began to slow down very slowly. This is not the brake control of Forza, this is controlling the equivalent of the Titanic with an office fan. This is the realistic scale of space travel. Needless to say, I overshot the destination planet by at least a couple of light years and had to double back. My movement skills from mission one were enough to get me back on track and on the right side of the planet. Next issue was a combination of hilarity and uselessness.
I approached a massive death star sized space station with the intention to dock, I had to call the space station and request permission from them to land. Then I was given a 10-minute timer to land, the reason for this would some become apparent.
I eventually circumnavigated the massive station I found the docking bay and had to swing out before piloting my ship in. Happy days! Mission complete or so I thought. I actually had to land the ship in the dock. The dock is around twice the size of your ship and you have to land in the center facing in a certain direction from the dock. Think Austin Powers trying to three point turn in the tunnel. I overshot, I undershot, I bounced off the platform and spun in the opposite direction. Eventually, I landed my ship.
In one training mission, I had gone from the feared pilot to an idiot on my first driving lesson.
The Elite Dangerous Journey has begun.