Space is big – really, really big… your Mac must be a Tardis!
£39.99 Developer Frontier Developments, elitedangerous.com Requirements OS X 10.10 or later, 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, internet connection, see website for graphics cards The fourth game in a series that stretches back to the mid-’80s and the Apple II, Elite: Dangerous gives you a spaceship and a 1:1 recreation of our galaxy populated by non-playable characters and, if you wish, other players. From then on, it’s up to you whether you carry out missions, look for a fight, trade commodities or go mining – all so you can buy a bigger ship and repeat the cycle.
It’s a game of spaceships and they look wonderful – all chunky metal, gleaming weapons – and space stations look incredibly detailed. There’s a real feeling of solidity to them, especially when they crash. You can’t get out of them to explore, although this may be implemented in the future, and using the external camera shows an empty pilot’s seat despite you clearly possessing a body in-cockpit.
There’s a choice of two handling models: the default is to have Flight Assist on, which gives you handling like an interstellar P-51, while turning it off lets you fly in a more realistic Newtonian fashion, which takes a bit of practise to master but is enormously satisfying to pull off.
Ships have hardpoints for mounting weapons and internal bays for shields, scanners and other equipment, all of which you can upgrade – but there’s a trade-off between power, cost and weight that prevents you from maxing out everything at once. Power management becomes a factor once you’re flying, with poor choices leaving you gasping for breath as your life support shuts down.
The game can feel empty, especially when you get away from the populated systems, and has been criticised since its launch on Windows for being wide but shallow. Version 1.3 of the game addressed this by adding factions jockeying for power. There’s always been a plot of some sort in the Elite: Dangerous sandbox, involving the transfer of power in the Empire as the emperor falls ill, but this new content makes it bigger and more explicit. Prove your loyalty to your chosen power and you’ll receive bonuses and new weapons; defect
Spaceships look wonderful – all chunky metal, gleaming weapons – and space stations look incredibly detailed
and your erstwhile master will hunt you down. Ignore all this and strike out on your own and you’ll still have a great time.
For Elite: Dangerous to look near its best, you’ll need a reasonably recent Mac with a dedicated graphics card. We could play on a 2011 21-inch iMac, but getting it to play smoothly meant keeping the settings very low – hardly the full experience. Performance was good on our 2014 high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro, naturally.
Elite is a triumph for developer Frontier. Vaporising a stranger, running a load of stolen explosives into the black market for a massive profit or teaming up with friends to hunt space pirates never felt so close to reality. Ian Evenden
In space, everybody can see you go BOOM even if they can’t hear it.
You need to strike a balance with ship upgrades, rather than just maxing out everything.