N ow Play­ing: elite dan­ger­ous

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START -

Pub­lisher Fron­tier Devel­op­ments / De­vel­oper In-house / for­mat Xbox One / re­lease date Oc­to­ber 2015

Ear­lier this year, some­thing strange started hap­pen­ing in the space­ways of Elite Dan­ger­ous. Play­ers were be­ing pulled out of hy­per­space, seem­ingly at ran­dom, and at­tacked by bizarre, semior­ganic star­ships. These odd craft, a mys­te­ri­ous new ad­di­tion to Fron­tier’s sim­u­lated galaxy, were ag­ile, pow­er­ful and able to ef­fort­lessly de­stroy the ship of any pi­lot un­lucky enough to at­tract their at­ten­tion. And I wanted to meet them.

The prob­lem is, there’s no sure­fire way to en­counter these be­ings. Named Thar­goids after a war­like in­sec­toid race from Elite lore, but still tech­ni­cally uniden­ti­fied, some play­ers will never meet them at all. But there are a few ways to in­crease your chances of hav­ing a close en­counter, dis­cov­ered by the game’s ded­i­cated com­mu­nity, one of which in­volves fly­ing to a dis­tant star sys­tem.

I travel to the fringes of the galaxy, to the Pleiades sec­tor, and dock at a base in the Maia sys­tem. A colony has been estab­lished here, one of the fur­thest in the galaxy. And it’s prob­a­bly no co­in­ci­dence that alien ac­tiv­ity around Pleiades has risen sharply since its con­struc­tion. Some pi­lots think this is alien ter­ri­tory, and their sud­den ag­gres­sion is a re­ac­tion to us creep­ing into their neigh­bour­hood, although con­sid­er­ing the fact that they’ve never com­mu­ni­cated with any­one and pre­fer to shoot first, we may never know. All we can be cer­tain of is that they hate us.

But they aren’t in­vin­ci­ble ei­ther. De­spite their in­tim­i­dat­ing ap­pear­ance, vet­eran play­ers in bat­tle­ships have de­stroyed them. Me? I’ll be happy just to see one. My tiny cargo ship wouldn’t last a sec­ond in a dog­fight.

As I fly around the sec­tor, I pick up scat­tered sig­nals from what my ship’s com­puter de­scribes as a ‘non-hu­man’ source. I choose one at ran­dom and in­ves­ti­gate, but when I drop out of su­per­cruise I don’t find any Thar­goids. I do, how­ever, see the flam­ing wrecks of some Im­pe­rial ships and a green sub­stance splat­tered on their hulls. Seems these guys had a close en­counter of their own.

I try an­other sig­nal, and find even greater dev­as­ta­tion: the wreck­age of a whole Im­pe­rial fleet. Burn­ing fires and a pe­cu­liar green haze hang­ing in the air sug­gest the Thar­goids may have am­bushed them – and re­cently. But there are no alien wrecks, mak­ing me won­der if this was a one-sided fight. These be­ings mean busi­ness, and sud­denly the idea of meet­ing one doesn’t sound ter­ri­bly ap­peal­ing.

First con­tact

But it’s too late. I in­ves­ti­gate an­other hand­ful of dead-end sig­nal sources be­fore find­ing my­self face-to-face with a Thar­goid ship. I feel a shiver of un­ease when I see the flower-shaped craft loom­ing ahead, pok­ing around in the wreck­age of more de­stroyed Im­pe­rial ships. That only in­creases as it slowly turns to face me, light­ing up and emit­ting a sickly green light from its, er, petals?

A spot­light shoots out of the cen­tre of the ship. I keep my dis­tance, but it ap­pears to be scan­ning me. I’d read about the Thar­goids be­ing ag­gres­sive, but this one seems more cu­ri­ous than vi­o­lent. It moves to­wards me with a rip­ple of en­ergy in its wake. I hit re­verse and slowly drift back­wards, and the ship seems to lose in­ter­est, re­turn­ing to the wrecked ships, scan­ning them one by one.

Then it jumps away, leav­ing a cloud of swirling gas and elec­tric­ity be­hind it. Why have these be­ings taken such an in­ter­est in hu­man star­ships? And why didn’t it at­tack me? Giddy with the thrill of hav­ing en­coun­tered alien life for the first time in Elite, I hunt for more non­hu­man sig­nals in the hope of get­ting a longer and maybe closer look at one of those eerie biome­chan­i­cal ships.

“Vet­eran play­ers in bat­tle­ships have de­stroyed them. Me? I’d be happy just to see one”

About half an hour later, I get lucky. I drop out of su­per­cruise and see an­other Thar­goid ship in the dis­tance, scan­ning wrecks. This time, I no­tice that the green light com­ing from its cen­tre seems to be a trac­tor beam as well as a scan­ner. It yanks a cargo can­is­ter from one of the Im­pe­rial wrecks and sucks it into its hold, and a plan forms in my head. What if I gave the Thar­goids a present?

I look in my hold and find a can­is­ter of do­mes­tic ap­pli­ances. I’m not sure how in­ter­ested the aliens are in mi­crowaves and toast­ers, but it’s all I have. I drift close to the ship and eject the cargo, and I’m amazed to see the green beam shift over to it. It scans it for a few sec­onds, but doesn’t seem in­ter­ested in what I have to of­fer, and re­turns to the derelict ships. It’s a diplo­matic em­bar­rass­ment.

Bat­tle sta­tions

So I de­cide to do what hu­mans do best when diplo­macy fails: at­tack. I en­gage my hard­points and fire a vol­ley of mis­siles at the Thar­goid ship, know­ing full well that I won’t sur­vive the beat­ing that’s to come. The alien ship swivels around rapidly to face me and glows with a fiery red light, mak­ing a men­ac­ing me­chan­i­cal shriek­ing sound as it re­leases a swarm of tiny in­sect-like drones. The drones swirl around the ship in a per­fect cir­cle for­ma­tion, then sud­denly come rush­ing to­wards me. Within sec­onds my shields are down, ex­pos­ing the hull. Then my canopy shat­ters, leav­ing me ex­posed to the cold vac­uum of space. The drones con­tinue to pum­mel my ship and my cock­pit spits sparks and smoke. Then I ex­plode in a ball of fire with­out so much as scratch­ing the alien craft. Well, I don’t know what I was ex­pect­ing. Even com­man­ders with kit­ted-out Ana­conda bat­tle­ships strug­gle to take down a Thar­goid, and I’m in a low-level in­dus­try star­ship with base-level arms. But meet­ing an alien was ul­ti­mately worth hav­ing to cough up the in­sur­ance money to get a new ship. They’re ev­ery bit as awe-in­spir­ing and coldly ter­ri­fy­ing as I thought they would be.

I love how Elite Dan­ger­ous de­vel­oper Fron­tier has re­mained largely tight-lipped about who ex­actly these aliens are and what they want. It adds a layer of in­trigue and mys­tery to the game it would other­wise lack, and makes a chance meet­ing with one of these creepy ships even more spe­cial. I’m sure we’ll see more Thar­goids in the Milky Way in the next few months, and I’ll be stay­ing well away.

above A tense stand-off with a Thar­goid ship. But they won’t at­tack un­less pro­voked, so tread care­fully around them.

be­low Hey, that’s a planet with a heck of a lot of wa­ter!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.