THE COBRA'S huge engines moan into life as you sit tensely at the controls waiting to be shot out of the space station.
Your ship is the best of the medium-range, medium capacity, fighter traders and is ideal for transporting legal and illegal cargoes across the universe. It incorporates defensive screens, pulse lasers and missile launch facilities, while also being able to handle the jump to hyperspace.
Once you have cleared the Coriolis space station, orbiting around the planet Lave, you can look out into space, turning your 3D display window to look at the star fields.
Space travel can be achieved with small spurts of engine power or hyperspace, but only if aliens or police are not in the vicinity. If they are you must stand and fight. At the bottom of the screen you will find the flight grid scanner which displays other space ships or stations in your area. It is by using that, and the compass located on the right side of the screen, that you can track aliens.
You will know when the enemy approaches as everything is shown in gory graphic glory. The craft grows from a speck to a shape which is barely recognisable. Then it grows bigger until you can identify it as one of the 10 ships in the game. Those include Adders, Mambas, Pythons and the deadly Thargoid invasion ships.
Each has its distinctive shape which is illustrated in the bulky, but indispensible, Space Traders Flight Training Manual. If you miss it with your lasers or missiles it will approach quickly, trying to keep out of your sight, and either spin past you or fire its weapons systems.
The authors have built range factors into the laser systems so that you cannot, for instance, use them to destroy a ship which is small and hundreds of light years away.
In some ways Elite can be described as a simulation. You are piloting a space vehicle which will only take so much stress and strain and steering is more complex than in most space games. You can even become disorientated and have to rely on your instruments if you bank too sharply.
The aliens will not sit still while you target your weapons and you will find that on many occasions you must control your ship's movement as well as operating the lasers or missile guidance system. You should be careful, too, not to over-compensate on the controls. Such action can send you into a wild spin.
The alien ships react in a believable manner. If hit hard enough they will not explode into nothing but break up. You can pick up the odd piece of cargo in that way, but beware the larger debris.
Fighting the forces of law and evil in space is only part of the game. You must earn a living, by buying and selling commodities from different planetary systems.
Home in on the planet of your choice, using the long range scanner, and ask for a report on inhabitants, the political climate and products.
The political climate is important and can influence trading links and attitudes. If you warp into a system where anarchy prevails you will soon find pirate ships on your tail. Goods are there for the taking.
To get to a particular planetary system, you must switch your display to the long range scanner, position the cursor over the planet of your choice - which is within range - and press the hyperdrive activation key. You will, however, only get to a new system if you have destroyed all the aliens in the current sector.
When you arrive at a planet you can look at the list of available commodities. They include shipboard resources such as fuel, textiles, food and even illegal substances. If you decide to traffic in black market goods you will be regarded as an outlaw.
Elite is an unbelievably complex game with arcade, strategy and adventure elements. It will, inevitably, be compared with games such as Starion from Melbourne House. The graphics on both games are similar, but Elite has the edge with its 3D control panel, instruments which are constantly updated, and denser star field.
When you are not playing the game you can read the novel included in the package. The Dark Wheel by Robert Holdstock, a noted science fiction writer, develops the background to the game.
Take up the challenge. You are unlikely to find another space game of Elite's calibre this year.
Joystick: Kempston, Cursor
At last. 128 owners can take a Cobra Mk III for a spin in Firebird's new version of its classic Elite trading and combat strategy game.
The new version uses the same plot and trading missions as before but the graphics and action have been improved. You start the game docked at the space station in the Lave system. Short-range scanners tell you where your fuel can take you and a trading list gives information on the prices of goods you can acquire on the planet of your choice.
You are a trader, of course, and the aim of the game is still to buy from one planet and sell at a profit on another and you still take part in speedily fought space battles in glorious 3D white on black.
On the 128 version. Firebird has included three special missions and to become an 'Elite' you must kill 6,000 ships, which seems an almost impossible task.
Firebird has also incorporated a couple of novel features into the new version. The first stops you from using the famous bug at the start of the game to amass thousands of credits in a matter of seconds.
The company has also made some concessions to players who find it difficult to stay alive before and after hyperspace travel from one planet to another. Just leave the space station in Lave - don't touch the movement controls - and slowdown.
Select a new hyperspace destination, pull the joystick up to loop-the-loop and come back on a heading for the station. As you re-enter the station press hyperspace and you'll be transported automatically to your new destination. This feature doesn't work with all of the planets - you may crash into a station if you pick the wrong one.
Otherwise the usual rules for playing Elite apply. You can select your moral class - you can be good or bad - and become involved in battles between space police and pirates if you become a rogue, trading in drugs and other illegal substances. You should be thoroughly wary of any ship which hoves into sight. There are nine major types some of which will require more laser blasts than others to destroy, or even be impervious to your missiles.
In the old Elite ships such as Vipers appeared from nowhere. More attention to detail in the new version means that ships appear from the hatches of space stations and, if you wait around long enough, you can knock them off as they exit.
You get a few credits - the universal monetary unit - for bumping off other ships if they're owned by pirates but the mega-credits are made in trade. The type of goods available on a planet depends upon geological environment, level of civilisation and type of administration, and you need to take these three aspects into consideration when you sell on a planet. For instance, you could sell computers to a culturally dormant society at a huge profit.
Elite is still as gripping as when it was first released. The shear volume of detail included - the histories of hundreds of races, details of planetary geometry, culture and government - make it still the most complex arcade strategy game ever devised.
Reviewer: John Gilbert
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