Elite: Dangerous on Oculus Rift

What’s old is new again. Elite: Dangerous revives a classic franchise, but does so utilizing the latest in virtual reality technology. How well does this transition towards the ultimate goal of flying through space, shooting down ships, and essentially feeling like Han Solo? Turns out we may still have a few lightyears to go here, Chewie.

While waiting for my chance to hop in the virtual cockpit, I was treated to a bit of a history lesson by one of the people working for Frontier Developments. Elite: Dangerous is in fact the fourth game in the beloved Elite franchise which has a rather large European following. In fact Sean Murray, lead creator of the upcoming No Man’s Sky, attributed 1984’s Elite to being the spark that started his highly anticipated release. It all ultimately stemmed from a love of Star Wars and wanting to bring the feeling of actually flying in space. Now 11 years since the last game in the series and with use of the Oculus Rift, that dream has never been closer than in Elite: Dangerous. It’s just too bad that the game feels almost as empty as space itself.

If you’re like me and have next to no experience playing flight simulators, there’s a bit of a learning curve before you start zipping around and blasting down enemy ships. There was a throttle peripheral that dictates your speed as well as control thrusters for when you need to create space between your shop and the landing pad. I was warned that unless I wanted to drift aimlessly that no more than 50% speed is the way to go since Elite: Dangerous takes the physics of flying in space to a very realistic level. You will simply keep staying in motion until you exert against said motion. I also used a flight stick which was used for aiming and firing your weapons of which there was two – tracking laser cannons and the more powerful machine gun. I was also instructed that there was a button needed to lock on before I would be able to engage in combat with an enemy ship.

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I suppose that’s why I had a big problem with Elite: Dangerous. Although it’s cool to use the Oculus Rift to see all around your cockpit (including the freaky robot arms controlling the same peripherals you’re using), it all felt way too rudimentary and confined. When I’m in space, I want to feel the freedom that an experience like that would suggest. Instead I’m given limits and not a whole lot of interesting things to look at minus the enemy ships I could find and the reticule. At least I got to see a pixelated Earth before blasting off.

Kudos to Frontier Developments for bringing back a classic franchise and trying to realize it’s original vision with the technology to make it happen, but there’s unfortunately not enough here to look at or do. There is just the VR experience at this moment, but I’ve seen better utility of the Oculus Rift for more immersive and realistic experiences than this. The idea is sound, but the overall fun and enjoyment just isn’t quite up to par. Perhaps some TIE fighters and a Death Star is needed or anything else to help make this trip through space a lot less lonely.

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