I see a four-man squad sprint through a destroyed city street, cars overturned and craters in the road. I’m sure that any minute they’ll rush to the door of a crumbling building, kick it in, and take down the terrorists inside with surgical precision. Instead, they run blindly through the hole in a nearby wall, begin wildly firing at a horde zombies, and throw my expectations back out on the street.
“There are over 100 billion star systems,” Elite creator David Braben tells me when I ask if that number could possibly be true. “In fact, it’s closer to 400 billion. It’s a very silly number anyway.” Elite: Dangerous is the modernised sequel to the classic freeform space sim, and there’s no faulting developer Frontier’s ambition. The game sees you, a rookie pilot, set loose in a vast celestial sandbox with 100 credits in your space-wallet and dreams of achieving the ultimate pilot rating: elite. How you do this is up to you, whether you become a trader, a pirate, a smuggler, and many more jobs besides.
Braben compares his vision of the Milky Way to the California gold rush of the 1800s. “When there was a gold rush in San Francisco in 1849, many of the people who made money didn't mine a single piece of gold. What they did was take a cargo of spades and things like that, and sold them at stupidly inflated prices. Our galaxy will be continuously evolving. You might get the occasional gold rush, which changes the status of a particular place. Players will be running in to try and get some of the gold that’s been discovered in some outlying system. But what else will happen is that a whole raft of other things will be in demand. The need for food and equipment will skyrocket.”
Xenonauts begins quietly. Very quietly. In the pre-release build there is no objective stated and no opening cinematic, just a map of our pale blue marble half in darkness. Manipulating the time controls, I advance time until klaxons sound and a UFO appears over Ireland.