Elite: Dangerous on Oculus Rift preview: Hands-on with the best VR experience we've had
Having not played any of the Alpha phases of Elite: Dangerous, David Braben and his Frontier development studio's reimagination of his original BBC Micro space simulator, we jumped at the chance to check out the latest build of the PC game. And were even more pleasantly surprised that our playtime would include a specific mission through Oculus Rift.
The game, as Pocket-lint saw before donning the virtual reality headset, is huge. Every star, moon and planet in the real galaxy is in the game, running in real time, with real orbits. We cannot over state how vast and almost overwhelming the playing area is.
We also saw that the trading model, which was fully realised for the latest build, is robust and incredibly detailed. Prices for products to trade – by finding star systems and docking stations that will give you a greater price for products you bought on the cheap – fluctuate. If more players buy ore, for example, the price in game will reflect the greater demand.
And we saw and discussed the political engine that is also affected by player actions, thereby creating a living, breathing galaxy.
Indeed, by this point we were already awestruck by the game's scope. As soon as we popped on the Rift, that feeling was amplified significantly.
The craft used for the Oculus Rift demo session was a larger cargo ship. It had weapons but was slower than spaceships designed for fighting. It also had a completely glass front, that enveloped the outer hull, allowing you to see objects above, below and to the sides. And this is what initially made us go wow.
We started in an enormous docking station with a ship passing us by in the top-right hand corner. It illustrated the heightened experience that Oculus Rift added to the mix in the best way possible, and that was even before we lifted off and thrust ourselves into space.
After leaving the dock, we hyperspaced to a remote system with a Sol-like yellow star (which looked superb, it must be said) and were almost immediately set-up by several bandits.
Being able to actually look around the cockpit and, because of the glass front, track enemies visually as well as on the radar was an incredible experience. We've played the Eve Valkyrie demo on Oculus Rift in the past, but this was on another planet – pardon the pun.
Because every star in Elite: Dangerous has a real-life equivalent and they are in exactly the same place as in our existing galaxy, there's a tangible level of immersion – it just feels right. And that's hard to replicate, no matter how well designed, with fictional locations.
We're happy to say we managed to win our battle, vanquishing all foes in about 15 minutes. Afterwards we just wanted more, but will have to wait until we can jump on the Premium Beta that's just started or the Standard Beta which will follow soon. And, although we won't have an Oculus Rift to play it with, we're pretty sure on this outing that it will still robs hours, days, weeks and months of our lives.
The full release of Elite: Dangerous will be out later this year. You can find out more about the game and how to get involved in the Beta phases at elite.frontier.co.uk.