The return of the Space Sim is nearly complete. We have been witnessing the reincarnation of one of the oldest and most popular genres in the gaming industry. In Elite: Dangerous, No Man’s Sky and Star Citizen we have three similar yet completely different games. But are any of them going to be/are any good?
Let’s start with Elite: Dangerous. It has been around 20 years since we had the last entry in this franchise. The one thing that will hit you the first time you boot up the game is the size. This game is huge! Using some complex maths, Frontier Developments have managed to recreate our galaxy and put it into a game. In theory you can visit every single star system of which there are absolutely thousands. And all of them are light years apart. Yes that’s right, this game has accurate portrayals of distance. To get around you must use the hyper speed mechanic to go from system to system and there is super speed to get around those systems once you are there. This game, in essence, is Euro Truck Simulator 2 in space. Much of the focus is on the economy of the galaxy and the various trading routes and market prices. This does make the game somewhat of a grind though, as all of the jobs that you can take are randomly generated so it is simply luck of the draw when you arrive at any given spaceport. The game takes a (relatively) realistic approach. You really do get the sense that this is a simulator. The ships handle in proportion to their size and one has to be really accurate when manoeuvring around spaceports and alike. Elite: Dangerouscertainly stands out from the crowd but for how much longer.
It is completely fair to say that No Man’s Sky will go down as one of the most hyped titles in gaming history. Out of the three, this looks the most different from what we can tell from tech demos. NMS is about exploration. The idea is that you go around the galaxy visiting the numerous planets and moons and discover new species of creature and plants. Yes, you genuinely visit the planets. You actually get to walk, swim and fly around fully-sized planets. This is where the first difference lies. In its current form Elite: Dangerous does not have this kind of mechanic (though there are rumours that this will be added in the first major piece of DLC). NMS seems like it’s going to be a global ecology project. Everything is procedurally generated. Whilst there is an ultimate goal: reach the centre of the galaxy, the developers, Hello Games, really want to see how much of the galaxy can be discovered and catalogued. From what we can tell, there is a central computer called “Atlas” in which you can upload all of your findings throughout your journey. If you are the first person to discover something then you can name it and that name will forever be etched into the history books of NMS for everyone to see. That is pretty cool if you ask me.
Now we come to arguably the most ambiguous entry into this genre. Star Citizenhas already placed itself into the pantheon of gaming and it’s not even out yet! At the time of writing the game has raised nearly $97 million! It has shattered all of the previous records for a crowd-funded game. As well as this, the developers have stated that the download will be 100GB on PC. To put this in perspective GTA V was 65 GB while Fallout 4 was 30 GB on PC. Elite: Dangerous was around 45GB. Star Citizen is quite literally the biggest game ever. Unfortunately there is not much else to really go on. The information that has been revealed so far has been somewhat limited and the footage that has been revealed does not really give away much at all. The jury is still out on this game, it will take the official release before a real judgement can be made.
Out of the three, we can only really draw a conclusion on Elite: Dangerous since it is the only one that has been released. All of these games are incredibly ambitious and will be testing the limits of what gaming can do. All three have been/will stretch technology due to their sheer size while NMS’ levels of procedural generation seem to be in a completely different universe. One thing that can be said is that fans of the genre will eventually have a plethora of choices with each offering a completely different experience from the other. The time of the space sim has come again and we all must shoot for the stars.