Big PC gaming moments: Leaping into hyperspace in Elite Dangerous

Great moments in PC gaming are small celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Dangerous Elite

(Image credit: Border)

Year: 2014
Developer: Frontier

Whether you’re a bounty hunter, explorer, or glorified space trucker, doing almost anything in Elite Dangerous means jumping between systems. It’s one of the most basic interactions in the game – something you’ll do multiple times to complete a mission. As such, the mechanics are quite simple: you plot your route on the galactic map, point at the target system, and press a single button to start the sequence.

But simple does not mean mundane. This is one of the most common interactions in the game, and yet it is full of wonder and ceremony. It starts when you first activate the jump, the on-board computer beeping to announce “Frame shift unit loading”. The drive increases – an intense, cheeky hum that increases in range and depth rather than volume. And then the countdown is activated – your computer again narrating the process and ending with a dispassionate “Engage” that signals your departure.

The hyperspace version of Elite is known as “witch space”, a sort of mysterious and frightening alternate dimension that ships use to move between systems. This isn’t just a folklore-based hand wave to explain hyperspace travel – at least it’s not. only that one. As you travel through hyperspace, you hear the sound of the wind, or perhaps ghostly whispers – hints that there is something here beyond your understanding of the universe. And then the silence is broken.

Much of Elite’s atmosphere is carried by the unrivaled sound design, but its exit from hyperspace – the sudden and violent arrival – is also a visual shock. The star of your targeting system appears, forcing you to take immediate action to get away. Even after hundreds of hours of doing what is ultimately a routine action, it’s an uncomfortable experience – surprising enough to still leave me on edge.

There are other rarer hyperspace experiences in the game as well – twists to the basic interaction that make for some truly memorable moments. Seeing a capital ship exit hyperspace is undeniably impressive – experience the imposing artificial roar of a massive ship tearing a dimensional tear in space. And then there’s the sheer terror of a thargoid hyperdiction, which takes the unsettlingly familiar experience and turns it upside down – letting you experience what happens when the Everything goes wrong.

Elite Dangerous hasn’t had the best time lately. Its Odyssey expansion was widely criticized for bugs and poor performance, and even after several patches it still maintains a mostly negative rating on Steam. Ultimately, I didn’t bother with the expansion’s new features – foot combat is not what I want from the game. When I play, it’s for the simple escapism of traveling the galaxy, enjoying its simplest pleasures as I chart a course for the next system and prepare to jump.

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