In memoriam, Donald Sutherland

Frontier: First Encounters

aka: Elite 3, FFE
Moby ID: 351

Description official description

Frontier: First Encounters is the third part of Elite series. You are a space pirate and you fly around through the universe in your space craft to fulfill different missions. You can also earn money by trading cargo with other races.

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Credits (DOS version)

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Average score: 73% (based on 16 ratings)


Average score: 3.5 out of 5 (based on 30 ratings with 7 reviews)

Fascinating and complex

The Good
It was real fun looking at the starmaps, spinning and turning them around in 3D mode and look where to warp to next. If you have enough motiviation you can go and on, it's real fun exploring a whole universe that fits on only 3 disks! Also that trading stuff and the different missions are nice features.

The Bad
The problem is your motivation: if it isn't high enough, you won't get very far and you'll be disappointed soon. Also the controls are a bit complicating.

The Bottom Line
If you don't get lost too soon in games and a bit complexer controls don't disturb you and you're fascinated by this huge universe, then this is your game!

DOS · by robotriot (9015) · 1999

Frustrating at times, but occasionally brilliant

The Good
The graphics and physics are definitely the two strongest points of Frontier: First Encounters (FFE), I mean, for its time, the graphics of FFE are simply excellent - with complex and detailed planetary bases, surfaces, and ships. But the physics engine of FFE features things amazingly rare in other simulators, namely inertia-physics flight! Sure, the engine is nowhere as good as that of Orbiter 2004 or I-War, but it's still quite good for its time - impressive actually.
The atmosphere of the game is good at most times, when you occasionally are left alone to explore and discover - unfortunately, these times seems to be quite rare, as I'll mention later.

The well-written plot is evolving as you play the game, with interesting twists and turns, but you're not in any way bound to follow it.

The freeware aspect is excellent, as usual in the Elite-series, makes you wonder why they don't make games like this anymore (at least not commercial developers).

The Bad
A lot.
Where to start?

Well, for starters, there are the bugs: a whole lot of bugs. As you probably know already, FFE was skipped before it was anywhere near ready, and the costumers ended up with a very unstable release of the game. Sure, a few patches has fixed most of the problems - it doesn’t crash at all anymore, but there's still a few bugs to boot: for example, the extremely annoying pirates which just keep popping out of nowhere without any warning. I mean; is it too much to ask just to enter a new star system without being blown of the face of the universe?!

The pirates are definitely one of the worst things which brings this game's rating down - and then there's some of the issues of atmospheric flight, where the ship sometimes just blow up without any reason.

Also, why did they flood the interface with so much nonsense and words everywhere? Sometimes it gets extremely irritating; as in ship combat, where one is usually blown up before one can find out how to counter-attack. Actually, combat itself seems to be very poor elements in the game, at least as far as I've played of it. I have already mentioned enemies just keep popping out of nowhere, but at the start of the game, you don't got a chance to defend yourself before you’re blown away; simply because one can't afford a shield generator at the start. It's not like I'm asking for an easy start, but any new players barely gets much of a fighting chance.

There are some other things as well, but after the patches, these are now mostly minor issues

The Bottom Line
In the end, Frontier: First Encounters is a good game. Although it is quite troubled by various bugs, if you could oversee those and learn to live with them, you'll find yourself getting hooked in this wonderfully detailed galaxy where you are literally your own boss.
With great, crisp VGA-graphics, outstanding physics (for its time and genre), unprecedented (even today?) open-ended Gameplay, and a well-written plot, FFE is a wonderful gem among the classic star-flight simulators. In many ways, we can call it a very faulty piece of art, but if you can learn to live with these faults, I think you'll find FFE to be quite enjoyable - despite its many problems.

Final score: 6/10

DOS · by Stargazer (99) · 2003

Quite a bit better than Frontier : Elite 2 after you patch it. A lot.

The Good
Frontier: First Encounters is not quite the exact same game as FE2, but the similarities are enough to warrant it being more of an update than a separate game (indeed, FFE was going to be an expansion pack for FE2, but David Braben could not integrate the updates into FE2 smoothly and therefore decided to release this game as a stand alone product). So, that being the case, what has been updated? Quite a lot, as a matter of fact.

For starters, combat is much more reasonable, as it sets the enemy craft you are dogfighting as the object you are "relative" to (yes, the game still uses newtonian physics), so you no longer have the old 1000 km/s "jousting" duels and the combat is now much more close quarters. That's quite a bit of an improvment, if you ask me.

Also the sound and music is not longer of poor quality or ripped off from other games in the series, and actually have been redone rather well in places. The new sample based sound system instead of the old "Elite Plus" FM-based sound is a massive improvment to the enjoyment of the game, though you probably will tire of these new sounds after a bit anyway and will turn them off regardless. The remastered musical pieces from FE2 that are present in this game sound much better than they did originally. And the new music pieces done for this game, which were rendered by the Quality Quartet, are also very good and easy to listen to.

Apart from the said major changes, the minor ones make quite a bit of a difference as well. New features like newspapers you can subscribe to, various new ships (some of them very good and enjoyable to fly around in, the others being quite average) and items (like the Tractor Beam Cargo Scoop), plus a new political super power makes it feel like the game's universe really has progressed 50 years since FE2. Which it has. In the game, that is.

All and all this is a very solid update indeed.

Oh, and the Thargoids are back, but not in the way you imagine.

The Bad
Well, it's famous (or is that infamous) for being quite buggy. The only games that come to mind that are more buggy than this game in particular are the Battlecrusier games and eXtreme Paintbrawl, and those were heavily crippled due to the bugs! FFE narrowly manages to avoid this and remain playable, but only just. Even after these many years, it still doesn't work with Windows boxes in a natural sense, and only recently did a fan, John Jordan, manage to reprogram the executable file so that it would run in a Windows environment. While the fan made hacks do fix many of the problems the game had when it was released, it would have been nice to have it work properly in the first place.

The Bottom Line
This is a worthy update to FE2. In fact it is quite a good standalone game, and is worthy of your time and energy. However, you will have to search around the Internet a little bit for John Jordan's webpage with his fixed version of the executable file for FFE. Unless you don't want to play it in Windows.

DOS · by Longwalker (723) · 2002

[ View all 7 player reviews ]



David Braben and Ian Bell were the original authors of the first Elite back in the 80s. Braben made this third game without giving Bell credit or royalties for the space ships and other ideas he created that were reused. Bell had to sue Braben for payment.


Frontier: First Encounters was originally intended to be an add-on disk for the second game, Frontier: Elite II. However, because they rushed that game, its engine could not handle expansion disks effectively. The engine was rewritten and the game was released standalone. Unfortunately, it was also rushed and filled with numerous bugs that made its initial release unplayable.


  • PC Player (Germany)
    • Issue 01/1996 - Most Annoying Bugs in 1995

Information also contributed by woods01 .


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Related Sites +

  • Frontier: First Encounters FAQ
    First Encounters Frequently Asked Questions (Answers from David Braben)
  • JJFFE Central
    A conversion of the game for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, which additionally includes minor improvements and bug fixes.
  • Space: The Final Frontier
    An elite fansite covering everything elite.
  • The Elite Club
    Where you can download Frontier: Elite II and Frontier: First Encounters, now released as shareware

Identifiers +

  • MobyGames ID: 351
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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by robotriot.

Additional contributors: Brian Hirt, Cravo, Rebound Boy, Longwalker, Indra was here, Crawly, Patrick Bregger.

Game added November 1, 1999. Last modified December 4, 2023.