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The 1984 version of Elite is free to download, to celebrate its 35th birthday

Thargoids off the starboard bow

Spacers these days, man. They've all got it too easy. As simulationist as Elite Dangerous is, it's still all too simple to hop in a ship, point in a direction, and see some awfully pretty space guff. These kids don't know how tough those early astronauts had it. To celebrate Elite's 35th birthday, Frontier are giving away David Braben's original 1984 space adventure for free. I hope you've done your homework, pilot, because this ain't the space sim you're used to.

Arguably the first proper open-world game, Elite was setting players loose in a sandbox long before Ubisoft put stabby blokes in white hoodies. Sure, it might be missing 35 years of refinements and an entire spectrum of colour, but Elite's 1980s roots still run through its modern counterpart. You can download the old game for free on the Frontier Store. Blast pirates! Explore the galaxy! Slam into a small moon! The complete Elite experience, with a fraction of the polygons.

Theoretically, at least. I reckon I'm a dab hand at Dangerous, but Elite is quite stubbornly of its time. See, it comes from that by-gone era when the BBC made computers and PC simulators required a master's degree to operate. Getting the old bird flying through the bundled BeebEmu emulator is, thankfully, quite painless. But blimey, set aside a notepad and a full evening before even thinking about prancing through the stars. In 15 minutes, all I achieved was a Cobra-shaped hole in the side of a space station. Ouch.

You'll definitely need to keep the attached manual on hand. It's quite a lovely one, too, packed with wonderfully 80s sci-fi illustrations revealing what an artist imagined all those ships would look like before being turned into wireframe nachos. There's even a quaint little RPG-style record sheet for noting your exploits down.

Until 5pm BST / 4pm UTC today, you can also nab a retro Thargoid bobblehead for a whopping 1 of Elite's new premium Arx currency through the in-game store.

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