As with the rest of the Elite series, First Encounters started you in a ship with 100 credits and set you out in an open universe to earn credits through a variety of means. Credits could be spent on upgrading your ship or purchasing new crafts designed around whatever style of play you indulged in. Released in 1995 this was the first of the series to be released solely on the PC and benefited greatly from improved technology to expand the Frontier: Elite II style of game. Graphics were markedly improved by Gouraud Shading and improved textures with different level of detail depending on distance from the player and the CD version of the game had FMV when dealing with people at star ports. Storylines were introduced for the first time as were several new gameplay types.
After being defeated by humanity in Elite the advanced insect race known as the Thargoids return to attack humans who are still gripped by civil war between the Federation and the Imperial forces. You begin as always with 100 credits, a below average ship and no alliances forced to enter into the politics of an emerging war as a pawn of the larger groups.
Like Frontier: Elite II, Frontier: First Encounters had the player flying in an open world earning credits through a variety of methods. The biggest change to gameplay surrounds an overarching storyline which reintroduces the Thargoid alien race last seen warring with humans in the original Elite. This storyline is detailed through reading 5 in game newspapers which in turn offers you storyline linked missions. Unlike other missions which are randomly generated these were scripted linear events offering special rewards such as unobtainable ships. As with previous titles First Encounters allows you a variety of mission types. Military missions are greatly expanded allowing for spying missions (involving photography or parts of the universe) and bombing runs on the basis of a war with the Thargoids. Mining returned with little change as did the trading backbone of the game. Controls were still based on Newtonian physics allowing for complex ship control and playing within the physics of the game.
Rushed to market the game is laden with bugs and was widely criticized as being half finished. Significant patching was required but the pressure to launch the game early led to a long court battle between publishers GameTek and developer David Braben. Several missions had game breaking bugs and the game in general was prone to crashing. Even with patching the game is still highly unstable however with fan sites continuing to patch and maintain the game themselves. Looking through the game code enhances the view that the game was launched half finished. The scripted missions end abruptly and the game code shows a large amount of half finished missions which further the plot and hold new gameplay mechanisms (such as missions which if rejected would brand you as a terrorist and the ability to fake your own death).
A proposed sequel Elite 4 was rumored to bee in development since the late nineties, having been planned as an MMO and had development reset due to technical limitations. Since then the game has never been seen but brought up by Braben in interviews as being released "when it's ready" and often after Frontier Developments current game is completed. Most recently sources suggested to eurogamer.net that pre-production had been put on hold on Elite 4 whilst the official line from the studio is that development will begin after production on "The Outsiders" concludes. The protracted nature of the development has led to fears that the game is vaporware.
In January 2013 the sequel was finally crowdfunded on Kickstarter as Elite: Dangerous, and entered beta in May 2014, aiming for release later the same year.
Due to the unfinished state of the origianl release of First Encounters, fans started patching and updating the game themselves. Throughout the 90's patches implementing the missing mission types were made available, and since the mid 00's, a massive overhaul, porting the game over to a Direct3D engine with updated textures and lighting has been created by the users Ittiz and AndyJ, titled FFED3D, available on SpaceSimCentral and FrontierAstro: http://www.frontierastro.co.uk/Hires/hiresffe.html