When this game came out (Originally on BBC computers in 1983) the computer game scene was very calm. The games that dominated the industry were platform and arcade games, most of them replicas of Pac-Man, Space Invaders or Jet-Set Willy. Elite came along to change all that. Imagine, in that era of computer games, what it meant for a game to be so complex.
The scenario of the game is pretty simple. You are a space trader with a little ship, and your main task (at least when you start the game) is to transport cargo between planets. This is where things get complicated. The game has literally hundreds, if not thousands, of planets to explore, and each one of them is unique. There are both technologically-advanced planets (producing hi-tech cargos) and primitive planets (most of these produce just raw materials, if anything), and so on. They also have political systems; some are democratic and allow free trade, while others can be more hostile and attack you on sight.
Of course, in games, space isn't empty. Many other races (and their ships) exist in the game. Some of them are peaceful, others are not. At the start of the game it is wise to avoid combat with other ships (since you can be destroyed very easily), but consider also that more money is gained by trading with dangerous planets. For instance, a planet that has a problem with pirates will pay more for delivered cargo than a peaceful planet.
You can also decide about what you will do in the game. You can stay a simple trader or you can be a space pirate and steal cargo from other ships (watch out for the police). Either way, your main task is to make more money and to earn more fame. By making money you can equip your ship with better weapons etc, and by earning fame you advance in rank. The highest rank you can achieve is the "Elite" status, but you have a long road ahead before you reach that rank. At certain points in the game, you receive predetermined missions. The mission types differ- their requirements can be simple, like transporting a package from one planet to another, or more complex, like killing a certain pirate, and so on.
The graphics in the game are primitive by today's standards, but they do their job. The ships and space stations (where you dock for loading and unloading cargo) are depicted with wire-frame graphics, the predecessor to 3D. Colours are very few - there are as many as CGA allows!
The sound is also nothing extraordinary. The sounds in the game are just "blips" and the only music that can be heard in the whole game is on the first screen (a classical piece, to be more precise).
Despite the poor graphics and sound, the playability of the game is enormous... Just consider that this game created (in 1983!) the "space exploration" genre of games. With the exception of better graphics, more enormous galaxies, and more missions and enemies, all the games of the same genre (like Frontier and Privateer, and even more modern ones) are based on Elite. Anyone who likes this type of game should play Elite, at least to see where it all began.
One last thing. Before the game starts, it will ask for a word from the manual. Enter whatever you like; the copy protection's been removed.