Since we apparently still have a few years (or decades) left until humanity masters the art of space travel, we have to get creative to fly our own spaceships and explore strange new worlds. Luckily, there are more than a few video games that fit the bill.
We’ve assembled a dozen of the best space games out there, ranging from hyper-detailed simulations to swashbuckling, galaxy-spanning adventures. Check out our recommendations below, and let us know your favorite space games.
If you’ve ever really wanted to put yourself into the cockpit of a space ship and rip around the stars, this is the closest you can get without hijacking a ship from SpaceX. This virtual reality title works via the Oculus Rift, and is set within the EVE Online universe. The premise is pretty simple: It’s a multiplayer sci-fi dogfight, so strap in and go nuts. The game’s not perfect, but a true example of the massive promise held by virtual reality tech in the coming years. If you have an Oculus Rift, it’s a must-have title.
This ambitious action adventure space sim is one heck of a crowdfunding success story, having turned a Kickstarter campaign into a well-regarded, successful sci-fi world. The pitch is this: Jump in the cockpit of a ship circa 3300 and take off, exploring a massive, open-ended world with myriad options to do… well… anything. You can take on legitimate work, or become anything from a bounty hunter to a smuggler.
This hugely ambitious space game is a real-time strategy game set in 2200. It focuses on space exploration, the challenges of managing an empire, and developing diplomacy and warfare with other spacefaring civilizations in this massive world. You start with a small civilization with limited resources, and try to grow your alien people of choice into a legitimate force in the galaxy. If you’re wanting to go big picture in regards to space exploration, this is the game for it.
An oldie, but a goodie. This one hit PC in 1999, and remains one of the most decorated games in the space genre to this day. It won a few game of the year awards at the time, and was nominated for a few more. The story thrusts the player into battle as a pilot slugging it out with the mysterious alien race the Shivans. Along the way, the player gets roped into a rebellion as the various factions involved slowly come into view. The battles set the standard for what would come later, and if you love the genre, it’s well worth digging this one up.
It’s been more than a decade since this space-set MMOPRG was released, and during that time it has basically evolved into its own universe. It has its own currency, companies, alliances and wars. Players pick up the action in a distant part of the galaxy, after being cut off from the Milky Way when a wormhole portal stops functioning. So, with no Earth to help, the survivors spend years creating their own societies and worlds. The game has over half a million subscribers at this point, meaning it has truly become a living, breathing virtual world.
Mass Effect 2
If you’re looking for a big, rollicking space adventure, it’s hard to beat Mass Effect 2. The game is set in the 22nd century, as humanity is threatened by an alien race. Player take control of Commander Shepard, an elite soldier who must develop a team to battle the aliens and make one final assault on our would-be overlords. It won a boatload of Game of the Year awards upon release, and for good reason. It has a deep story, great characters and a nice, twisty plot. Plus, the gameplay itself is spot-on.
This award-winning indie title is basically a sandbox game where you can build just about anything. Space ships, space stations, etc. You can mine asteroids for additional materials, and move and manipulate a plethora of elements. Again, it’s not a game for everyone, but if you’re meticulous and really want to geek out about the space stuff it’s the way to go.
Kerbal Space Program
This one puts you in control of your very own space program, as you deal with real-life physics and try to explore the stars. You build your own space ships and rockets, then launch them and try to pull off complicated missions. From launching into orbit, to establishing a space station, you can do quite a lot. Even entities like NASA and SpaceX have taken an interest in the game, and it’s not for everyone (space geeks need not apply), but if it’s up your alley it’s insanely deep and extremely detailed.
Star Fox Zero
If you’re looking to go old school, then by all means dig up Star Fox 64 or the original Star Fox on SNES. But, if you’re aiming a bit more modern, Nintendo recently dropped an excellent addition to the franchise on the WiiU. Once again take control of Fox McCloud and his furry team of flying heroes, as they battle all kinds of insanity. The game uses the console’s unique GamePad input for control, which takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you do this game really shines. It’s space-based action, with a heavy dash of Nintendo.
Take on Mars
Unless you have a few billion dollars in the bank (or a sweet job at NASA), you’re probably not going to get a chance to drive a rover around on Mars. So, this is probably the closest you can get. This is basically a hyper-detailed simulation that puts the player in control of a Martian rover, where you can equip a rover and carry out missions on the Red Planet.
Star Wars: TIE Fighter
For years, this 1994 release was the standard bearer for Star Wars video games. The concept is pretty much right there in the title: You get to strap into the cockpit of a TIE Fighter and take off into space battles. They got the graphics down (for the era, anyway) and the gameplay mechanics and controls were excellent. For fans of a certain age, you can probably just dig out the old CD-ROM from a box in the attic.
This 1980s space shooter is a classic of the side-scrolling era, and is really one of the first ever space games. Just take control of your ship, you have one button to fire, then go to town and mow down the aliens. It sounds easy, but it’s crazy addictive. It also spawned some solid sequels, and if you can track down a copy of Defender 2000 on the Atari Jaguar, it’s well worth the effort. But, you certainly can’t go wrong with the original.