League of Legends' Gnar revealed: What if The Hulk was a Gremlin?

Prepare for Dragon Age: Inquisition with this combat primer

Full steam ahead: World of Warcraft's Grimrail Depot dungeon is sure to become a favourite

The 15 best space games on PC

Obligatory: "SPAAAAAAAAACE"

For more than a generation the Earth’s space game scanning network barely registered a blip as it swept the heavens for signs of code-based life. Eve expansions and the odd new entry into the X series aside, a gaming frontier that once bustled with X-Wings, TIE Fighters and Right On Wing Commanders was for a decade almost totally devoid of traffic.

No longer. The tactical display is alight with all manner of space game contacts; rusty classics relaunched from the GOG.com launch pad, a rag-tag fleet of indie bucaneers harrassing gaming’s core worlds, while at the edge of our scopes some of the most celebrated space commanders to have ever taken to the stars are assembling new fleets in preparation for an almighty assault. For space gaming fans the future hasn’t been this bright since the old Captain Kirk died. 

In celebration of the coming starmageddon we thought it a splendid idea to gather together the very best examples of space games that you should be playing now and keeping an eye on into the future. Alas, there are some timeless classics that we’ve had to pass over, games such as Homeworld, Freelancer and TIE Fighter - that are only available via illegitimate rais into the dark corners of the internet. Perhaps their obvious omission from the roster will spur their corporate owners into facilitating some kind of digital re-release. It doesn’t seem quite right to not have them prepped for launch. Thankfully though, what is out there more than fills the void.

Eve Online

Eve has been the preeminent space game for so long that you might be forgiven for thinking it’s the only space game in existence. Unquestionably it’s the most interesting, partly down to the fact that its half a million online inhabitants play on the same mega-server rather than having to endure the severed realities offered by it’s many fantasy contemporaries. 

Combined with the manner in which players join together to form fleets that number in the thousands and alliances in the tens of thousands; all laying siege to entire regions for months on end, supported by an extensive supply chain of miners, traders, researchers and manufacturers, means that in terms of scale and substance there really isn’t anything else much like it. In all honesty nor does there seem anything else likely to usurp it anytime soon. 

The game is not without its downsides. It has a bad rap for being bastard-hard to get into, but with recent updates to the user interface, graphics and the near-constant streamlining of some of the game’s more obscure systems, the Eve of 2013 is no more difficult to approach than it’s single-player bosom buddy, X. Much more of a concern for the newcomer is how difficult it can be to succeed, especially if your aim is to carve out a small empire for yourself within a few weeks. Be warned, if you enter New Eden with the wrong attitude (or without the means to back it up), you will not enjoy yourself for very long.

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose is a common mantra, and it’s one that should be applied far beyond the contents of any hangar bay. Having piles of in-game cash is nice, but trust and time are far bigger commodities, and if you lack the latter, be heartened that Eve is almost as enjoyable to observe as it is to actually play.

Elite: Dangerous

In the space of a twelve month period we Earthlings refer to as 1993, not only did seminal space games like X-Wing, Master of Orion, Star Trek: Judgement Rites and Wing Commander: Privateer appear (and Wing Commander III a few months later), there was also a third entry in the mighty Elite series, Frontier: First Encounters, which, as its name suggested, was a slight but significant departure from the classic space trading original.

Twenty years on a fourth Elite is nearing completion, Elite: Dangerous, which promises a back-to-basic approach in terms of arcade flight, but that will build on the almost absurd scale enjoyed in the Frontier follow-ups, with potentially billions of procedurally-generated systems in which players can not only fight and trade, but through economic blockades and piracy change the allegiance and fortunes of their pretend populations.

Aside from existing at all, what’s most exciting (not to mention a little uncertain) is how the single and multiplayer sides of Elite: Dangerous will be integrated, with players able to switch between any number of user-defined galaxies, from the traditional solo adventure, friends-only co-op to no-holds-barred shards resembling the full-PvP realms of traditional MMOs.

Being a game of dueling and dogfighting, as opposed to Eve’s fleet-scale engagement, Elite: Dangerous promises a wealth of intriguing innovations, such as damage modeling where a ship that is spilling cargo containers will still be able to function. Also combatants will have to be aware of two things that might give their position and intentions away to pursuers; directional thrusters that will signal an imminent attempt at evasive action, and a build-up of hull temperature that will come from all that twisting and turning. Distant ships on the way to Raxxla will be able to hone in heat signatures - hopefully via the best scanner that any game has ever implemented.

Star Citizen

2003’s Freelancer was a technically ambitious space trade and combat sim that proved that the genre could still wing it in an era when joysticks had largely become obsolete. It was a fitting swansong for it’s creator Chris Roberts, who after ten years obscured in the mire of Hollywood production is making a return to games development with the similarly-ambitious and space-obsessed Star Citizen.

Building on the fan-assisted longevity of Freelancer, not to mention Roberts’ prior Wing Commander experience, Star Citizen will weave a familiar tale of a future united Earth empire fighting to establish itself in a galaxy far from empty, with the hook being that players have to earn their way to gaining citizenship, or instead find ways to thrive outside on the margins of mankind’s crumbling borders.

Through a combination of a mission-based solo campaign and persistent world multiplayer, the plan is to evolve and expand the Star Citizen world to add new systems, markets, missions and technologies on a regular basis, rather than have to work through bi-annual expansions and constant reiteration of features. Star Citizen’s universe might not start out the biggest, perhaps just 60 solar systems or so, but Roberts is hoping that the core gameplay will launch fully-formed.

One of the game’s most interesting features is to allow players the ability to govern how and where the universe expands, with pilots able to plot entry to new regions and sell the coordinates to the highest bidder. If that’s not intriguing enough, players will also be able to design new ships for inclusion in the game.

There will be a microtransaction element to Star Citizen, although Mr. Roberts has gone on record as saying that there’ll be no grind and no “pay to win” elements. We’ll have to see whether that’s the case, but given his track record we’re prepared to give the king of space sims the benefit of the doubt.

The Ur-Quan Masters

While The Ur-Quan Masters isn’t the oldest game in this stellar round-up, Star Control II, from which UQM takes everything bar the name, just about is; having been released a year ahead of the game that follows it in this list. Other than seniority, the other aspect in which it outranks the others is value: UQM is free, possibly the greatest free game you’ll ever have the chance to play. 

Played from a top-down perspective, UQM is a hitchhiker's’ fight for the galaxy game of exploration, diplomacy, role-playing and combat. You play the commander of a lost research mission sent to re-establish contact with Earth. However, upon reaching the Sol system you soon discover the third planet has been conquered by the unpleasant Ur-Quan. Without the means to free the planet’s inhabitants or oppose its oppressors, your quest is then to head out to distant worlds and find the resources, allies and clues to help overcome the three-eyed tentacle-beasts that hold humanity in bondage.

While UQM’s flight model isn’t much more evolved than a game of Asteroids, the extensive galaxy, populated by hundreds of planets, stars and moons - all of which can be scanned, visited and plundered - make for a deeply involving game. Truth be told, constantly having to land on planets and collect materials to trade can get a little tedious, but discovering ancient secrets and conversing with the game’s 18 unique and often hilarious races (20 if you separate the Zoq from the Fot and Pik) more than makes up for having to constantly take in so many identikit planets. If meeting the cowardly Captain Fwiffo doesn’t make you immediately fall in love with the game then you’re probably dead inside.  

Master of Orion 1 + 2

Fans have been arguing since last century over which of the Master of Orion games is the better of the series and they only seem to agree that the third most definately isn’t it, which makes the widely-available double pack featuring the first two MOOs something of an essential and stress-free purchase. 

Released in 1993, Master of Orion was the first game to earn the genre label 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and... eXfoliate?), essentially taking the concepts of Sid Meier’s classic turn-based Civilization and applying it across a galaxy of planets rather than one, so that instead of various flavours of human settlers and terrestrial biomes, players were given a wide range of planet types and races to control and conquer, such as the Silicoids; able to thrive in the most hostile of environments, albeit at a glacial reproductive rate. 

While the driving force behind Master of Orion and every 4X game since has been technological advancement and colonialism, Master of Orion was the first game of it’s type to really nail diplomacy and offer a route to victory in which some measure of galactic peace could be achieved. The sequel went even further, with customisable races and a possibly political victory that required you to be elected as the Supreme Leader of the galaxy, which isn’t a career option many games have offered since. 

What is undeniable is that MOO I and II are important historical references, as seminal an influence on turn-based space conquest as the first two Doom games were establishing and defining the FPS. Unlike Doom however, MOO has cast such a long monolith-shaped shadow over the entire space game genre that many would argue that the Orion games have yet to be eclipsed. Given it’s placing in this list, it’s a view we have some affinity with.

Login or Register
2
+2
-0
NLS's picture
2

X:Rebirth? Hahahaha....

I imagine, "Note to self: Do not put something in a 'best of' category, before actually seeing it".

Homeworld indeed should be there.

Independence War 2, should be there.

ELITE (as series and genre patriarch) itself should be there (you never know where E:D will end up - seeing where X:R ended up - in the bin).

Same reasoning exactly, Wing Commander instead of non-existent Star Citizen.

Good that you put Mass Effect series (for the atmosphere and its universe).

SOASE should be in every list - and is.

Agree with Freespace 2 of course (and Open Source follow up).

Freelancer was pretty good too. The first that did the space thing right with a mouse!

1
+1
-0
Midarc's picture
1

Independence war 2...

that game was something special.

1
+1
-0
avatar
1

BDcraft is cool

1
+1
-0
avatar
1

What ever happened to Battlezone?

1
+1
-0
The Atreides Raccoon's picture
1

Now, only one question remains: WHERE'S FREELANCER!?

0
+0
-0
Laccnow's picture
15

If something, then Imperium Galactica I or II REALLY deserves to be mentioned along with the best space games, I'm sad it's not listed here.

0
+0
-0
avatar

But the IG games aren't available, at least not on PC. Had it been it might have made the list, alongside Homeworld, TIE Fighter, etc.

0
+0
-0
Fattox's picture
17

If you guys want to try something different than the usual ''blow spaceships up with lasers" you could also try SpaceStation 13. It's 10 years old but i only discovered it this week. It reminds me of some kind of weird mix of Project Zomboid, Dwarf Fortress/Gnomoria and... i don't know what else.

 

You should check it out though, it's one of those strange sandbox experiences that relies on other people to make the experience. But some really weird stuff can go down, so fun!

0
+0
-0
avatar

You forgot Homeworld!!!!! Aaargh!!!!!

0
+0
-0
Laccnow's picture
15

As far as I knew, the IG games were mainly released on PC. I got the first one with a PC magazine back in '99 and IG II was the first game I actually bought.. Give them a try :)

Alienware - Game VictoriousNvidia Shield - Titanfall
We're giving away copies of EVE: True Stories, so you can own a bit of New Eden history thumbmail

EVE Online

We're giving away copies of EVE: True Stories, so you can own a bit of New Eden history

CCP producer wants to empower EVE Online players and bring in new ones thumnnail

CCP producer wants to empower EVE Online players and bring in new ones

EVE Online's going through its own Industrial Revolution with the launch of Crius thumnnail

EVE Online's going through its own Industrial Revolution with the launch of Crius

CCP hit with more layoffs; another 49 employees lose their jobs thumnnail

CCP hit with more layoffs; another 49 employees lose their jobs

EVE Online gets the first of 10 mini-expansions, Kronos; Crius now due out a month early thumnnail

EVE Online gets the first of 10 mini-expansions, Kronos; Crius now due out a month early

CCP are

CCP are "playing with the big boys" to bring Eve Online to TV

Huge super capital fight in EVE Online obliterates 500 billion ISK in ships thumbmail

EVE Online

Huge super capital fight in EVE Online obliterates 500 billion ISK in ships

Avert your eyes: EVE Online is getting new solar flares in Kronos patch thumnnail

Avert your eyes: EVE Online is getting new solar flares in Kronos patch

History in the making: Andrew Groen's Eve Online chronicle funded seven times over thumnnail

History in the making: Andrew Groen's Eve Online chronicle funded seven times over

EVE Online: PLEX Activation Codes kill off EVE Time Codes and usurp their position thumnnail

EVE Online: PLEX Activation Codes kill off EVE Time Codes and usurp their position

EVE: Valkyrie lead designer wants the dogfighter to be Halo for the Oculus Rift thumnnail

EVE: Valkyrie lead designer wants the dogfighter to be Halo for the Oculus Rift

It's not the size that counts: EVE Online does away with big expansions thumnnail

It's not the size that counts: EVE Online does away with big expansions

Looking back at EVE Fanfest 2014: space trucks, MMA fighters and virtual reality thumbmail

Project Legion

Looking back at EVE Fanfest 2014: space trucks, MMA fighters and virtual reality

CCP condemn Eve monument vandalism:

CCP condemn Eve monument vandalism: "What's happened is absolutely disgusting"

Eve Online monument defaced within week of its unveiling thumnnail

Eve Online monument defaced within week of its unveiling

Eve trailer draws MMO, Valkyrie, and Legion together with pretty CGI thumnnail

Eve trailer draws MMO, Valkyrie, and Legion together with pretty CGI

CCP reveals Project Legion; a

CCP reveals Project Legion; a "reimagining" of Dust 514 on PC

Win an EVE Source book by spinning us a yarn thumnnail

Win an EVE Source book by spinning us a yarn

What the hell is Project Legion? And is it replacing Dust 514? thumbmail

Project Legion

What the hell is Project Legion? And is it replacing Dust 514?

Become a recruitment mercenary with the EVE Online Recall Program thumnnail

Become a recruitment mercenary with the EVE Online Recall Program

CCP will still release Eve: Valkyrie as a Rift launch title:

CCP will still release Eve: Valkyrie as a Rift launch title: "We're very excited for Oculus"

EVE Source hardcover edition available now thumnnail

EVE Source hardcover edition available now

Ship makeover: Paint your ships in EVE Online come March 11th thumnnail

Ship makeover: Paint your ships in EVE Online come March 11th

CCP to celebrate 10 years of Fanfest at Fanfest 2014, May 1st - May 3rd thumnnail

CCP to celebrate 10 years of Fanfest at Fanfest 2014, May 1st - May 3rd