Legend states that when “Space Invaders” landed in 1978, the arcade space shooter was such a popular space game, it caused a coin shortage in Japan. This sort of fabled lore is hard to fact check in pre-internet times, but regardless of this story’s veracity, Taito’s shoot-em-up wasn’t simply a game, it was a pop-culture phenomenon. More than four decades later, the cosmos still provides a backdrop for many of the best video game franchises.
The galaxy is vast, so it only makes sense that the amount of games in the space genre be equally endless. There are, however, plenty of fantastic games that burn bright like a dying sun, spanning some of today’s most popular genres. Here’s our list of the best space games.
— Best Overall: “Among Us”
— Best Exploration: “No Man’s Sky”
— Best Strategy: “StarCraft II”
— Best Arcade: “Jamestown+”
— Best Shooter: “Halo Infinite”
— Best “Star Trek”: “Star Trek: Online”
— Best “Star Wars”: “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”
How We Picked the Best Space Games
What is a space game? For the purposes of this roundup, we’ll keep it simple. A space game is any game that takes place in space. If you’re looking for terrestrial experiences, look elsewhere. Following this rule doesn’t actually dwindle down the massive selection, so here are some of the things considered when we picked out the best space games.
Visuals: Back when arcade games first hit the scene, space was a natural backdrop, because for the most part, space resembled endless night. Sure, there are a few stars peppered in the background, but a plain black backdrop doesn’t take up much file space (pun heavily intended). But this was the late ‘70s, ages before anyone uttered the words “high-definition” in regards to video games. Nowadays, even lower spec consoles like the Nintendo Switch can shell out some seriously stellar graphics. Games that primarily take place amidst the final frontier should look cinematic, or at the very least, eye-catching.
Gameplay: Visuals alone won’t get folks to zone out on a couch or in front of a curved monitor for hours on end. Gameplay is, and will forever be, king. The science fiction backdrops in the space game genre are secondary to whether or not the game actually plays well. Some games require time investments, while others can easily qualify as “pick up and play.” Both have their place.
Immersion: Even as a dyed-in-the-replicator “Star Trek” fan, I have to admit: space is, for the most part, empty. And just because most of the frontier is vast, sparse, and cold, doesn’t mean that your space game experience should be. After all, we’re not exactly tied to the boundaries of reality. Not every experience needs to be as engrossing as Kubrick film, but the best space games usually are. For more immersion, explore the best VR games.
The Best Space Games: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Space Game Overall: “Among Us”
Why It Made The Cut: Like “Space Invaders” before it, “Among Us” hit the popular culture with a big bang, and lives up to the hype.
— Release Date: June 15, 2018
— Developer: Inner Sloth
— Genre: Strategy, Rogue-Like
— Platforms: Windows, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One Xbox Series X/S
— Great game for groups
— Appeals to many ages
— Can play across platforms and on mobile
— Not a solo endeavor
— Can be stressful
Gaming on smartphones was a dicey prospect for ages because experiences paled in comparison to the ones provided by home consoles and PC. And while these polarizing platforms are improving as a whole, “Among Us” showed off the memorable possibilities on mobile.
“Among Us” is played with friends, though like any great party game, it has the capability to destroy relationships after a few rounds. If you’re familiar with John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” “Among Us” will feel all too familiar. Up to fourteen players play as astronauts on a spaceship, with up to three players designated as “imposters.” But here’s the skinny: nobody knows who the imposters are. It can be anyone: even grandma. As the game progresses, players perform mini games, solve puzzles, and try to make it out alive, all while imposters throw a wrench in the system every step of the way. The thrilling part of the game comes anytime crew members must vote on casting out one of their own into space. Whether you’re playing in the same room as everyone or over Zoom, players can plead their case and sow further dissension into the ranks. Deception has never been so addicting. And unlike many of the games listed here, just about everyone can play, from savvy pre-teens to aforementioned grandparents.
Best Exploration Game: “No Man’s Sky”
Why It Made The Cut: Despite its rocky launch, “No Man’s Sky” is one of the best open-world experiences for wannabe space cowboys.
— Release Date: August 9, 2016
— Developer: Hello Games
— Genre: Action-adventure, Survival
— Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch (Mid 2022)
— Endless possibilities for exploration
— Breathtaking visuals
— Addictive crafting and combat mechanics
— Occasionally monotonous
Far too often, space games look grimey, and are a little too skimpy when it comes to color. “No Man’s Sky” is an outlier, with its imaginative and immersive worlds.
“No Man’s Sky” isn’t simply open world, it’s open galaxy. Space-faring is about balancing staying alive while making new discoveries, and the same concept applies here. Activities are divided into four main categories: trading, exploration, combat, and survival. Players explore procedurally generated planets with all manner of imaginative flora and fauna. Up to 18 quintillion different planets can be visited, with every experience deviating a bit from previously discovered stars. Your “traveler” must brave the ever-changing elements, harvest materials, and occasionally fight with hostile creatures and evil sentient robots. Traveling between planets is equally daunting, with the threat of pirates lurking behind every moon. It sounds pretty engrossing, doesn’t it? It wasn’t always like this. When the game first released, it lived up to almost none of its hype. Since then, it’s received more than 20 updates that have fleshed it out into a game that’s worth sinking not just hours, but days. If you held off playing because of the bad press around the release, now’s your chance to dive in.
Best Space Strategy Game: “StarCraft II”
Why It Made The Cut: The classic competitive space-based RTS isn’t just a solid PC game, it’s a worldwide e-sports phenomenon.
— Release Date: July 27, 2010
— Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
— Genre: Real-time Strategy
— Platforms: Windows, mac OS
— Incredibly competitive multiplayer
— Captivating single-player campaign
— Cinematic production values
— Little to no innovation on the first game
By some estimates, almost 250,000 people play “StarCraft II” every day. And this is more than a decade after the game was released. It’s not only the most active RTS game on PC, it’s in the top five most popular e-sport titles in the world.
It’s easy to see why. Upon release, “StarCraft II” became an instant classic, just like its predecessor. New units and polished combat reminded fans why they first fell in love with this RTS series in the first place. The sequel also saw a big upgrade in production values, with gorgeous visuals and polished voice acting that made the single-player campaign in “StarCraft II” feel like a summer blockbuster. All these upgrades aside, some complain that the sequel did little to innovate on the RTS formula laid out when “StarCraft” was released in the late ‘90s. But sometimes, like in the case of “StarCraft,” the idea already came out fully formed. Its original installment “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty” as well as its expansion packs “Heart of the Swarm,” Legacy of the Void,” and “Nova Covert Ops” provide a nearly endless amount of RTS goodness, and that’s even before hopping online to battle it out against the rest of the world.
Best Arcade: “Jamestown+”
Why It Made The Cut: This arcade style shooter combines an incredibly inspired setting with some of the best modern SHMUP mechanics.
— Release Date: June 8, 2011, Plus expansion released March 17, 2015
— Developer: Final Form Games
— Genre: Shoot-em-up
— Platforms: Windows, mac OS, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
— Incredibly unique setting and story
— Gorgeous coin-op aesthetics
— Online leaderboard
— Short and tough as nails
After all these years, developers are still innovating on gameplay mechanics that came out during the Carter administration. Just because a game smacks of the arcade doesn’t mean it shouldn’t come with all the quality-of-life refinery of modern titles, like “Jamestown+.”
Imagine if in the 17th century, the British didn’t colonize America, but Mars. That’s the backdrop of this top-down space shooter. Despite the first iteration of this game coming out way back in 2011, its presentation couldn’t be more pixel perfect. The “Plus” expansion packs more playable ships, weapons, story, and levels which makes every new run-through feel fresh. However, the game is only five levels long, with two more levels only available on higher difficulty settings. Difficulty being the relative word here. “Jamestown+” definitely qualifies as a “bullet hell” SHMUP, though you can show off your skills with its online leaderboards. If the difficulty makes you toss your controller in rage, playing the couch co-op mode with a friend may not just get you through hurdles, but it may just hit you with a wave of nostalgia for the long-since-closed mall arcade. If Raiden went steampunk, it would look very much like “Jamestown+.”
Best Shooter: “Halo Infinite”
Why It Made The Cut: There are countless FPS games starring space marines, but none ever hit quite as hard as the ones starring Master Chief.
— Release Date: December 8, 2021
— Developer: 343 Industries
— Genre: First-person shooter
— Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch
— Engrossing single-player campaign
— Breathtaking visuals
— Lots of lore
— Less replayability than previous titles
Every Johnny-Come-Lately company that tried to get in the home console business in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s forgot one thing: a mascot that can be the face of your brand. Nintendo has Mario, Sega has Sonic, and Microsoft has Master Chief. “Halo Infinite,” the Chief’s latest romp, is one of his best.
Instead of another linear FPS adventure, Infinite taps into the big open-world fad of the moment. And would you believe it: it totally works. “Halo” is a franchise known for its color-rich environments, and “Infinite” packs those in spades. But the classic “Halo” feel is still there. Combat is still as intense as ever, punctuating the atmosphere-heavy exploration. The series’ new direction also amplifies what many fans come to “Halo” for: a cinematic story with characters we actually care about. For someone whose face we’ve never seen before, Master Chief is quite the multi-faceted protagonist. The high-flying multiplayer is totally free, but the single-player campaign will set you back a pretty penny. Whether you decide to jump in depends on how you take your “Halo”: alone, or with friends.
Best Star Trek: “Star Trek: Online”
Why It Made The Cut: While it may only appeal to fans familiar with Gene Roddenberry’s universe, this MMO is one of the greatest pieces of sci-fi fan service.
— Release Date: February 2, 2010
— Developer: Cryptic Studios
— Genre: MMO, RPG
— Platforms: Windows, mac OS, PS4, Xbox One
— Missions feel like new episodes of a Trek show
— Live the dream of becoming a Starfleet captain
— Rife with content
— Doesn’t have the same impact if you’re not a Trek fan
It’s funny to think about now, considering there are four “Trek” series running concurrently, with another in development, but fans were starved for new content for a good while after “Enterprise” met an early end in 2005. J.J. Abrams held us over with his film series, but so did “Star Trek: Online.”
As MMOs took off in the mid ‘00s, Trek landed on the scene like a Romulan Warbird. From the beginning, new players could jump in and rise the ranks from Ensign to Admiral, and command starships just like James T. Kirk and Jean Luc Picard did on the old boob tube. For those familiar with Trek lore, there’s a treasure trove of expanded universe stories here, featuring characters from “The Next Generation,” “Voyager,” and even cult-favorite “Deep Space Nine.” Occasionally, the same actors from these shows provide voice work for their in-game counterparts. All this Hollywood magic, combined with expansion packs that let you play as other galactic factions like the Klingon or Romulan Star Empires make this a must-play for any “‘Trek fan. If Gene Roddenberry’s brand of science fiction makes your eyes glaze over, you can probably skip it.
Best “Star Wars”: “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”
Why It Made The Cut: The mere mention of “KOTR” is enough to make any “Star Wars” nerd misty-eyed, but it’s great enough to please any RPG fan.
— Release Date: July 15, 2003
— Developer: BioWare
— Genre: RPG
— Platforms: Windows, mac OS, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch
— Fully-fleshed RPG mechanics
— Honors Star Wars canon while expanding on it
— Challenging campaign with branching paths
— Graphics feel a little dated
While there are surely a few clunkers in the mix, for the most part, “Star Wars” is a franchise with plenty of fantastic games under its belt across just about every genre. There are enough “Star Wars” games released since 2003 to fill a parsec, but “Knights of the Old Republic” remains unmatched.
The game concept is simple. Set 4,000 years before anyone knew who Sheev Palpatine was, the Galactic Republic must contend with its biggest threat yet. Sith Lord Darth Malak is unleashing his armada upon the galaxy, and the Jedi Order must quell this threat from the dark side. You choose from three different classes of Jedi to play as, with three more subclasses to choose as the game progresses. Are you a steady and stoic like Qui-Gon Jinn, or a plucky, complicated rebel like Anakin Skywalker? “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” lets your character expand as it levels up, complete with an alignment system, which fits in perfectly with established series lore. Stay in the light, betray yourself to the dark, or like many of the best, balance both and become the greatest Jedi in the galaxy. Despite how great everything still handles, boy do the graphics smack of the era, and not in a way that’s even remotely charming. There’s no arguing with its legacy, and it’s available on tons of platforms making it very easy for newbies to jump in and see what all the fuss is about. “KOTR” is still very much worth your time, though a remake of the game is currently in development for Windows and PS5.
What to Consider Before Buying a Space Game
Refine Your Search
If you hop onto any online game store, searching for “space games” will get you a nearly endless amount of titles to choose from. Space is one of the most popular backdrops for video games, always has been, always will be. It’s a wide net full of classic titles including everything from “Galaga” to “Gears of War,” “Mass Effect” to “Metroid Dread.” Consider these four titles. All are technically “space games” but they all play wildly differently. They cover a wide array of genres and experiences, and even similar titles will end up rendering different experiences. The universe is cool like that. If you’re looking for a new space game to play, we recommend refining the search a little. “Best Space RTS game” or “Best Space Survival game” will make digging through the endless pile of titles a little easier. For more fun, check out the best PS5 games.
Space-Age Games Love Space-Age Tech
Unless you’re a weird billionaire with a cringe-y online presence (won’t say who), you probably won’t be able to experience the magic of the cosmos first hand. But that’s the beauty of gaming. Not only can it transport you to a kingdom of weird little mushroom people and evil turtle tyrants, it can also make you into a regular Buzz Aldrin. Immersion in gaming is getting better, easier, and perhaps most of all, cheaper. A big, bright gaming monitor, a dark room, a noise-cancelling headset and a solid sound system can easily transport you to the stars. If you want to amplify the experience further, you can throw some smart LED strip lights into the mix. With these you can replicate the feel of being on the bridge of a starship or even smack dab in the middle of a nebula, all without having to worry about oxygen running out, or eating the freeze-dried abomination astronauts call “ice cream.”
Fast and Loose Categorization
We touched on just how many space games there are available now. But if you’re a little more liberal with the categorization, things get out of hand pretty quickly. There are plenty of games that feel like space games despite not taking place in space. This is perhaps most prevalent in the arcade genres. “Raiden V” and “Contra: The Alien Wars” take place here on earth, but still smack of outer-space. Same goes for classic PC titles like “Half-Life 2” and “Portal.” Whether you decide if these games count as space games because of the inclusion of weird weaponry, battleships, and aliens is up to you. We argue that if it feels like a space game, it will likely scratch the space game itch, but not enough that we considered putting these borderline titles on the official list.
Q: What is the best space game right now?
The best space game for our money is “Among Us.” If you’re looking for a less-casual experience, “No Man’s Sky” and “Starcraft II” are also fantastic space game entries.
Q: What is the most realistic space game?
It’s hard to answer what space game is the most realistic. “Lunar Lander,” one of the first video games ever made, was applauded for its honed physics engine.
Q: What is the best space simulator?
Because of the sheer size and scope of the game, “No Man’s Sky” is the best space simulator that captures the endless frontier of the galaxy.
Q: What games are set in space?
There are countless video games set in space, from “Galaga” to “EVE: Online.”
Q: What are the best space games on Steam?
Among the best and most popular space games available on Steam are “Deep Rock Galactic” “StarCraft II”, and “No Man’s Sky.” The search entry “Space Game” renders 9,327 results on the Steam store.
Q: How many Dead Space Games are there?
Currently, there are six games in the “Dead Space” franchise. A mobile version of “Dead Space” is no longer available for purchase. A remake of the original game is currently in development and slated for a 2022 release.
Q: Are there any space games with galaxies?
Space games built around exploration often include multiple galaxies. These include “Outer Wilds,” “No Man’s Sky,” and “FTL: Faster Than Light.”
Q: Are there any free space games like EVE: Online?
“EVE: Online” is free to play, but similar titles including “Skyforge” and “Dark Orbit” are solid alternatives that are also free.
Final Thoughts on Best Space Games
Space may be the final frontier, but it's an all too familiar backdrop for some of the best gaming experiences out there. While it doesn’t pack the graphic punch of other modern titles, “Among Us'' makes up for it by providing unique experiences on whatever device you play it on. Unlike other party games, anyone with a smart device can play and revel in the deception the game encourages. For those looking for a seriously immersive experience, “StarCraft II'' and “No Man’s Sky” are cinematic in scale, with some of the best visuals in gaming, space or otherwise.
For more ideas for astronomy lovers, check out our guide to the best space gifts.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.
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