Most kids have wanted to go to space at some point, but becoming an astronaut is not for the weak of heart. Many of us instead end up living out our astral fascination in the video game world.
Luckily, there are games so immersive it simulates the experience fairly well. If you’re in the mood to play something that will send you into the stars, these are the games we believe have done it best.
1) Mass Effect
When it was released in 2007, Mass Effect put the American RPG on the map in a way it had never been before. The trilogy introduced a rich universe led by protagonist Commander Shepherd, who could be male or female depending on the player’s taste. Named Game of the Year by the New York Times when it came out, the series is still considered a classic not only among space-themed titles, but RPGs as a whole. Watch out for that ending, though (heave sigh of disappointment here).
2) Star Wars
Exploring Star Wars’ worlds has been a top priority for fans since the films were first released. From Super Star Wars for the Super Nintendo to today’s Battlefront, the franchise has stayed alive and well. One of our favorites is Knights of the Old Republic, which is still every bit as compelling as when it was released. For something more lighthearted, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a terrific retelling of the popular new film.
Blizzard’s military/sci-fi series has been around since 1998, when a massive fanbase of Korean players made it synonymous with competitive gaming. Ideal for strategy fans, StarCraft still remains one of Blizzard’s most successful franchises, with single-mission packs like StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops newly released this year. Be warned: If you plan to play competitively, it won’t be easy.
Probably the best-known game for the Xbox, Halo became the definition of high intensity co-op gaming after it launched alongside the first model of the console in 2001. While its take on an interstellar war between humans and aliens rarely gets the attention it should, it sets the backdrop for a beautifully imagined universe that has kept gamers’ at attention for 15 years. The most recent in the series, Halo 5: Guardians, is highly rated by fans.
5) Dead Space
An original title from EA that quickly blossomed into a series, Dead Space tells the story of Issac Clarke, an engineer on an interstellar mining ship called the USG Ishimura. After Clarke discovers he is not alone, he’s forced to fight for his life against reanimated human corpses called Necromorphs. The series also inspired a comic prequel series. Undeniably dark and frightening to play, Dead Space should be experienced in headphones so every bit of the stellar sound design can be savored.
One of the most beloved space horror films of all time, Alien has inspired quite a few video games over the years. The most recent, Alien: Isolation, is a choice pick if you’d like to imagine exactly how it feels to be chased by an alien while exploring a space station (and you can even play it using Oculus Rift for the ultimate pants-wetting experience). If you’d prefer to get more retro, Aliens for the NES is great fun to revisit as well.
If you’ve had enough of all these dark and scary options, the Ratchet and Clank series offers a much more lighthearted romp through the Solana galaxy. Ratchet and his robot pal, Clank, are great fun to play, not only because of polished gameplay, but also because their dialogue is written and voiced so well. See, not all games in space are about no one being able to hear you scream.
Most gamers think of Phantasy Star Online when this series comes to mind, but it has a much longer history. The first installment of Sega’s RPG series came out on the Sega Master System in 1997, introducing the solar system Algol under the rule of a king-turned-dictator. Decades after they were made, the original Phantasy Star series stands out as one of the first old-school RPGs to do a space story well. Bonus points go to Phantasy Star II for executing one of the first deaths in a game to make us cry—WAY before Final Fantasy VII did it.
9) Star Trek
The Trek universe is vast, and exploring it in games is just one way fans can make contact. While there have been many games about the final frontier, the upcoming game Star Trek:Bridge Crew looks to be one of the most exciting yet—due in no small part to the fact it’s made for VR. If you’re lucky, you may even see a few familiar faces while you’re playing!
Xenosaga launched for PlayStation in 2022 as a spiritual successor to the Squaresoft RPG Xenogears. An ambitious story about a highly sought after artifact called the Zohar and those who chase it, the Xenosaga series did a terrific job of telling a story in space that was both engaging and literate (many themes in the game reference the work of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche). There hasn’t been a HD remake of the trilogy yet, but we’ll keep on hoping.
11) Star Ocean
Highly influenced by Star Trek, the Star Ocean series started in 1996 when the first title came out for the Super Famicom in Japan. The most recent in the series, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, is the best way for a new player to check out the series. Star Ocean is one of the first games to test out the popular choice-based dialogue series that alters the course of the game. A rich adventure across space and time, Star Ocean is a solid, exciting franchise worth checking out.
12) Eve Online
It’s worth noting that Eve Online has been going strong since 2003, which is no small feat for an MMO. But it’s truly alone in its class, depicting an incredibly realistic space experience in a colonized Milky Way 21,000 years in the future. With more than 5,000 star systems to explore, Eve Online is the quintessential space game for those who want to feel that they are really there. Add in that it’s going to free to play in November, and there’s no excuse not to give it a spin.