Looking for a new space / sci-fi game to occupy my time (PC)
July 2, 2013 2:51 AM   Subscribe

Looking through Steam's deals tonight I came across X3. Looks like a decent game, but I would like to ask you opinion of what some great space related games are.

Hardware limitations are none, and if it pushes a rediculous computer to it's limits in 1080p, so much the better.

Previous games I've liked in the Sci-fi genre - Earth and Beyond - an older MMO, Star Control - a really old strategy type game that I've replayed many times, Wing Commander, X-Wing, etc. Games I tried and not really interested in were along the EVE line (too laborious and consuming) and Star Craft (cool, but not quite looking for RTS games).

Extra helpful would be if any game suggestions were on Steam. If something is a real classic I'm quite willing to track it down on Amazon/Ebay/GOG to try to play under windows 7.
posted by efalk to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
FTL is the one that everyone talks about these days.
posted by empath at 3:10 AM on July 2, 2013

Came in just to say FTL but was beaten to it, but then was reminded about SpaceChem. It's a pretty brilliant puzzle game that really doesn't have much to do with space but is set in space regardless.
posted by ltisz at 3:22 AM on July 2, 2013

How about XCOM: Enemy Unknown? It's earth-bound, but you fight off an alien invasion via turn-based squad tactics. I actually finished the main campaign a few hours ago and it was definitely fun and challenging.
posted by strangecargo at 3:22 AM on July 2, 2013

FTL is brilliant, but very different to those other games - it's a essentially a one spaceship strategy RPG game - not unlike a Roguelike, if you're familiar with the term.

If you haven't played them, the Homeworld games are canonically amazing space-based strategy games. A bit hard to get hold of though.

The great space games all seem to be in development after being Kickstarted. Limit Theory, Elite: Dangerous, and the vastly ambitious Star Citizen. There's also a new X game coming out later this year.
posted by Magnakai at 3:25 AM on July 2, 2013

FTL is a great game, but it's certainly not something that pushes a computer to its limits in 1080p. Fully recommend it as a small fun game though.

The Sins of a solar empire series are a 4x (lite) RTS space game and are ok, can be somewhat pretty, though again that's not really hitting your target either.

There are several games going through kickstarter processes at the moment that will scratch your itch but they are still some way off shipping - something to look forward to though!

Star Citizen

Elite Dangerous
posted by Leud at 3:26 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Artemis is a lot of fun if you have at least three other people willing to go on an adventure with you. Basically, each player takes over a bridge console, making space exploration and combat a team effort. It's a great way to spend an evening, and includes a built-in scripting language so you can create your own scenarios.

For more solo fare, I second the FTL and XCom recommendations above.
posted by exact_change at 4:05 AM on July 2, 2013

The first two Master of Orion games (especially the second) are classics of turn-based 4X space-empire building. Not sure about Steam, but here they are on GoG for $2.99(!). They won't exactly push your computer to its limits, though.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:24 AM on July 2, 2013

I've been having a lot of fun playing around with Kerbal Space Program, but it may have nothing to do with what you're looking for. In a lot of ways it's more sciency, less fictiony where getting into orbit with enough fuel to do your transfer burn, land and return is the measure of success. Warning: if building things and then seeing how they work and then rebuilding them isn't your idea of a good time, this game is not for you.

The nice thing is that you can get a pretty good feel for the game via YouTube: Here's a good tutorial, but if you watch this almost entirely in-game footage trailer first.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:44 AM on July 2, 2013

Did you end up buying X3? It's commonly described as "single-player EVE", and for good reason. Lots of economy, huge learning curve, very demanding of the player. I've seen remarks online that six months or so of play is "a good introduction" to the game. Seriously, it's enormous. It does have tactical combat, though, so you can enjoy a good shoot-em-up along with everything else.

It seems what you're looking for is the "space simulator" game, and unfortunately I think that genre really petered out in the late 90s. If you liked Wing Commander, you might try Privateer (1993) which was sort of the original open-world "kill bad guys, do missions, trade stuff" game. There's a port for newer operating systems available. A newer game in a similar vein is Freelancer, which I didn't like quite as much as Privateer, but it has its fans. Freespace and its sequel are also good options from the late 90s.

Strike Suit Zero came out recently, and that might also scratch the itch. I haven't played it myself.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:15 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The X3 games are an absolutely wonderful series. However, if you found EVE time consuming I wouldn't recommend them. A significant amount of time is spent in the game repeating similar tasks/quests for different factions. You have to have higher rankings with a faction to buy better items/ships etc.

The X3 games are also quite pretty, but after a dozen or so hours of play the frequently used graphics and speech clips are somewhat overdone. It won't push a current computer to its limits. I was able to run the highest settings without issue on a Core 2 Duo e5700, 4GB of ram and an ATI 4870.

If you do pick up a copy, I recommend X3: Albion Prelude which is the latest iteration of X3 and a standalone expansion. It appears to only be $5 on Steam currently. I also highly recommend reading through x3wiki.com which will help explain the X3 universe and more specifically what the ship types and classifications are.

If you are looking for a 4X, I have recently been playing Endless Space which is good but not great. I have to also heartily recommend XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Additionally, while you aren't looking for an RTS, Sins of a Solar Empire is a wonderful scifi based RTS series.

If all else fails, go play Homeworld 2.
posted by graxe at 5:17 AM on July 2, 2013

Have you played Gratuitous Space Battles? I haven't but it looks cool. Lots of PEW PEW PEW and big spaceships.
posted by pravit at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2013

Haven't played it - but enjoyed the videos (and coming to space from a different angle): Kerbal Space Program
- looks time consuming though.
posted by motdiem2 at 6:33 AM on July 2, 2013

Seconding Kerbal Space Program; it's mostly a sandbox in which to run a space program with an unlimited budget (and an unlimited corps of expendable, but a little adorable, astronauts). The YouTube channel of Scott Manley is loaded with videos of KSP that will give you an idea of the gameplay.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:38 AM on July 2, 2013

Gratuitous Space Battles is probably an option, yeah. It's fun, it's pretty, and it's available on Steam. Might be a touch RTS-y though.

Stay away from X3. It really is basically single-player EVE.
posted by xbonesgt at 6:48 AM on July 2, 2013

Does anyone have an opinion about Endless Space? It often shows up for sale on Steam, and would seem to fit the bill...
posted by Going To Maine at 6:52 AM on July 2, 2013

Does anyone have an opinion about Endless Space?

Endless Space is pretty good. It's turn-based and has huge technology/research trees -- very much like Civilization but with space empires. The interfaces are gorgeous.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:22 AM on July 2, 2013

You might like Sword of the Stars. It is old and won't push anything to its limits, but good fun.
posted by goo at 7:39 AM on July 2, 2013

I wouldn't recommend the sequel though.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:41 AM on July 2, 2013

Wing Commander, X-Wing, etc.

If you've never played Freespace 2, you should absolutely do so -- it's easily the heir to Tie Fighter, a sprawling starfighter epic with a great variety of missions, a very entertaining story, and capital ships that make you feel tiny. Thanks to Volition, the source was made public years ago, and I'm sure you could make the source port tax even a pretty modern PC. The engine has been used to make some pretty impressive fan projects, including some set in the Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 universes.

Star Control - a really old strategy type game that I've replayed many times

If you mean Star Control 1, which did have a fun strategic mode, might I recommend Star Control II: the Ur-Quan Masters? Apologies if you've already played it, but it's a true classic, an amazing fusion of rock-solid gameplay, memorable dialogue, a dozens of alien races, and a well-realized, dynamic galaxy that's a blast to play in once you get over a somewhat ambiguous and challenging introduction. Since Toys for Bob made the code for the 3DO version of the game public, the game has been made available on a gagillion platforms with optional voice acting and other enhancements included on the console release. Though UQM is free and identical to the original, Star Control II is also available in its original form (with the original Star Control as well) here.

On the lighter side of things is Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space, an excellent 2D distillation of the spirit of exploration and adventure and whatnot that space opera stirs up. As an explorer with a short contract, you leave your home star system in search of treasure, allies, and conquest. You can customize your fleet with a great variety of engines, weapons, and special systems to help you survive the hazards of uncharted space. It's fast, it's fun, and games can be as quick or as long as you want (anywhere from 5 minutes to a half-hour, depending on how you play). You might end up in a black hole on your first turn, capture an interstellar thief, or save the galaxy from the invading Kawangi -- all over the course of a long coffee break. Digital Eel recently succeeded on a Kickstarter to fund a sequel (technically, the third game in the series -- the first one, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, is free!), but Weird Worlds really stands on its own. There are a few mods that extend playability even further.

You might want to give Space Rangers 2 a try. The universe is generated anew every time you play, and dozens of independent agents pursue their own goals while you trade, hijack shipments, or fight back against the encroaching Dominators. There are some action elements, but it's generally pretty sedate. Very interesting design, and though it does have an RTS side-thingie, you can opt out of it at the beginning of the game and you never have to touch it again.

Going a little ways back to the mid-90s (and to handy utlities like DOSBox), Nomad was a pretty neat 3D adaptation of the Starflight formula. The action isn't very sophisticated, and the combat can be frustrating, but it's pretty fun.

As kind of an aside, since it doesn't seem to fall into the genres you're asking about, if you're up for a modern space opera action-RPG/3rd-person shooter, the Mass Effect series is pretty great. It's nothing like the games you mentioned in terms of gameplay, but damned if it isn't a fun universe to explore, shoot bad guys in, and even just to read about. I've often found myself pausing the game just to peruse its ever-expanding in-game encyclopedia. (Do note that I've only played the first two; the third game in the series created vast quantities of Internet rage in a number of circles.) If you're a Star Wars buff, Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, The Sith Lords, are both quite entertaining, and aren't nearly as action-heavy as the Mass Effect series.

Back to spacier stuff, if you're up for a little bit of trade and a more laid-back, sandboxy experience, Hardwar is a very interesting (though somewhat difficult to find) first-person game about commerce, combat, and conspiracy that takes place on Titan. Although it looks a bit clunky now, the game has a really neat sense of place about it, and there's nothing like coming out of a tunnel at top speed only to find yourself in a race to scavenge loot after a big fight between bandits and the police. A very unique take on the Elite formula.

If you're into strategy games, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is absolutely worth your time. Simply put, it's Civilization in space. Less simply put, it's an extremely replayable turn-based strategy game where distinct, well-written factions struggle for supremacy and survival on a world beyond human comprehension. The expansion, Alien Crossfire (included in the GoG release), introduces several new factions that you can mix and match at your leisure to create your own alternate history.

Also of note in the Civ (or 4X, as the genre is sometimes called) vein is Galactic Civilizations 2. It's not my favorite (I find the grid-based movement kind kind of interferes with my suspension of disbelief), but it has been well-received, and there are a number of mods for it. Endless Space has likewise not quite scratched the Master of Orion 2 itch for me -- it might be the bland tech tree or the confusing combat, I'm not sure -- but it has also been treated relatively well critically, and is worth a look.

Kerbal Space Program and Gratuitous Space Battles are both difficult sells for you in my opinion, KSB particularly. Kerbal Space Program is a space game that starts from first principles -- your first few rocket designs will probably fall over on the launchpad, and there is no one in space (as far as I know) to talk to, trade with, or blow up. The feats that dedicated fans are capable of are pretty amazing, but you'll need some serious aerospace chops to make progress.

Gratuitous Space Battles, on the other hand, is a fairly involved strategy game where you design spacecraft, from tiny fighters to giant battleships, arrange them in an attack formation, set their AI priorities, and watch them blow each other up in a slow, non-interactive ballet of destruction. There is also a lot of trial and error involved, and though there is a campaign mode, it's a fleet duel game at its core with little context but the (admittedly quite badass!) ship designs. It can be fun, but it's also a little...lonely? Yeah, that might be it.

This is just a quick rundown of stuff that came to mind -- although you mentioned that you're not into RTSes as a rule, there's much to be said about the game Homeworld that should really only be said after you've completed the first few missions. Watch a Let's Play if you have to -- it's brilliant. Startopia is a unique, charming management game where you administrate a space station and attempt to make it hospitable for a wide variety of alien races.

Hope some of these suggestions help get you started!
posted by lumensimus at 7:45 AM on July 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

The other game that gets periodic mentions on Rockpapershotgun is AI War. Probably won't tax your machine overmuch, and I believe it's a good idea to buy the expansions because they improve the AI, but supposed to be good if you want space combat.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:00 AM on July 2, 2013

Two more games of note:

Drox Operative, an entertaining action-RPG that takes place in dynamic, randomly generated star clusters. You play as a member of a secretive faction dedicated to promoting order in the universe, but how you go about that is entirely up to you. You can promote peace among the races of a sector, ride at the head of a conquering space fleet and become the bane of all who oppose you and your allies, or just ignore the whole thing and make a ton of money on your own (being rich is close enough to promoting order for the Drox Operatives, I guess). Races will offer quests, colonize the sector, and go to war completely on their own, and you can outfit and staff your starship as you see fit. Pretty cool stuff.

Starships Unlimited, a pausable real-time 4X game that I found pretty brisk and fun. The diplomacy model is straightforward, you never have all that many starships, and expansion and maintenance of your empire is simple, but never boring. It's a little tough to describe, but it's worth a peek, I think!
posted by lumensimus at 8:09 AM on July 2, 2013

Evochron Mercenary is a first-person, you-are-piloting-your-ship space mercenary/trading/combat/racing/adventuring game that also has multiplayer, and the ability to land on planet surfaces (including walking around in mechs once you do).
posted by destructive cactus at 8:52 AM on July 2, 2013

I love this question.

Some that I played back in the day and not mentioned are from Malfador Machinations. Space Empires IV and Space Empires V are 4X space strategy in the vein of Master of Orion. There are also 1, 2, 3 versions released as shareware, which it's possible can still be found. I may have borrowed my handle from these games. Space Empires: Star Fury is a pausable real-time trade and pirate and battle game.
posted by jraenar at 12:34 PM on July 2, 2013


It's available from www.gog.com for ten bucks and is one of the best games ever. Not least because the source code has been released under and open licence and every part of the engine has been upgraded by the Source Code Project (install the game, install the SCP, it's pretty foolproof).

It has wonderful music, mile-long spaceships, vast ravening beams of deadly coruscating energy that would make E E 'Doc' Smith weep with joy to cut the mile-long spaceships in half, a dark, ambiguous plot, fantastic space fighty gameplay and a great script with a villain who gazes sombrely out at the swirling nebulae and monologues about humanity's impending doom.

Seriously, it's just fab. And you don't even need a joystick to play it, it plays fine with mouse and keyboard.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:42 PM on July 2, 2013

Source Code Project is here.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:44 PM on July 2, 2013

Response by poster: These are all really great games, very excited for LimitTheory, Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen. So far i've purchased the X3 Gold Box on Steam for $13 and Kinetic Void, which just so happens to be a daily deal of an alpha for $10. I think the Homeworld games were kind of what I was looking for.

I've played Alpha Centauri long ago, seen FTL on my friends computer and it wasn't quite my thing. Star Control II is really in my all time top games. I played Kerbal Space Program in the beta (?) when it was a free download, and although it's been expanded radically, it is fun to play with for a bit, but I'm no aeronautics engineer.

Thanks for all of the great suggestions, I will probably lose countless hours trying out many of these and apparently have some really great games to look forward to in the next year or so.

Lastly, I wish I had put this in as a reference as well, but Earth and Beyond from some years ago was my first MMO. I LOVED that game quite seriously still hold a grudge against EA for buying up the development company and shutting it down.
posted by efalk at 12:23 AM on July 3, 2013

You might be interested in Miner Wars 2081. It's still in development, but there are players who record on youtube if you want a sample of gameplay.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun (as mentioned previously) is an awesome PC gaming resource. Do a search for a game you liked, and then just browse tags and read reviews.
posted by mikurski at 1:34 AM on July 3, 2013

I was always a fan of Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity series. It's relatively simplistic, but a lot of fun. Also 2D, which I like, but others may or may not. Unfortunately it doesn't look like Ambrosia ever does discounts or anything, so even though the newest version was released years ago it's still priced like a new game.
posted by vasi at 1:36 AM on July 3, 2013

Oolite is a free, modernized version of Elite. Graphics are 3D but not fantastic (amateur-level opengl). It's fun, though, and doesn't cost anything.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:16 AM on July 3, 2013

Whatever you do, if you're going to buy it on Steam, wait until next week. All signs indicate the summer sale will be starting next Thursday.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:27 PM on July 4, 2013

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