Space Simulation - the dead genre of games
May 17, 2006 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me some good sci-fi space simulation games I'm missing.

Yeah, I like me a dead genre.

I've played (assume I've played the series where appropriate): X-Wing, Independence War, Freespace, Elite, Wing Commander, and maybe some others I've forgotten.

I want some quality single player story driven joystick fare. In space. Open-endedness like Elite or I-War 2 is cool, but not necessary.

I have not played the X series or the free Babylon 5 game, are there any recommendations there?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by matthewr at 11:23 AM on May 17, 2006

Have you tried Oolite, a modern reimplementation of Elite? The basic game may be old hat if you've played Elite, but there are enough expansion packs with missions and so on available that it seemed worth mentioning.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:37 AM on May 17, 2006

You say you've played Elite. You should dig up a copy of the sequel, Frontier, and give that a try. It's one of the few games to feature realistic Newtonian dynamics and orbital motion, coupled with gravitational wells and conservation of momentum. All of which made it less intuitive to play, especially in a strong gravity well, compared to the pseudo-aerodynamic kinetics of most space "sims".

There's also Braben's Zarch/Virus, which was planet-bound but had interesting control mechanisms for the ship. In a similar ship controller vein, Descent is rather single-task but has a nice 6 degrees of freedom.

Finally, Colony Wars for the PlayStation is one of my favourite bubblegum space sim games. And it has James Earl Jones voiceovers - what could be better?
posted by meehawl at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2006

Homeworld and Homeworld 2 have the best feeling of being in space ever. They're more RTS strategy games than sims, but you should check them out anyways. Homeworld 1 was more difficult (and therefore fun, for me) but Homeworld 2 had massively improved graphics and resolved a lot of my interface and micromanagement complaints from the first one. They both have an amazing sense of scale, capital ships feel MASSIVE.

Homeworld 2 is worth it for using the Dreadnaught alone, it has this ridiculous beam weapon that the first time it fires, your eyes will widen and then you'll stand out of your chair and go "Wheeeeeeee ahahahahaa!" while cackling and dancing a jig.
posted by spatula at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2006

Starshatter is pretty fun. I haven't played the full version, but when it was in alpha/beta, I was a pretty religious player. It was a bit rough around the edges but fun in general then.

B5:IFH is probably the "free b5 game" you're talking about. I enjoy it, although its pretty short. Multiplayer skirmish is fun, but only on a LAN.

Vegastrike is a decent open-source implementation of a lot of Elite-like ideas. The most polished product using the engine is a remake of Wing Commander: Privateer. There're two flavors: Gemini Gold and Privateer Remake/WCUniverse; the former is more of a strict re-creation of Privateer, while the latter aims to eventually encompass the entire Wing Commander chronology. Vegastrike is still pretty rough around the edges, though, so your milage may vary.

I'm sure there are others floating around the edges of my awareness; I'll post more later if I dig them up.
posted by Alterscape at 11:44 AM on May 17, 2006

I second spatula.

It's not exactly what you requested, but those are not only top-notch space games, but are also the only RTS I know of that really utilize 3D space.
posted by uncle harold at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2006

You could start drooling over Spore.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 11:51 AM on May 17, 2006

If you like the trading aspect of Elite, you should check out Escape Velocity Nova. Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but I think you'll like it.
posted by Prospero at 11:53 AM on May 17, 2006

"Battle space pirates on the tenth planet Isis in Access Software's space flight simulation Echelon (with RealSound)"

A DOS game that made use of the PC speaker for digitized sound.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:53 AM on May 17, 2006

Freespace 2 with any number of graphical updates is at the top of the pile. Here's a project packed full of goodies, including the FS2 install & FS1_port/cutscenes.
posted by prostyle at 11:58 AM on May 17, 2006

You MUST play Space Rangers 2. Stupid name, phenomenal game. Sort of... EVNova writ large. (Escape Velocity Nova is also good, btw, but Space Rangers 2 is far better.)

It comes on-disk with Starforce copy protection, but apparently there's a patch to remove it... the game shipped before the Starforce people went completely psycho.

It's hard to explain why it's so good.... it's fundamentally the same game that's been done a zillion times... you start, nearly broke, in a wimpy spaceship. The Universe is a hostile and uncaring place. Carve out a piece of it for yourself. The thing is, there are several hundred NPCs and many dozens of planets, and they're all trying to do pretty much the same thing... you're in competition with zillions of AIs. And the entire sector of the galaxy is under attack by extremely nasty robots. The overall situation is quite fluid... the robots attempt invasions, and may or may not succeed... the planets organize counterattacks. There are TONS OF THINGS going on ALL THE TIME, whether or not you're there to see them. Traders, smugglers, hired escorts, planetary militias, pirates, anti-pirate bounty hunters..... It's like a little clockwork universe, in a sense.

In terms of actual play, it's a real-time 2-d space adventure/simulator, but switches to turn-based in combat. And it has sub-games that represent practically every other genre, from arcadey shootemups to RTS to, get this, *text adventures*. They're the choose-your-path type, rather than full parser typing games, but still.

I played the European import, which had some rather spotty translations; the authors don't natively speak English. The humor still came through, but the phrasing was often quite awkward. I've been told that the US version has been retranslated and is much better. I believe the link I gave you above is the correct version.

One of the best space games ever was Star Control 2. They've done a complete free remake: The Ur-Quan Masters. This is a port of the 3DO version, which was a full talkie. Completely free, and an amazingly good game. The graphics are a bit dated (just 2d), but still pleasant. Great story, lots of humor.... some juvenile bits, but the original was, geeze, early 90s? Well worth your time, and did I mention free?

Of the two, Star Control 2 has a lot more style and humor, but Space Rangers 2 may actually be a better game. It's a bit more clinical, but it's far more open-ended and freewheeling.
posted by Malor at 12:22 PM on May 17, 2006

Oh, let me emphasize... Space Rangers is 2-D, not 3-D, and doesn't use a joystick. (same with Star Control 2, actually.) But don't let that put you off. They're both great games.
posted by Malor at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2006

Another one I just thought of: "Nexus: The Jupiter Incident" is almost exactly what you're asking for. Linear, a series of missions, but quite good.
posted by Malor at 12:31 PM on May 17, 2006

For something completely different, how about trying the Roger Wilco - Space Quest games?

Cheesy DOS graphics, but hilarious story line. Be forewarned that it is not a space sim, but rather a kind of role playing game in a linear sense. You may not like the games, but I believe that every space game junkie should at least try one out. More like Monty Python than Star Wars.

You may be able to find a version on the 'net. I am unsure about the copyright issues however. It may be abandonware, but it has been a lot of years since I played them.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 12:51 PM on May 17, 2006

This is sort of what you are looking for, but not quite. It's an RTS/FPS space game. From what I remember very complex (and not in the Battlecruise way complex), but very satisfying. Allegiance, used to be a microsoft product, but released to the community.

It's multi-player only, but it's free.
posted by eurasian at 1:02 PM on May 17, 2006

I can second Starshatter. It's not really story-driven though--it's very much a light military sim type of game--the missions aren't scripted but dynamically generated, and losses and wins take place and affect a larger campaign. It's akin to something like Falcon 4, albeit much less complex--but the same gist of feeling as if you're playing a part in a much larger conflict and not defining the entire conflict.

I've enjoyed the X games, or at least 2 and 3, but cannot recommend them if open-endedness is only a tangential concern, because while there is a, well, let's just say that story has flaws. Blatant self-link to a quasi-review of X3, which would be the one to try, IMO. Be advised that it's Starforced, however.
posted by Drastic at 1:26 PM on May 17, 2006

Wow, how can nobody have mentioned EVE Online? I just started a trial account recently and it's pretty damn spiffy. A lot like Escape Velocity and its ilk, but in 3d, and with other players as well as AIs.

I'm not positive I will keep up with it, but that's more due to time constraints than game quality--I read a thread of reviews of the game and a repeated point is quite true...even those of us who may not even like the game a lot ourselves will heartily recommend it to others.

Anyway, you didn't specify whether you dis/liked MMORPGs, so I thought I'd throw it out.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 1:36 PM on May 17, 2006

If you want something "joystick-y", I wouldn't recommend the X series. I played X2, and it's an amazing game- don't get me wrong. But it's all about trading and empire building. Combat is almost secondary.

Homeworld 2's a good choice. And dirt cheap, at least for PC.
posted by mkultra at 2:19 PM on May 17, 2006

One of the best space games ever was Star Control 2. They've done a complete free remake: The Ur-Quan Masters. This is a port of the 3DO version, which was a full talkie. Completely free, and an amazingly good game.

seconded -- I discovered this recently, and it's a lot of fun. Though my patience with the combat sequences is somewhat lower than it probably would have been if I were 12 or so and playing this for the first time.
posted by advil at 2:50 PM on May 17, 2006

I'm here to second Space Rangers 2. I just got it this week and it's kept me up and sitting at the computer even when my guts hurt (I just had an appendectomy). Compelling open-ended space-trading-and-fighting sim thingy. I haven't even scratched the surface of what you can do with it -- no text adventures yet, for instance.

It's only $30 and comes with the original Space Rangers -- a strangely similar game -- as kind of an extra bonus.

Geez. Just typing this is making me want to go and play.
posted by atholbrose at 3:53 PM on May 17, 2006

Seconding or Thirding Freespace 2, it's really a great game.
Another worth looking into is Tachyon: The Fringe (an extra special bonus is that it's voiced by the god-like Bruce Campbell.) The game itself if ok, but they included a button called 'slide' or something like that, which switches the game into a more realistic space-like physics (as opposed to atmosphere dependent combat plane physics that most space games use) i've never seen another game before or since that had this and it's a shame, because it totally changes the way you fight.
posted by quin at 4:34 PM on May 17, 2006

Battlecruiser 3000AD?
posted by Ritchie at 9:05 PM on May 17, 2006

Second for Freelancer. It has multiplayer options, and some of the mods add a lot to the game. I remember spending many hours using the Rebalance mod with five or six friends.
posted by Fully Completely at 11:50 PM on May 17, 2006

Thanks a lot, plenty of good stuff here.

The game itself if ok, but they included a button called 'slide' or something like that, which switches the game into a more realistic space-like physics (as opposed to atmosphere dependent combat plane physics that most space games use) i've never seen another game before or since that had this and it's a shame, because it totally changes the way you fight.

Play either Independence War game. Correct Newtonian physics. To make it playable, there's computer assisted flight that tries to approximate X-Wing style spaceflight (ship flies forward at a set speed), but a big part of the flying is overriding that with manual thruster controls and you can even turn the assistance off for special moves.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:37 AM on May 18, 2006

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