July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon’s surface, with Armstrong delivering one of the most iconic quotes in history to millions of viewers and listeners on Earth: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” While not many have actually been in space, millions have traveled to the depths of our galaxy and fictional galaxies in video games. In celebration of the momentous accomplishment, we decided to put together a list of the best space games you can play today.
Best Space games
FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL: Faster Than Light is one of the best real-time strategy games around. It also happens to aptly demonstrate the unknown dangers of space travel. Part ship management, part exploration, part challenging real-time strategy combat, FTL has a wealth of depth. Viewed from a top-down perspective, your job is to navigate your ship across eight different planetary systems in an attempt to deliver important information to allied crews. All the while enemy fleets are chasing you down, trying to destroy your ship and kill your crew.
As a roguelike, each adventure in FTL is procedurally generated. The randomization makes each mission feel unique and somewhat limits your ability to remain prepared. Just like space exploration, you can plan for what you think to expect, but things can go haywire in a hurry. FTL is available on PC, Mac, and iOS.
Elite Dangerous is probably the closest representation of the Milky Way galaxy in games. As a 1:1 representation of the galaxy, it’s absolutely massive. What you do with your time flying around space is really up to you. You can become a mercenary, a simple trader, or even just explore at a leisurely pace. Frontier Developments plc consistently updates the game to add new layers to an overarching narrative that has already seen extraterrestrial encounters and a slew of memorable moments for its dedicated player base.
Elite Dangerous isn’t for everyone, but if you want to feel the vastness of space, you should definitely check it out. If you have an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you can explore the Milky Way in VR.
Kerbal Space Program
Move over NASA, the Kerbal Space Center is the next big thing in space exploration. In Kerbal Space Program, you run a space program manned by tiny green humanoids named Kerbals. At the space station, located on the whimsical planet Kerbin, you direct Kerbals to create spacecrafts such as rockets and rovers and then use them to launch into space to complete missions. The ultimate goal is accomplish these objectives without everything going up in flames. Kerbal Space Program has cartoonish visuals but it uses a realistic physics engine and requires attention to detail to build successful crafts for exploration. Along with pre-determined missions and activities, Kerbal Space Program supports mods to add more layers to the space station fun.
Kerbal Space Program is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky had an inauspicious start. The ambitious space exploration game from Hello Games was heavily advertised and hyped-up before its 2016 launch. The underwhelming launch saw players complaining that there simply wasn’t enough interesting things to do across the games 18 quintillion (really) planets. But No Man’s Sky has gotten its act together in the years since, and that’s all because of the dedication of the talented team at Hello Games. New features such as base building, land vehicles, dedicated missions, an increased emphasis on survival, and multiplayer support via the massive Next update have made No Man’s Sky a genuinely great experience.
No Man’s Sky‘s procedurally generated world is utterly enormous in scope, and it’s now easy to recommend it to any PS4, Xbox One, and PC users. You can also play it in VR on PSVR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift.
A 2019 game of the year contender for many, Outer Wilds is the newest game on this list. An open world adventure game set in a charming universe, you only have 22 minutes before the sun turns into a supernova and kills everyone. With each cycle, you learn more about the world and its characters that can be used for subsequent runs. Outer Wilds has a lot of personality, and that starts with the ship. The rickety ship is hilarious to control.
The first time we launched into space, we quickly developed a problem that required us to exit the ship to repair. The problem? We floated away to our death. Outer Wilds is a humorous and incredibly enjoyable spin on space exploration games, many of which usually try to adhere to realism. Outer Wilds captures the sense of the unknown, all the while teaching you new things that put you closer and closer to the know.
You can grab Outer Wilds on Xbox One and PC. It’s free for Game Pass subscribers.
In Dead Space, you play as spaceship engineer Isaac Clarke, tasked with restoring functionality to the USG Ishimura. The mission isn’t what it seems, though. Everyone on the ship has been killed and transformed into scary monsters dubbed Necromorphs. This third-person horror game is one of the best games from the Xbox 360 era. Armed with awesome gadgets, you have to wade through the ominous hallways and rooms of the USG Ishimura, dispatching of Necromorphs throughout.
Compelling action gameplay and a riveting atmosphere make for a haunting and wholly enjoyable ride through a space mission gone terribly wrong. Dead Space can be played on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PC.
Bioware may have fell into a rut with Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem, but the original Mass Effect trilogy is one of the greatest space sagas of all time. The original Mass Effect introduced us to a cast of wonderful characters, including protagonist Commander Shepard. Taking place in the Milky Way galaxy in the year 2183, humankind is at the mercy of a machine invasion.
A role-playing game at its core, Mass Effect reinvented how we viewed choice-based moments, both in dialogue and action. Mass Effect was such a brilliant game because of how it expertly developed its characters and settled you into its aptly-created futuristic world. Sound gameplay and an even better story helped Mass Effect kick off the greatest science fiction trilogy we’ve seen in games.
Mass Effect is available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PC.
Super Mario Galaxy
Mario had been jumping and skipping for more than twenty years when Super Mario Galaxy turned platforming on its head. In Galaxy‘s worlds and levels, objects each had their own gravitational force. You could routinely walk not just forwards, but to the side and even upside down. The changes to gravity allowed Mario to fly through the air and make incredibly lengthy jumps to navigate the levels. Super Mario Galaxy retained the star-collecting goal of all 3D Mario games, but it greatly modified the means of collecting them.
Super Mario Galaxy is the greatest platformer we’ve ever played with a space setting. Its sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2, is also phenomenal. If you still have a Nintendo Wii or Wii U collecting dust, Super Mario Galaxy is well worth your time. Please re-release these games on Switch, Nintendo.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order tells an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II. Fourteen years later, in 1960, B.J. Blazkowicz comes to an asylum where he had been held after suffering a head injury during the war. Obviously unhappy with the result of the war, B.J. and the resistance fighters embark on a mission to rid the world of Nazi scum. What does this have to do with space? Well, one of the game’s best missions takes place on the moon. After the war, the Nazis set up Lunar Base. Now you get to kill Nazis…in space. How many games let you do that?
If you’re still not sold on The New Order on a space games list, listen to B.J.’s declaration. Almost as inspiring as Neil Armstrong’s words when he first set foot on the moon, right? Wolfenstein: The New Order is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
To the Moon
Johnny Wyles dying wish is to go to the Moon, but he has no idea why it means so much to him. A pair of doctors use tech to let Johnny relive the memories of his life. To the Moon winds up as a heart-wrenching love story that will definitely make you at least a tad emotional. Is this game about space exploration? Not really, but Johnny’s wish to go to the moon is a beautiful metaphor for his life, both triumphs and regrets. Wonderfully written and rendered in charming 16-bit visuals, Johnny’s journey to understand his dying desire is as improbably excellent as space travel is challenging.
To the Moon is available on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. It launches on Nintendo Switch this summer.
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