Aliens have been a subject of our video games from the very start, after all, games like Space Invaders and first Metroid games are the literal pioneers of the industry. It is very meta, in a sense, that they would take space and aliens as their subjects. But today, we won’t be going back in time. I could wax nostalgic about old arcade and console games for hours, but today I’m here to see how the subject matter evolved as it certainly lost its popularity lately. Has it lost the edge though? Well, we’ll find out.
This is a updated top 20 list of video games with aliens and space as a theme, belonging to no particular genre. Because of this, they will appeal to very different tastes, so there is no particular order to this one. And now let me take you… To the stars!
20. Crysis series
|Release year:||2007 (Crysis), 2011 (Crysis 2), 2013 (Crysis 3)|
|Developer||Crytek,Crytek UK, Crytek Budapest|
The original Crysis remains famous for its hardware-melting potential system requirements, and, to a lesser degree, the fun players can have with the nanosuit, a powered armour granting the player character several powerful abilities. All of which will come in handy when you’re fighting alien invaders called Ceph in both a literal and an urban jungle across several games.
Technically the Ceph aren’t new invaders, given that they’ve been around for a long time, but the Crysis games detail their recent resurgence and their new attempt to take over the world. While the original Crysis and expansion Crysis Warhead the events take place on forested islands near Philippines, but Crysis 2 and 3 take the action to New York, now largely taken over by the Ceph.
19. Destroy All Humans!
|Release year:||2005 (original), 2020 (remake)|
|Developer||Pandemic Studio (original), Black Forest Games (remake)|
In Destroy All Humans! is a rare game where you play as an alien, a classic Roswell grey. You know the type: short stature, big head, huge eyes, a typical Grey. Aside from the one expressed in the game’s titles, your task is collecting human genetic material. It contains old, uncorrupted DNA of your own species, which is going to be very useful for the cloning process that keeps your people alive and capable of conquering the galaxy.
The game is rooted in the aesthetic and themes of science fiction stories and artwork from the 1950s and 1960s, which is fitting, given the game in set in 1959, although with a strongly satirical and comedic attitude. You get a flying saucer, anal probes, disintegration rays and even psychic powers. It’s a complete package, and it makes the game feel a bit like the “Mars Attacks” movie, but playable.
18. Elite Dangerous
Elite Dangerous is a huge game. Set in the 34th century, this sci fi, space-age simulator features hundreds of star systems you can fly to, explore, and ply your trade in. There are space dogfights to have, and credits to earn. There are also aliens integrated into the backstory of Elite: Dangerous’ world by the virtue of previous games in the series. They are called Thargoids, and their technology is based on biomechanic designs.
During the events of ED they are making another attempt at conquering the human-occupied space, and it’s mostly up to the players to see how that goes. Their spaceships looks nothing like human vessels, making for surprisingly threatening silhouettes when they emerge over a planet. Hopefully your ship and your allies are up for a hard fight if you want to take them down.
17. Endless Space 1 & 2
|Release year:||2012 (ES1), 2017 (ES2)|
Endless Space games are a series (of two games at the time of writing) or 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) games set in an explicitly science fiction, high0-technology space setting. At the beginning of each game you get to pick the nation you’re going to lead turn-by-turn to glorious future among the stars, and while you have human nations, there are also many alien flavours.
In the first game there are for example the diplomatic Amoeba, or the Harmony populated by living crystals. The second game brings people like the Cravers, essentially living weapons, or the curious and highly advanced Sophons. Each species has different affinities, making them suitable to certain playstyles more than to others as you try to conquer new systems or extend gentle influence.
16. FTL: Faster Than Light
As a nice off-brand Star trek game it can be taken for, FTL: Faster Than Light has a number or aliens you’re going to see both on your own crew and during your adventures. If you want to, you can make your team composed fully of aliens, each of them perfect for a different task, such as the Zoltan who, being composed of energy, can power some subsystem of your ship. Weird, but effective.
Your mission In FTL is to deliver critical information to your fleet seemingly on the other side of the known space. The problem is that you’re hunted by the forces of the xenophobic rebels your faction is fighting against. There are several sector to jump through, each with twenty waypoints, and all are going to be procedurally generated to make each playthrough unique and refreshingly challenging.
15. Halo series
|Release year:||2001 (Halo: Combat Evolved) – 2018 (Halo: Fireteam Raven)|
|Developer||Bungie, Ensemble Studios, 343 Industries, Creative Assembly|
The Halo franchise is one of the most popular, and most successful, science-fiction video game series, with a detailed world with a lot of history, and a lot of conflict between the forced of humanity, with power armour-clad Spartans as its poster children, against an alien empire called the Covenant. Normally aliens are target practice, but occasionally they are allies, or even playable factions.
There are several alien species present in the Covenant, such as the short-statured Unggoy, perceptive Kig-Yar or the leading species, the San’Shyuum, nicknamed Prophets by Human forces. A lot of the conflict in the series revolves around the technology of an ancient species, the Forerunners, such as the Halo Array hiding the secret of defeating the Flood, a parasitic alien species.
14. Into the Breach
Into The Breach is a compact turn-based game about protecting the Earth from the onslaught of Vek, massive aliens easily comparable to kaiju, which is only fitting, given that you’re fighting them with the help of a massive mechanised walker. And although the game is presented in a minimalistic form: an eight-by-eight grid, there is a great sense of scale thanks to tiny cities and landscape features.
The Vek come in many shapes and sizes, including the variants: minions, Alphas, and the Leaders. Most Vek looks like arthropods: scorpions, spiders, a beetles, etc., all grown to immense sizes. Thankfully you can skilfully crowd-control them so that not oly they present a smaller threat to infrastructure you’re protecting, but also, with luck, killing them with the environment.
13. Saints Row IV
The Saints Row games aren’t normally associated with aliens. They are about gangs, occasionally weird humour, and being a more light-hearted Grand Theft Auto. When aliens came in SR4, it was a wild idea, which pretty much paid off, because thanks to the introduction of the Zin Empire and its technology we got to play around with superpowers, in a virtual reality the protagonist can enter.
Your nemesis in the game is an alien warlord called Zinyak, who, in addition to being a towering alien with strength and fighting skill to match, is a very eloquent and cultured, as opposed to the Boss, who’s famously rather vulgar and rough around the edges. Regardless, you’ll fight through legion of Zinyak’s Zin troops both in the simulation and in real space.
12. Star Wars games
|Release year:||1983 – infinity|
|Developer||Many of them|
Star Wars as a setting is full of aliens of all shapes and sizes, many of them having a vaguely humanoid silhouette. As almost anything in the expended Star Wars universe, most species have detailed biological and cultural background, especially ones that appear in clear view in movies and games. There are dozens of SW games, so we’re going to present three which feature aliens a lot.
The first two come from the same series: Knights of the Old Republic. As role-playing games, they feature a lot of interaction with NPCs, which can also be your crewmates, such a Twi’Lek teen Mission, or a Zabrak engineer Bao Dur. The other game is a more recent one, Jedi: Fallen Order which will have you interact (through fighting, mostly) with many aliens, sentient or otherwise.
Spore was quite famous around the time of release, because it promised great things. Chief among them an opportunity to design your own alien lifeform and take on an evolutionary journey from a basic organism to galactic conquerors. Although it has cartoonish visual style, the alien-maker subsystem is truly powerful, and allows the players to make really impressive, detailed life forms.
Another cool thing about Spore is that you could upload your creations to the game’s servers, and your creations could feature in somebody else’s game, as a rival species as they explore the world or the galaxy. No matter how crazy the creations wouldn’t be, the game would do its best to use each body part according to its purpose, resulting in crazy-looking aliens moving like nothing you’ve ever seen.
10. No Man’s Sky
Many men fly. No Man’s Sky is a game that became a hotbed of controversy due to one Sean Murray. It was initially underwhelming, to say the least, missing a lot of the advertised features. However, the team kept working on it, steadily adding features and tweaking the game until it actually became really good and full of content.
No Man’s Sky is a co-operative space survival sim. You can gather increasingly rare and difficult to obtain resources to craft new vehicles, build bases and tools and explore the galaxy with self-made ships to complete quests for various alien factions. There’s a really fantastic variety to the kind of biomes and creatures you will encounter, and with a couple of friends at your side, it successfully conveys the spirit of space pioneering.
9. Gears of War 4
To the dismay of Games Workshop, one cannot copyright a chainsaw. Shifting somewhat in tone, we have a fantastic third person shooter from Microsoft and one of their flagship IPs. The Gears series remains a solid staple of gaming, with virtually every iteration bringing something new to the table. Here, the aliens are vicious and powerful invaders whose design is truly worthy of pangalactic villains.
Gears of War is about one thing—brutal action. This is the kind of game where you’re supposed to feel like a grizzled badass as you pit your human spirit against the filthy xenos and hack them to pieces with chainsaw mounted on your gun. And with the next game in the series scheduled to arrive on 2019, it may be wise to pick this one up and see what the… Buzz is about (I apologize, I really do).
A psychological horror… In space! Published by Bethesda and taking a whole lot after the Bioshock series, Prey is a very nuanced experience. On top of pretty unique aliens, who over the course of the game are very mysterious, Prey explores a lot of the sci-fi storytelling staples like simulation theory and inverts the “are we alone out here” question by framing aliens as creatures capable of assuming the form of any object.
Prey does a lot of things, but like Bioshock, it’s primarily a puzzle-filled FPS, with an interesting and occasionally profound narrative. It can be both very suspenseful and very satisfying, what with how it realizes player movement and its alien designs are really unique in the medium.
7. Dead Space 3
Actual horror… In space! Developed by now unfortunately defunct Visceral, Dead Space is a series that is nothing if not true to the name. More so than anything, it takes the idea of cosmic horror, claustrophobia and paranoia to the extreme. Dead Space is right up there with Amnesia in the group of horror games that managed to worm their way into the mainstream despite the niche nature of the genre.
The initial gimmick that made the first game stand out was the nature of combat. See, the way you have to approach the dreadful, alien enemies of the game, is by targeting their razor sharp appendages. This different approach fundamentally changes how you have to play the game and this formula has been perfected to a fine edge, making the 3rd entry the most polished entry and the fine capstone for the series.
6. Alien: Isolation
This is definitively what Ridley Scott had in mind. You are of course well aware of the Alien movies, the legendary series of horror films that had a huge impact on the medium. They’ve had a rather… Spotty relationship with video games. They manage to bring some real gems, but also some real stinkers. This one though, oh, this one is the former.
In the same vein of Dead Space, Alien: Isolation is a horror game through and through. You’re locked on the ship with the fast, deadly and most importantly: amazingly intelligent alien xenomorph and you have to escape. The difficulty is brutal and the sheer tension manages to perfectly capture the spirit of the Alien movie.
5. Starcraft 2
Tactical masterpiece that captivated generations of players. Ah, yes, how could I not mention one of Blizzard’s flagships and their absolute masterpiece of real time strategy. The level of nuance to the game is so deep that the e-sports scene is surrounding it to this day and it’s taught as a subject on some universities. It is a landmark piece of the medium, one that lives in eternal fame.
In terms of the plot, Starcraft definitely shows Blizzard’s flare for the dramatic and bombastic. The war between humans, the ancient and secretive race of Protos and the ravenous Zerg plays out on massive, galactic scales and takes the player to see fantastic worlds. A classic definitely worth exploring.
Base version is actually free to play. If you’re ready for it. Get it here.
Product below includes both the Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void expansions
Life, um… Finds a way. A grand strategy game from Paradox, Stellaris is all about building up your own space-faring civilization, exploring the galaxy, encountering other alien races and finding a way to live together in a rather crowded universe.
The big selling point here is the sheer variety with which you can design your aliens. Do you want them to be arthropod or reptile? Avian? Mammalian? Do you want your people to be robots? Possibilities are endless! You can design their political systems from the ground-up, including an option to play a Hive Mind, unconcerned with the individual squabbling that plague other organics. Add to that some fantastic high-end sci-fi concepts sprinkled throughout the game you can find (like the Russel’s Tea Pot discovery) while exploring and hay presto, you have one of the best games on the market solely devoted to the idea of alien fantasy.
3. Destiny II
A lovechild of Halo and Borderlands. Made by the same guys who made Halo. And it definitely shows, the combat in Destiny II, the sequel to a fantastic game, is tight, varied and immensely satisfying. What it lacks in the competitive aspect it makes up for in the cooperative one.
Destiny II is all about action and fun shooting-oriented combat filled with skills and unique abilities that interact with one another. The alien worlds of Destiny II, on the other hands, are occasionally very imaginative and the lore quite deep and fascinating. It’s a big melting pot of sci-fi elements, so if there’s one specific thing you like, it’s very likely you’ll find it here.
2. XCOM 2
Here’s a tip: name members of your team after people you know. Trust me dude. Coming up next, we have a tactical game from Firaxis that has captivated the minds of many players. X-COM is a turn-based strategy game where you control a small squad of soldiers against ominous aliens invading the Earth. Your squad can be upgraded even to the point of using the alien technology against the gray bastards.
XCOM taps into that UFO paranoia about the Men in Black, crop circles and aliens interested in probing your rectal orifice for inexplicable reasons. With percentages determining the success of an attack and the chance of any of your squad member dying, there’s a lot of emergent narrative possibility here, especially if you follow the helpful tip.
1. Mass Effect Andromeda
A lullaby for BioWare. The final entry to the series and one you could enjoy without having experience with it, Andromeda is the very definition of a science fiction story. Brought to us by the giants behind Dragon Age and KotOR, Andromeda is a blend of polished, entertaining combat and a captivating story.
Mass Effect injects the element of cosmic politics into a personal story, managing to frame the encountered aliens as complex and nuanced individuals. They are human-ish, but their various governments are unique and they manage to convey some truly great sci-fi concepts. On top of that you have an epic story of a galactic conflict. The Mass Effect series and Andromeda in particular is certainly something any fan of space should take a long look at.
In space no one can hear you scream… Of joy!
So you know what they say: space is the place. I think someone said it, I don’t know who, wasn’t me. In any case, space is that magical place, the final outpost for a pioneering spirit, untapped by any human hand! In any case, have fun fighting/romancing/running in terror from various aliens. Whatever floats your boat here, the possibilities are endless. Like the universe itself. Maybe in the future we’ll play some genuinely alien games, but for now human-made ones are the only option.