Some say that space if the final frontier. There is some truth to it, even though it seems like we know more about space than the ocean depths. Regardless, pop-culture loves space, because who knows what weird creature live in the crystal hives of Betelgeuse, or what primordial spectres of the first intergalactic civilisation feast upon the stars? We definitely made up at least one of those.
Therefore it should come as no surprise that video game have spread their feelers beyond Earth’s atmosphere and oh, what wealth of stories and ideas they discovered. On the list that follows you’ll see adaptations of 1960s technological dreams, one or two ways to grow your very own empire, some ways to bring the olive branch and the smoking barrel to the invading aliens, ad who knows, maybe even some education?
Without further ado, let’s see what games think lies beyond that comfortable gas cushion separating us from the void.
List of best space games on PC
|Genre:||Action-adventure, stealth, survival horror|
A survival horror based on a beloved franchise, made by the studio famous for the Total War series? That’s a pretty weird match, but it turned out to be quite spot-on as far as survival horror mechanics go, and proving that in space really no one can hear you scream. With Ripley’s daughter as the protagonist, it ties to the main series with more than just the titular Alien.
Alien: Isolation is a very tense game, with more than just the incredibly dangerous xenomorph as Amanda Ripley’s opponent. There is a new kind of android, for instance, and a very creepy one, at that. Of course, there’s the classic motion tracker to increase the tension, but Amanda can also craft a number of helpful tools, like noisemakers or pipe bombs to help her out in a pinch.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
The word about town is that in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war, but the Warhammer 40k setting also has an entire galaxy worth of space to fight over. Battlefleet Gothic Armada (both 1 and 2) is a PC adaptation of the Games Workshop board game, and is all about clashes of massive starfaring craft of the unapologetically epic-scale WH40k universe.
You pick a faction from the game’s many, build your fleet, and test your naval tactics against sleek Eldar craft, Imperial Gothic cathedrals with plasma drives, Tyranid living bioships, and other sides of the conflict for the Milky Way Galaxy. There are even three singleplayer campaigns, one each for human Imperium, cyber-undead Necrons, and all-consuming Tyranids.
Ove the course of Destiny 2’s story, and your journey for the best gear, you’ll travel across the Solar systems many, many times, pursuing enemies, and participating in raids. Based out of Earth, you’ll visit Jupiter’s Io, to example, as well as Mercury or Mars. All in all, you won’t lack for space travel, although the planets do differ substantially from what we know in the 21st century.
On top of that, D2 is a really tight, really satisfying shooter in its own right, with fantastic moment-to-moment combat experience. And it has gone Free-to-Play recently, with only the latest expansions behind a paywall, so nothing stops you from checking the game out. It even has an actual story, too, unlike the first instalment.
|Genre:||Space trading and combat|
Among the games on this list, Elite Dangerous is probably the only one that really lets you feel like you’re in control of a spaceship, forging a life among the uncaring stars, exploring the dark corners of space. A largely online multiplayer experience, ED sell you on its space setting like few games since Freelancer ever could.
Elite Dangerous is very much constantly being worked on by the devs, and the choices of players reflect across the servers. There’s a lot of player-driven events, such as giant expeditions into unexplored corner of space, which draw dozens of players, cooperating to go as far as possible. This importance of player action to the evolution of the world is rivalled only by EVE Online.
Endless Space 2
|Genre:||Turn-based strategy, 4X|
After the success of the space-conquering 4X Endless Space, the arrival of a sequel was a given. Over the campaign, you’ll find yourself pursuing the mysteries left behind by the Endless, an ancient people which achieved a nigh-godlike status, and in the footsteps of which later galactic species had followed. What you uncover is entirely up to you.
As a 4X Endless Space 2 is already a risk of a heavy “just one more turn” syndrome, and it certainly embraces it. Add to that real-time space battles, and there’s always something you want to do before your job is done for the day. And the game looks really amazing, like photos of nebulas and other wildly-coloured parts of deep space.
|Genre:||Space simulation, MMORPG|
EVE Online has a reputation for being impenetrable, with very complex player-driver economy, corporate and alliance politics, and other interactions and power balance established during well over a decade the game’s been out. Nevertheless, if you have it in you, EVE can be a very rewarding game, and a nice speculation on what humanity’s future in space might be like.
EVE Online comes in two flavours: a free-to-play model, and a subscription unlocking the Omega version, which carries with it certain benefits. For one, training is faster, and some ships are only available in the Omega version. Luckily, everything you gain in Omega, you retain if you switch back to the F2P Alpha, you simply don’t get to unlock new features like certain Omega-bound skills.
|Genre:||Space combat, roguelike|
Everspace is a curious beast. It’s a space combat simulator, with ship upgrades, tense dog fighting, and being ambushed by pirates. But it’s also a roguelite, in that once you die, you come back to life at square one, but you can buy Perks with money you got on that run. With help like this you should be able to go further with each new attempt.
As with most roguelikes death is inevitable, but if you reach certain points in each playthrough you begin to uncover the mystery behind your continuous existence, in addition to becoming more skilled with handling the game’s systems. And, surprisingly, it’s optimised for the KB+M combo, so don’t feel pressed into investing in a gamepad or a joystick.
FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL: Faster Than Light is another space roguelike, but this one has more to do with the strategy genre than with space combat. Rather than being a pilot of a one-person craft, you take the role of a captain of a larger ship. You’ll be in charge of giving order to the crew, deciding which systems are to be powered, and which doors are to be opened to choke out fires and hostile boarding parties.
In addition to the daily operation of your ship, you’ll also interact with alien species, for good or ill, and there’s a wealth of text-based events waiting for you in deep space, putting you in front of all kinds of difficult decisions. With each new galaxy being randomised, you might encounter some events when you are not equipped to deal with them properly.
|Release year:||1999, 2015 (Remaster)|
One of the older games on the list, but one that still holds up two decades since its original launch. Although it war Relic Entertainment’s first game, the Canadian studio knocked it out of the park on first try, creating a real-time strategy with full 3D unit movement, and tension built by your fleet carrying over from mission to mission, which made mistakes very punishing.
In Homeworld you guide what’s left of your people to their ancestral homeworld. Unfortunately, the alien nation which razed your planet for violating an ancient treaty is hot on your heels. The storyline is very dramatic, and managing your forces well enough to see it is a challenge. In 2015 Homeworld received a remaster, which made the game look fresher after all those years.
Kerbal Space Program
|Genre:||Space flight simulation|
In Kerbal Space Program space is more of a goal than a setting, but it would be unfair not to mention this complex space flight simulation. For all of the cartoonishness of the titular Kerbals, the game follows an accurate enough engine for aerodynamics and orbital physics. If you pair it up with a seemingly limitless construction system, you have hundreds of hours of fun in your hands.
If you’re good enough, you can create your own Transformers and pilot them to the orbit. Sure, any new odd creation is more likely to crash and burn, but Kerbals make it so amusing its usually hard to get mad because of it. KSP is as much a space flight simulation, as an engine a cartoonish evil engineer might use to design a wacky machine of uncertain purpose and short lifespan.
Mass Effect 2
|Genre:||Action role-playing, third-person shooter|
The Mass Effect series is among the most important science fiction video game franchises in modern memory, and with good reason. Over the course of three games commander Shepard and his/her three different crews have visited a number of planets all around the galaxy, and made enough friends and enemies to encounter a familiar face whenever they go.
We picked Mass Effect 2 for this list, because while ME1 let you ride along the surface of various unimportant planets, and ME3 had this thing where you escaped Reapers in real-time, Mass Effect 2 made each planet feel unique and alive in it own way. This game is essentially an anthology of short stories, each happening in a new, vibrant location. And this is a pretty fun approach.
No Man’s Sky
Loaded with content, with actual multiplayer, and three years worth of updates, No Man’s Sky is finally the game advertised broadly before it launched. Procedurally generated planets are fun and relaxing to explore, players can build bases to hole up in after a long day, and there’s a seemingly endless amount of new planets, new flora and fauna to discover and name.
It doesn’t go for the aesthetic fidelity of Elite Dangerous and the likes, settling for a simpler, more abstract style, but that makes generation of new content easier without having new creations look too out of place. If you’re looking for a chill space exploration game, No Man’s Sky is a pretty good pick, with little (except some life-support meters) to worry about.
|Genre:||RTS, 4X, grand strategy|
|Developer||Paradox Development Studio|
A space 4X easily rivalling Endless Space 2, Stellaris is made by the brilliants minds at Paradox Development Studio, which means that it’s complex, demanding, and entertaining nonetheless. It doesn’t have a plot contextualising the game the way ES2 does, it puts emphasis on running a planetary nation which recently gained access to starfaring technology.
You’ll even get to design a species, complete with its phenotype, various traits, and the core of the ideology and form of government. It’s quite detailed, and it’s going to influence your playstyle during the entire playthrough. It even avoids the pitfalls of bad 4X endgame thanks to events and catastrophes shaking up the status quo and making late stages interesting.
|Genre:||Simulation, city building|
Surviving Mars is a step down the scale ladder from Stellaris, but being published under the aegis of Paradox, Haemimont’s still does have a lot of moving parts. SM tasks you with establishing a self-sustaining Mars colony, first with adorable retrofuturistic-looking robots, and then with the hands and hard work of colonists willingly coming to live on the red planet for some reason.
You’ll build various sources of electricity, a number of different resource production and processing facilities. You’ll also eventually start exploring the region away from your mission, seeking new resource deposits, or investigating mysteries. And oddly enough, the research tree is arranged at random, so you’ll never have the same exact starting experience on every run.
Universe Sandbox 2
|Release year:||2012, 2017 (Universe Sandbox2 version)|
|Genre:||Space gravity simulation|
What game could be worthy of the “space game” label more than a game that’s literally a simulation of celestial body interactions? Admittedly, it’s less a game and more a visualised physics engine, but there’s something really fun about being able to fling moons into planets like cosmic marbles like an angry god.
Universe Sandbox lets you play around with anything from individual asteroids, to entire galaxies. If you’re interested in seeing how one galaxy may swallow another, now you can, and it looks suitably cataclysmic. It’s also very entertaining to put Earth way too close to the Sun and see what happens. And it also comes in VR and likes motion controls, which is just a great idea.
That concludes our list of games, in which the outer space is more than just a dream, it’s reality. Hopefully you found something that caught your interest. This list is barely scratching the surface, of course, there are dozens and hundreds of games conquering that final frontier.