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 top 10 list for games dealing 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!
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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 conflict 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. 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? Fully mechanical? 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 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. I vaguely remember him having small hands. 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.