In honour of the announcement of Star Citizen, we've listed our favourite space games
We love a good space simulation here at Expert Reviews – it’s a criminally underrated genre, which is why we’re so excited to see that one its godfathers is bringing it back to the PC. Chris Roberts, one of the developers of the classic Wing Commander series, unveiled Star Citizen last week – it’s a free-to-play, PC-only space sim built on the Crysis 2 engine, and we have to say it looks sublime. The stunning graphics and expansive open world might be as close to the real thing as we’re going to get (unless we win the lottery) but with a long time to wait until it’s release, we’ve had to get our space fix from elsewhere.
This week’s top ten focuses on the best space exploration games, across PC and console. To qualify for the list, each game has to put you in the captain’s chair of any ship capable of space flight – real time strategies, RPGs, and MMOs that don’t give full control aren’t included, and Eve Online was rejected for being a spreadsheet simulation, not a space one. So, it’s on with the list!
Produced in 1986, Starglider was a homage to the Star Trek films and their arcade spin-offs. The fast-paced, wireframe shooter had colourful vector graphics and hundreds of enemies to shoot down with your AGAV aircraft armed with lasers and guided missiles.
This was mindblowing in 1986. Honest.
The Amiga version had music produced by David Lowe, who was the composer for the incredibly influential International Karate + and Frontier (which just missed out on appearing here too). He pushed the boundaries of what the system was capable of in terms of audio, creating a title track with both vocals and synthesisers – practically unheard of at the time.
Not only was Starglider one of the first games to use sampled speech, it was also bundled with an accompanying novella detailing the backstory, as there was too much detail to include in the game but the development team didn’t want to see it go to waste.
9. ARTEMIS: SPACESHIP BRIDGE SIMULATOR
If you’re a fan of space simulations, it’s practically guaranteed you’re also a fan of Star Trek. The bridge of the USS Enterprise (in its various guises) is one of the most influential ever, and if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like for you and your friends to crew it, you aren’t alone.
Artemis is a complete bridge simulation that requires six separate PCs to control each of its main control systems, as well as a projector to replicate the main viewscreen. Helm, Weapons, Comms, Engineering and Science all have their own stations, as does the Captain, who must order the crew.
Of course, you don’t have to take it to the same geeky extremes as this dedicated group of players, but with the right group of friends Artemis can create some epic moments. With the captain in charge, no one person can control the outcome of a mission, which means teamwork is the order of the day if you want to survive.
Artemis would have made it higher up the list if it weren’t for the lack of full 3D space – you’re stuck on an X-Y axis which slightly breaks the sense of immersion, but otherwise this is as close to piloting the Enterprise as you’re likely to get.
8. DESCENT 3
The descent games were some of the first full 3D shooters to use six degrees of freedom – letting you move forwards/backwards, left/right, up/down and control pitch and yaw. This went far further than previous space games, which simply added up and downwards movement to an otherwise standard first person model – the result could be dizzying but it was much more immersive than the competition.
Its inclusion in this list is a little sneaky, as you spend most of the game flying through interior locations and only occasionally venture outside the atmosphere, but its revolutionary take on movement helped establish the movement system that would be adopted for future space sims. It was also one hell of a good looking game for 1999, which helped cement its impact.