The best space games on PC

15. Independence War (1997)

Developer: Particle Systems
Publisher: Infogrames

Direct first-person control doesn’t normally lend itself to starship command, where from the bridge the captain of a ship would rather be barking orders at the crew members rather than pulling on a joystick or waving a mouse around. Nevertheless, many games have tried to capture the command experience and have done so poorly – Starfleet Academy springs to mind – usually just by making big ships respond more slowly to instruction than smaller ships. Needless to say it’s not been the most impressive solution.

Independence War was the first game to offer a convincing hands-on spaceship command experience in first-person without demoting the player to the role of truck driver or burdening them with micromanagement. It did this in a number of ways: first by implementing a more natural and accurate flight model, with inertia preventing pilots from attempting witless maneuvers. Secondly by overlaying the various command stations with such an abundance of tactical information and options that it required a keen eye to keep a track of ship positions and speed, as well as shield and heat management – which felt like precisely the sort of thing a ship’s captain would spend their time doing.

Thankfully some of the busywork can be automated, leaving you to focus on the accomplished and challenging combat simulation wrapped up in a complex and well presented story

Notes: Both I-War games were designed by Glyn Williams, previously responsible for the celebrated Amiga space game Warhead.

Where can I buy it: GOG only, although Steam does have the sequel.

What else should I be playing if I like this: For more capital ship combat try Starshatter: The Gathering Storm or the Battlecruiser / Universal Combat series. Otherwise we’d advise one of the Starfleet Command games or, if you can find it, Star Trek: Bridge Commander, also on this list. Artemis or Quintet are the games to try if you want to actually shout at a live crew.

bestbridge

14. Star Trek: Bridge Commander (2002)

Developer: Totally Games
Publisher: Activision

Forget Star Trek: Bridge Crew, if you really fancy sitting in the captain’s chair in one of Starfleet’s finest cruisers then Star Trek: Bridge Commander should be your first port of call. Essentially, you’re watching an episode of Star Trek play out from the bridge, doling out orders and occasionally hanging out with Data. And if you’re more of a Deep Space Nine fan, then don’t worry, you’ll be up to your eyeballs in Cardassians in no time.

You can play it as a captain sim, where you hang back and sip Raktajino while your bridge officers do what they’d be paid to do if the Federation had currency and material wealth, which is doesn’t, unless you’re watching one of the episodes where it absolutely does. You tell your crew what to do, and then the AI takes over while you watch it all unfold on the viewscreen. It’s a Star Trek game at its most authentic, though the tactical view is the more sensible approach.

Changing modes switches to an external view where you’ve got direct control over the USS Dauntless and, later, the USS Sovereign, but while it’s arguably more engaging, the power of the captain’s chair is great. Inevitably I keep going back and just yelling at my Tactical Officer. It’s how all the greats did it.

Notes: Shouting on screen over and over again achieves nothing but it feels really good.

Where can I buy it: It’s no longer sold anywhere but you should be able to find it through other means.

What else should I be playing if I like this: If you want a briefer VR romp, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, but if you’re going to play with friends, you might as just well bite the bullet and play Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator.

13. Descent (1994)

Developer: Parallax Software
Publisher: Interplay

Having been lumped in with run-and-gun first-person shooters since the time of its release (CGW magazine called it “Doom on Benzedrine in a vacuum”), Descent‘s numerous innovations have often been serially overlooked before being casually tossed into the lower rankings of various Best Ever lists. True, it didn’t have many rock star developers working on it, there were no demons from hell rampaging through it’s claustrophobic corridors and there was not one smear of blood to enrage or delight its audience. What it did have was speed, maze-like 3D levels and a range of movement in all directions that was at beautiful odds with the limited space in which to manoeuvre.

Disorientation was a constant companion – for some players so too was motion sickness – but in rescuing trapped colonists otherwise doomed to die and escaping each quaking level before it was engulfed in a nuclear fireball the game paid out in full.

After more than 20 years does Descent remain an essential game in the same way that Doom is? Given that it would morph into Freespace and remain to some degree in Red Faction’s DNA, yes, yes it is. More importantly, it’s still enjoyable, more so in many ways than the game that inspired it.

Notes: Descent’s creators have set themselves up as Revival Productions and recently raised $300k in Kickstarter funding towards the game’s spiritual successor Overload.

Where can I buy it: The Descent series was removed from Steam and GOG last December due to a dispute between Parallax and Interplay. Until it returns Ebay might be your best option.

What else should I be playing if I like this: There’s been no shortage of Descent-style games recently, including Sublevel Zero, Retrovirus and NeonXSZ. The only one that’s disappointed us so far is the series planned prequel Descent: Underground, which we’ll overlook as it’s deep in Early Access.

12. Rebel Galaxy (2015)

Developer: Double Damage Games
Publisher: Double Damage Games

A 3D space is often the very best type of space, but in a realm where there is no right way up or sense of direction beyond a here, some there and a whole bunch of everywhere, a little simplification can do wonders.

Rebel Galaxy is undoubtedly a bit of a grind and suffers from repetition, but there probably hasn’t been a space adventure quite as accessible in years. Its flat-packed 2.5D universe rarely feels small and is the perfect foil to the current craze for procedurally-generated mega-billion star universes. Similarly the Firefly-inspired characters are a world away from the military-industrial factioneering of most space games. But perhaps the very best thing about the game is that in a genre that generally insists you arch yourself over your controller of choice to master the vagaries of space travel, here you’re encouraged to lean back with nothing more than your favourite console-style controller in your lap.

Rebel Galaxy is often compared to Freelancer and with it’s embracing of modern controls and disdain for the traditional joysticks, not to mention it’s wild west inspired trappings and front-loaded campaign, it’s easy to spot the similarities. The combat system however, with it’s broadsides and shield facings, borrows more from the Star Trek canon. It’s not the most challenging way to take out a few spaceships, but it’s perfectly aligned with the rest of the game.

Notes: It takes a while before you spot the fingerprints, but the hands of the creators of the Torchlight games are all over Rebel Galaxy. Unlike the cold, sterile universes of other games, Rebel Galaxy is worn and rugged, vibrant and familiar. A kind of Sid Meier’s Space Pirates!, if you will.

Where can I buy it: GOG and Steam.

What else should I be playing if I like this: If you prefer a less hands-on-joystick approach to space adventuring, Starpoint Gemini 2 and Drox Operative are excellent RPG-style games. Meanwhile, if it’s the less earnest approach you yearn for, Zigfrak and Galak-Z are quirky alternatives.

beststellaris

11. Stellaris (2016)

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive

After years of simulating the politics, economics and wars of history, Paradox decided to head off into the stars with their grand strategy/4X hybrid, Stellaris. Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4 had been pumping out weird stories and slices of historical drama for a few years, and more than anything else that’s what Stellaris brought to 4X’s sector of space.

You can spend hours creating your brand new alien species, right down to their government type and how good they are at making babies, but new technology and special events can transform them into something completely different. In my very first game, my race of happy-go-lucky dinosaur scientists splintered into two distinct groups, one of which had been cybernetically augmented. The augmented dinosaurs were oppressed by the others until they revolted and plunged the empire into a war. Eventually, the augmented rebels were squashed and the splinter group was wiped out entirely. All because, a century before, people started getting into wearable tech.

To get a taste of what it’s like to run a massive star empire, check out how Brendan’s utopian race of multicultural turtles got on. It’ll be a good time to jump in soon, too, as Stellaris is getting a pretty big overhaul in the upcoming free 2.0 update, due out on February 22.

Notes: Stellaris has a lively modding community and some impressive overhauls. The best of the bunch is Star Trek: New Horizons, a lavishly detailed Star Trek mod that piles on species-specific features like the Tal Shiar intelligence agency and Klingon civil wars.

Where can I buy it: You can get it on Steam and the Humble Store, and consider picking up the Utopia expansion, which fleshes out the late game, and Synthetic Dawn if you fancy playing as a robot empire.

What else should I be playing if I like this: There’s an abundance of space 4X games these days, including another one on this list. Galactic Civilizations 3 is another great one, especially if you play it with the Crusade expansion.

172 Comments

  1. LexW1 says:

    It’s pretty strange that I-War 2 isn’t on this list, given some of the stuff that is, and I just can’t get behind Elite: Dangerous as even a good game, let alone the “third best” space game on PC. I see the justification you’re going for but as someone who also played Elite since the BBC Micro, and who was one of the first backers for E:D, E:D is nothing but a massive disappointment that makes me wish the older, more fun-oriented, less tedium/grinding-oriented, less sim-ish Elites had been the evolutionary path Elite followed, instead of become a very a bad MMO and a slightly questionable space sim (albeit a very visually and sonically polished one). It’s a bad game, in the end.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I was surprised to see the first I-War instead of I-War 2, which is the much more polished version of the concept. Best flight/fight mechanics of any cockpit-level space game ever.

      I wish Elite Dangerous had used the full 6DOF and high-speed flight mechanics in I-War 2. It’s the only space cockpit game where I felt like I was flying *fast*, which you’d think would be a requirement for a spaceship.

      My one complaint about the game was how linear the story and missions are, but that’s the same in other space games of the era like Tie Fighter and Freespace 2.

      • Targaff says:

        I just assumed that the inclusion of Independence War included the second game by reference, with the first getting the nod for the list because it was, as stated, “the first” to do what it does. it doesn’t really matter, anyhow – both games are great for much the same reasons.

        • Sin Vega says:

          I’d definitely rate the second one as higher, if only because the first has that godawful mandatory training course before you’re allowed to play.

    • Shacklestein says:

      For those who loved the old Elite and who’d like the same thing only more, Oolite might fit the bill nicely. The base game initially looks and feels like Elite-with-fancier-graphics (unless you turn on wire frame mode). Looking closer, there are loads of stuff going on under the hood with AI behaviour and system politics/economy.

      Throw in the hundreds and hundreds of mods available, and you can pretty much customize the game to be exactly what you want it to be. And last time I checked, the forum was still the friendliest this side of Riedquat.

    • Janichsan says:

      …the older, more fun-oriented, less tedium/grinding-oriented, less sim-ish Elites …

      You are either joking or your memory of the old Elite games is less precise as you think: for one, compared to Frontier: Elite II and First Encounters, ED plays like a arcade shooter. Secondly, the old games were (even) far more grind-oriented and repetitive than ED. In the old games, it took you ages of repeating the ever same cycle of trade runs to get enough money to upgrade your ship and/or buy a better ship. ED on the other hand drowns you in money, allowing you to make a hundreds of thousands, if not millions of credits within less than an hour – even without exploits.

  2. Solidstate89 says:

    This reminds me that I need to go back and play Sins of a Solar Empire since it got that performance patch last year allowing to use more memory and optimizing a few things. Love the game to bits but I was never able to actually finish a full game as the fleet battles became so large that the framerate would slow down to a single digit crawl.

    • Megatron says:

      There’s also a terrific Star Trek mod, Star Trek Armada 3, taking after the ancient Activision RTS game series. It’s the best Star Trek fleet combat game bar none, and also benefited from the performance patch you described. The latest version has just today slipped into Beta so I’m looking forward to seeing the new stuff and changes.

  3. TychoCelchuuu says:

    I’d stick House of the Dying Sun and Allegiance to the list somewhere. House of the Dying Sun is the main true successor to stuff like TIE Fighter and Freespace. Its dogfighting combat is expertly tuned and super intense.

    Allegiance is one of the most innovative games of all time and is the only game aside from Freespace 2 that has truly made me feel like I’m flying as part of a fleet of ships. That’s the sort of experience that makes for some of the best space game fun ever: not just a dogfight, but a full-on battle.

    Mass Effect 2 is fun but I don’t really think of it as a space game. It’s sci-fi, sure, but it all takes place on the ground, basically!

    • Det. Bullock says:

      Yeah, including Mass Effect 2 is kinda silly, might as well include Duke Nukem 3D and Wolfenstein since you have a entire levels of both on the Moon.
      HoTDS is awesome, it’s a pity that there has been no follow-up.

      • Fraser Brown says:

        You have a spaceship and you travel through space. It’s a space game.

        • TychoCelchuuu says:

          I mean yes you technically travel through space in what is potentially the most anemic splaceflight mechanic ever implemented in an interactive medium. It feels more like a joke than anything. A much better replacement would be Star Control II, I think. It’s got all the “travel around the galaxy, meet interesting alien races, land on planets” stuff that Mass Effect 2 has, but your spaceship is much more integral to the whole thing (you use it to fight, you upgrade and customize it, etc.), you actually feel like you’re exploring space (there are a zillion planets, the fuel mechanic actually means something rather than just wasting your time), the game is clearly not interesting in being a Gears of War clone, etc.

          • Sin Vega says:

            Gears of War clone

            I mean… come on

          • Eightball says:

            Well yeah, if the game had bayonets like Gears it would’ve been better.

          • ashleys_ears says:

            Agreed. ME2 isn’t a “space game,” it’s a game that happens to involve traveling through space. You might as well be sailing a ship over the ocean or journeying across the countryside in a horse-drawn buggy for all the difference it would make. The fact that you’re in space has no gameplay bearing at all. Your ship is just a hub world you use to travel from one environment to another. You never fly the thing. Hell, even the “upgrading the ship” stuff only manifests by changing which scripted cutscene(s) you get during the final mission.

  4. Turkey says:

    Space Games
    I always wanted you to go
    Play some Space Gaaaames (Intergalactic Christ…?)

    • PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

      You got me with intergalactic Christ. Aka Space Jesus.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I can never hear that song now without thinking of the Brass Eye interview where they had no idea how utterly they’d just self-owned

  5. RuySan says:

    No Master of Orion 2? (while Stellaris is there?)
    No Space Rangers 2? (while Rebel Galaxy is there?)

    Tell me it was just a mistake

    • Gothnak says:

      Master Of Orion 2 missing when Stellaris & Sins of a Solar Empire & Distant Suns are there? It must be a joke…

      I did expect it to pop up at number 1, but nowhere at all.

      I think i’ve spent more time playing MOO2 than all of the other space sims put together, Stellaris was completely soulless for me.

    • Neutrino says:

      No MoO, no Homeworld, and no Elite.

      Worst list ever.

    • TheOx129 says:

      I agree on Space Rangers, but I’m going to open the can of worms here and say I agree with MoO2’s omission. It’s incredibly influential and a good game, but at the same time, I think it’s sort of…boring, I guess? Like, I think MoO2 took one too many cues from Civilization and, as a result, the game can feel too much like Civ 2 with a science fiction paint job, complete with fiddly micromanagement after your empire reaches a certain size.

      For my money, both 1 and 3 were more interesting in terms of design, yet 2 was held up as this gold standard, so for years we basically had this constant cycle of space 4X devs trying to capture the “magic” of MoO2 yet seemingly always falling short. Frankly, I’m glad that with games like Distant Worlds and Stellaris, it seems like developers have finally broken with the MoO2 obsession and are actively trying to do new things with the space 4X once more – even if their reach sometimes exceeds their grasp.

  6. Nauallis says:

    Homeworld 1&2! It’s set almost entirely in space! 3-D RTS, maps that have true tactical verticality, some are mostly empty, some are full of debris, but nothing is based on capturing some grounder shmuck’s base of landlubbering immobility (although there are some space stations and asteroid bases). Gameplay is dynamic, the player’s fleet has continuity from mission to mission, and it’s an RTS where thoughtful use of resources is usually more effective than steamrolling. The skyboxes are huge and beautiful and hint at an ancient galaxy of lost lore and precursor megastructures. Grumble grumble grumble.

    Also, no MoOII, bah humbug.

    • Admiral666 says:

      I was flabbergasted to see that Homeworld did not feature, especially so now that Remastered has brought it back to life.

    • Kurtismayfield says:

      Considering that the only point of these ranking articles seems to be stimulating debates in forums, omitting Homeworld may be a feature…not a bug.

    • abomb76 says:

      I was equally dismayed to see Homeworld not make the list…then I wondered if the authors were too young to have experienced it.

      Flying a fighter over the decks of a capital ship in 3D glory was amazing when it first came out!

  7. Camilitus says:

    ermmm… none of these games you can play happily for years. Maybe KSP…. but seriously leaving out EVE online does overlook its impressive single shard nature (shout out to Wicked Creek!) and thus it multi lingual multi cultural multi time zone nature, its longevity as a viable concern, mass battles, national press coverage, 15 odd years of updates, rich story and history (both player and lore), its birth of Valkyrie (VR) and Dust (Playstation), the latter which integrated (sorta) with EVE and what has to be one of the biggest gaming spaces ever conceived. But leaving all that aside and more, none of the titles above offered customers to have their player names carved into granite to last long after the human has expired. It also has the best community made propaganda and songs. I think it was also once Iceland’s leading single source of foreign currency!

    • Sound says:

      Failing to place Eve in the better half of the list is a real mistake. It easily deserves on this list.

  8. slamelov says:

    I-War 1 (Independence War), I-War 2 (Edge of Chaos) and Frontier First Encounters (Elite 3) should be in first 3 positions, choose the order. And Elite Dangerous the 4th.

  9. Wolfman says:

    Number (2)1 should be Nexus the Jupiter Incident. A forgotten classic that is just aching for a more modern remake.

    • nitric22 says:

      Oh man, I wonder by what means I own this. Is it a physical disc tucked away somewhere? Is it some digital download on an obscure site that I can’t remember? I simply don’t know. It has been misplaced, yet I would love very much to have another go at Nexus.

      • Nauallis says:

        It’s on GoG, if you don’t locate it elsewhere.

      • Frog says:

        I really enjoyed that one too. They tried to go at it on kickstarter for a followup, didn’t make it.

    • Solidstate89 says:

      God I loved that game. Really the first strategy/3D space game I played that had full x, y and z plane maneuvers. And the maps were huge too. Totally underrated as far as great space games are concerned.

  10. nitric22 says:

    Bridge Commander, Sins, Mass Effect, and Tachyon all get my vote! Deserving of a place is Battlezone.

  11. Arioch_RN says:

    The next big release for Elite Dangerous is the Engineers beta update in May? Am I living two years in the future or something?

    • AthanSpod says:

      Indeed, 3.0 beta 2 is already on the ED test servers. When will it be live though? No-one yet knows, and I’d hope FDev take their time with these huge changes to both Engineering and the whole Crime & Punishment system.

    • DiscordCabbage says:

      It seems like they just copied the text from the last time they did the Best Space Games article.

  12. Ghostwise says:

    Guys, Hardwar seems gone from Dot.Emu (though it could be a geoblocking shenanigan).

  13. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    When I saw the article, I was absolutely sure EVE Online would be #1, and it’s not even on the list. 0.o

  14. Laurentius says:

    Like I don’t get it. There are tons of old games, there is no stake in constructing such list, there will be no wining party or anything, games that are consdiered classic will remain view as such. So for the love of god, if you are gonna make Freespace2 a number one space game, at least give Starlancer a fair shake. Your little addeneum clearly implies that you didn’t.
    Starlancer does so much things better then Freespace, like gigantic difference is mission briefings, Freespce is full of boring menus, Starlancer has excellent briefings, you feel like a pilot and not someone browsing interent.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      Starlancer for what I have tried is very rough around the edges like all the Chris Roberts spacesims. Wing Commander IV is indeed his best work (and I suspect it’s because he didn’t follow it as closely as other games he worked on) and still doesn’t come close to Freespace and Tie Fighter.

      • Laurentius says:

        What are these rough edges then? Story? Mission design? Flying model? Ships and weapons? Almosteverything Freespace does, Starlancer does equally well or better.

        It’s clear to me Starlancer has not receive a fair shake up here as well because what is always omitted when this game comes up is that whole campaing can be played on co-op which is a unheard feature in these games.
        Not too mention that Freespace is full of rough edges.

        • Det. Bullock says:

          OK, from the little I could try of the game:
          There is an overreliance on mid-mission cutscenes that break the flow of the gameplay.
          Energy controls use that stupid analog triangle system that sucked in Wing Comamnder Prophecy and sucks here too, using simple button commands like in Freespace and the Xwing/Tie Fighter games is much easier when under fire.
          Story feels a lot like the classic Roberts military fantasy with ace pilots that save the day, much less interesting than the cosmic horror story and the “cog in the machine” feel of the Freespace series.
          The mission design is difficult to judge having played only a few missions but it has a lot of that Wing Commander feel which is not a good thing in my book since it tends to get repetitive really fast.

      • milligna says:

        As if Chris Roberts had anything to do with Starlancer but taking credit.

        • Det. Bullock says:

          Roberts’ fingerprints can be seen all over it though, the guy might not have much to do with it but it’s clear they were following his way of doing things.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      Starlancer is impossible to buy though, so it would seem a little unfair to give a billing if no one can play it.

  15. Ben King says:

    I think had I played Freespace 2 in high school i could have loved all of it’s elaborate keyboard controls and slick piloting options, but the low level keyboard ninja skills needed to re-route all shield power to the rear while barrel rolling my bomber in an evasive manuver before whipping around to re-jigger my shields and fire the correct weapon grouping was just too much for me as a sad boring grown-up. Looking forward to the completion of Outer Wilds though as I got quite a kick out of their demo’s fun but lightly technical zero-g piloting and landing shindigs.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Doesn’t Freespace 2 support HOTAS controllers? It’s been a long time since I played it, but I think I remember this coming out during that period when it was assumed hardcore players would be using a joystick with many buttons, if not a full HOTAS rig. Makes all that quick energy management and weapon selection much more intuitive, once you build in the muscle memory.

      • Det. Bullock says:

        Freespace 1&2 (both retail and modded) only supports one gaming peripheral with stick, throttle and rudder out of the box, if you have a HOTAS you will need to use something to create a virtual peripheral to make everything work (well, the most expensive ones and some of the cheap ones usually come bundled with such a software).

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      I played it again a few months back, it’s quite competent if you have a multibutton mouse. Fills in pretty well for a proper joystick.

  16. Det. Bullock says:

    I just wish the list criteria weren’t so loose, I would definitively have omitted all the strategy games, since those are strong titles in their own genre.

  17. FriendlyFire says:

    Strongly disagree that Freelancer can’t benefit from some HDifying! This isn’t vanilla Freelancer, it’s a Star Wars total conversion called Freeworlds: Tides of War, but you won’t get this sort of visual prowess from the base game (or any other mod). Bit disappointed we weren’t included.

  18. Eightball says:

    Each of FTL‘s procedural adventure casts you adrift in space with a single goal: outrun the Federation and bring their secret plans to your Rebel allies.

    Minor correction, since I’ve been playing FTL recently: you play as a Fed officer and are trying to outrun the Rebels, to bring their plans to the Federation.

    I would’ve liked to see some Homeworld on the list but otherwise not bad.

    • AlexW says:

      I’d definitely like to see Homeworld on the list. Its sound design is still gorgeous, and the atmosphere it creates is incredible; it features a fair few entities that feel truly alien rather than just humans in rubber suits; and its theme of space as a desert rather than an ocean, and its allusions to Jewish lore, still feels fresh today. Plus, there’s something darkly delightful about being the bogeyman of the enemy empire, everything they’ve feared for thousands of years suddenly erupted forth into an unstoppable fleet of reverse-engineering masterminds.

      Homeworld: Cataclysm is also worth a mention as a stunningly good horror game, and a far superior sequel to Homeworld 2.

  19. Det. Bullock says:

    A few corrections regarding Tie Fighter and the X-wing series: only X-wing alliance had a mission builder (or to be more precise, an official one, there are some fanmade ones available), the film room was missing from X-wing vs Tie Fighter and the historical missions were omitted from X-wing Alliance in favour of simple demo scenarios for the basic mission builder (though you could replay campaign mission from the same menu).
    The difficulty curve in Tie Fighter was much better calibrated than in X-wing which had some missions that were stupidly difficult very early on, it has also difficulty levels and most of all *the game tells you if you failed a mission* (in X-wing there was no objective feedback for mission failure). If anything X-wing was incredibly inconsistent, I remember having some very easy mission and then a mission that had me stumped for almost a year, you could also lose all the rank points of you got blasted in the wrong place at the wrong time or the eject system got damage while in Tie Fighter there was a back-up feature built-in for the save to avoid that (you can disable it in the options if you want the full masochistic hardcore experience).

    Reagarding the joysticks I would contend that the more expensive ones are the ones that have a better possibility to work as at the time the games came out there were only two categories of sticks: two button ones and stuff full of buttons that came with a mapping software to configure it properly, the latter part being true for basically all expensive sticks as long as you take the time to use its software and create a profile for the game you should be fine and nowadays there are a lof of thir party solutions for models that don’t have one. The only real issue is that only Alliance has rudder support. The throttle in XW and TF is always in 1/3 steps (even in the windows version, it can be done in the dos versions with external utilities), with analog throttle only being introduced in X-wing vs Tie Fighter and X-wing Alliance.

    • juan_h says:

      The problem with using the joystick throttle to control your ship’s speed in Tie Fighter is that the keyboard controls are much more practical. It’s faster and less distracting to hit either the “match speed” or “full speed” button on the keyboard than it is to fiddle with the throttle lever on my flight-stick trying to do the same thing.

      • Det. Bullock says:

        Yeah, I never used the throttle either until I got a HOTAS (in that case it’s a boon, even in 1/3 steps) but some people feel the need to configure it somehow even if reaching for that wheel/slider/whatever at the base of the stick is nothing but a way to distract you from the keyboard.

  20. rochrist says:

    Star Traders: Frontiers from the Trese Brothers should be on there somewhere. The Trese Bros invariably deliver FAR more than your money’s worth and they’re living up to that reputation with ST:F. Absurdly deep sandbox in which you can live out virtually any SF fantasy.

    • Megatron says:

      Hmm. Curious. This had better not be a ‘made in 1995’ spreadsheet special…

      Ohhhhh, noooooo, it most certainly isn’t! This looks fab! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • spleendamage says:

      I play a lot of Star Traders: Frontiers lately and the Trese Bros are impressively engaged developers. But, it is still in Early Access.

    • hijuisuis says:

      This does look excellent, thank you. I’ve wish listed until it comes out of EA.

  21. specialsymbol says:

    Seriously, you ditched Privateer? Space trading has been done better? Where? When?

    Games are not about graphics or size, they are about fun, atmosphere (no pun intended) and style. Which game delivers this more than Privateer? Privateer should and could have been Number 2 – at least.

    Also, Descent instead of Descent 2 – well, I can understand this, somehow. But Descent 2 is clearly the better game.

    And last: seriously, have you even played Albion Prelude? X³ – Terran Conflict is much more beautiful. The story is better, it’s at least more positive. Granted, there is more fighting in Albion Prelude. It’s quicker, it’s more accessible. You get rich quicker and the missions are easier. But, in the end, it’s basically the same as Terran Conflict, just less beautiful – and less demanding.

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      Privateer is the best space game.

      • blue92 says:

        Wom won won
        *Shield down*
        Clank clank clank

        I can still hear the coming into orbit and taking off music!

        • 1Derby says:

          Clank. Clank. Clank.
          This post made me happy.

          “Yeah! You’re Nailed!”

    • juan_h says:

      I used to love Privateer. I loved flying to new planets and stations for the first time. I loved upgrading my ship. I loved the ambient music on stations and planets. But Privateer has not aged well at all. The combat is terrible. The sprite-based graphics make it hard to tell how close an enemy ship really is or which way it’s really facing, so that you can’t properly lead your target without one of the advanced “shoot here, dummy” targeting systems. And, while the game lets you trade, the trading is largely pointless. It’s easier to earn money by running missions from the mission computer or one of the guilds. To make matters worse, there’s nothing to do with your money but upgrade your ship. The story missions are all combat-centric, making the dedicated merchant vessel largely pointless.

    • syllopsium says:

      Privateer is still decent, but the fact that getting out of the first galaxy is high risk, weapon effectiveness is not related to cost (highest but one gun is the best), and that trading deals are cancelled if you don’t go direct to the target system are a little annoying.

  22. Brian Rubin says:

    Having Freespace 2 at the top of the list means this list can be taken semi-seriously, but Bridge Commander instead of Klingon Academy? Elite better than TIE Fighter?! It’s a laudable attempt, but there are still issues here. Thanks for mentioning some wonderful space games, though.

  23. Landiss says:

    I forgive you everything wrong on the list, because you got the number one good.

  24. gou says:

    stop putting screenshots above their respective titles

    • spacedyemeerkat says:

      Agreed, it needs to stop.

      At least put it after the game title, if not at the end of each segment.

      • basszje says:

        +1 I never can tell which image belongs to what part. Unless that’s your goal.

    • hijuisuis says:

      Yep, agreed, somehow I can still never tell without scrolling up and down a few times. Very illogical.

  25. juan_h says:

    The Freespace series is one of my great gaming regrets. I loved Privateer and I especially loved Tie Fighter, but I never played Freespace or Freespace 2 back when they were the exciting new thing. I bought both games from GOG a few years ago, but I have yet to play either apart from a brief flirtation with the tutorial in Freespace 1. I’m not sure why. It may be that my PC is hooked up to the TV in my living room these days. I have learned from bitter experience (revisiting Privateer and Tie Fighter, naturally) that it’s harder and much less comfortable to play a game with a flight-stick while sitting on a couch or on the floor than it is while sitting at a desk. I’m not sure if they can be played (either well or at all) with mouse and keyboard and I don’t care to find out. I just don’t feel like an ace space-pilot without a joystick.

  26. Chaz says:

    Elite’s next big update, dubbed The Engineers, is due for beta testing in May and aims to introduce a new mission system that rewards players with crafting materials as well as credits.

    Err… something tells me that this entire feature has been recycled in a quick cut and paste job. The Engineers update came out in May 2016.

  27. monsieur_cronkypont says:

    House of the Dying Sun is definitely in my top 3 space games of all time. I would argue it’s better than Freespace 2, since it has built on that game’s legacy, and then stripped and polished until it’s much more streamlined, intense, and satisfying. Strongest argument: try going back to Freespace 2 after finishing HotDS! I did… It feels like dodgem cars in space.

  28. Gothnak says:

    1. MOO2
    2. Privateer
    3. Original Elite on my BBC B (I got a free copy of the new one and completely bounced off it)
    4. X-Wing & Tie Fighter
    5. FTL

    Eve should be there somewhere i expect, but not played it myself, i hate other people too much :).

  29. Nucleus says:

    I’m pretty sure that Steam has Tie Fighter 95 nowadays too, not just 94 and 98.

  30. edwardoka says:

    Hardwar was an excellent game (despite the combat AI) and it is a travesty both that the game didn’t exert more influence on game design and that the Software Refinery went under.

    I genuinely think that 1998 may actually have been the best year for PC games.

    Also, no love for Homeworld or AI War? Boo! Boo I say!

    • Blake Casimir says:

      And no mention about the cool IDM soundtrack featuring Autechre (when they hadn’t become highly esoteric sound sculpturers and were actually making… music.)

  31. Gothnak says:

    Oh, can we all at least agree on the worst space game ever made?

    Frontier: Elite 2.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      There is Privateer 2 too, I never played Frontier but I know for sure that Privateer 2: The Darkening is one of the worst games I ever played and one of the few I’d consider *really* bad.

      • juan_h says:

        It was better than the first Privateer in several respects, but the space combat really suffered because of the terrible AI for the enemy pilots, all of whom tended to fly directly at your ship at all times. It was more like a game of bumper cars than a proper space-dogfight. I’m not sure if the fact that collisions did so little damage helped or hurt.

    • edwardoka says:

      Sacrilege! Frontier: Elite 2 might not have made this list but it deserved to. (Although its immediate sequel FFE made the galaxy seem more alive by adding a time-based storyline, it lacked the austere flat-shaded charm of the original.)

      Prepare yourself, sir, as this can only resolved one way. We must space-joust to the death!

      • RuySan says:

        I might be misremembering, but wasn’t the problem with Frontier the fact that the Amiga 500 was just too underpowered to run it properly, or was it something else?

        • edwardoka says:

          Considering the scope of the game, it running at all on Amiga is nothing short of amazing. A procgen galaxy with Newtonian physics and planetary landing in 400k of assembly.

          I never noticed the framerate being an issue at the time on my stock A600 (unless I was being chased off a planet by the police and happened to look backwards).

          While FFE on PC looked better at the time of release than FE2 on 68k Amiga did, it doesn’t hold up nearly as well.

          Oh, the cracks in the gameplay are glaring (oh, how convenient that these pirates know exactly where I am, 40AUs out) and combat devolves into literal space jousting, but many of the criticisms leveled at FE2 can also be leveled at E:D (yes, NPC commanders who apparently only exist in a bubble around your ship, I’m talking about you.)

          For its time, it surpassed everything else that had come before. For sheer scale of ambition I think it has yet to be surpassed.

          </fanboi>

  32. zauberkraut says:

    Empire! by Firebird

    Also, Psi 5 Trading Company by Accolade

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  33. Doc DarkStar says:

    I was expecting to see Captain Blood on the list, few games have left such a strong impression on me.

    • Premium User Badge

      john_silence says:

      Captain Blood conveyed a profound sense of the mystery and loneliness of space. CGA graphics helped. Its nonchalant, fatalistic cool helped too.

      Out There managed that peculiar sense of impenetrability and cosmic indifference very well.

  34. Eightball says:

    I forgot to plug Sword of the Stars (1 of course) in my earlier comment! There’s an alternative universe where SOTS became sort of like Total War In Space, instead of never releasing a second game.

    • bacon seeker says:

      They did release a second game, and a dungeon crawler… the problem was, the second game was half baked.

  35. monsieur_cronkypont says:

    Fraser – Overload is the modern remake of Descent, by the original team. It’s more Descent than Descent:Underground! Can you please add this to the list of “like games” below Descent? It also has a free playable demo on Steam, which I’ve spent a few hours with and it’s pretty good. Only problem is, it’s so much like the original Descent, it feels like it’s not bringing anything new.

    • monsieur_cronkypont says:

      Oh god – please ignore the post above. That will teach me to read articles in patchy, non-linear fashion.

  36. geldonyetich says:

    There’s an awful lot of nostalgia in this list, such as putting Tachyon: The Fringe on it at all, but I’ll forgive ya because you put Freespace 2 at #1. Maybe I, too, am overly nostalgic.

  37. Darth Gangrel says:

    Anachronox is a great and funny game which deals with space and time in a kind of mindfuck-ish way. I love the writing and characterization and the game oozes charm. The soundtrack is great, the dialogue is very good and surprisingly funny even from no-name NPC’s.

    The combat was very enjoyable and if jrpg’s generally have the same combat, then I might stop avoiding them like the plague (except for the ones with the oversized doe eyes for girls, don’t like that art style).

  38. gabrielonuris says:

    Have anyone here played a game called Precursors? I think it is a russian title, I don’t know…

    It was my first ever space “sim”, and maybe the closest I could get from landing on planets (before Elite Dangerous and Evochron).

    Every planet has its own art style, soundtrack and quests to interact with, even with completely different NPCs.

    Imagine if Mass Effect was in first person and you actually could fly your own ship; hell, imagine if STALKER and Mass Effect had a baby game: it’s Precursors.

  39. bacon seeker says:

    You missed Homeworld, Homeworld 2, Homeworld Catacylsm, and Sword of the Stars… you put Mass Effect 2 ahead of those??? But I applaud you for getting Distant Worlds on there at least.

  40. mpk says:

    So is this a completely new list, or just a reworking of the previous edition. I see that you’ve cunningly hidden the first version from sight.

    Anyway: you’ve done this twice, and EVE Online has been missing both times. I’m sorry, but that’s the final straw. I’m afraid you’ll just have to leave. It’s over between us.

    nobutsrsly

  41. gorte says:

    The one game on the list I was missing is Starsector. Sure, it’s technically not a release version yet, but it’s been really damn good for years now. It’s basically a combination of Mount & Blade campaign map with Star Control 2 combat and plays wonderfully.

  42. perablenta says:

    Freespace 2 singleplayer campaign… o man… played it over 10,12 more like 15 times since I first played the game almost 20 years ago. I still consider it the most well made, fun and immersive story and gameplay I ever played on PC. It’s simply the game that made me fall in love with space games.

  43. Rituro says:

    As a suggestion for “games like FTL”, Convoy is of a similar bent, except you’ve crashed on a planet and need to get a convoy of ragtag vehicles together to repair yourself.

  44. danimalkingdom says:

    it’s = “it is”
    its = “this thing’s”

    Sorry, great piece but the grammar was driving me nuts all the way through.

    *ducks back out of sight*

    • Person of Interest says:

      This is also my main takeaway from reading the article.

    • ashleys_ears says:

      Also, it was clearly written over a year and a half ago and just copied and pasted for a filler article today. The Engineers update to Elite: Dangerous, the one it claims is about to enter beta in May? It dropped May 26th… of 2016.

      No wonder Endless Space 2 didn’t make the list.

  45. Rainshine says:

    I own a large chunk of this list, and many similar games that aren’t on here. Ignoring my distaste for the ME series, Freelancer never made any of my lists. Maybe my expectations were too high or something, but I was bitterly disappointed playing the base game. Felt so stale and linear when it came to gameplay — fly to point a, shoot the guys there. If you ever play again, you’ll do the exact same thing. I guess I wanted more RPG.
    I’ve bought X-X3, and I think I still have the CD for X3. It’s been a series I really want to play and enjoy, but after climbing that learning curve for a couple hours, I always fall off and quit.

  46. Mezelf says:

    I’m honestly shocked No Man’s Sky isn’t on this list.
    Not because I think it should be, but because this website had several of its writers defending and praising it.

    • syllopsium says:

      I tend to think it should be on the list, it’s certainly better than some of the games.

      I’m about 20 hours in and generally loving it. It’s one of the very few games to seem genuinely alien and threatening (at least at first, after a bit of resource gathering things are easier). The language learning is excellent, and it’s useful to see trading and missions.

      Of course it also has an abysmal flight model that seems to make combat impossible, the fact small trading pods in the middle of nowhere allow large items magically to be converted to money seems horribly unrealistic, and the star map/tracking of missions is sub-standard..

  47. jozinho says:

    Hello RPS, Descent is back on GOG as of recently! Update that link so the good readers of RPS can enjoy a game whose novelty still impresses more than 20 years later.
    link to gog.com
    link to gog.com
    link to gog.com

    • Det. Bullock says:

      Also: the first two games can work with more or less every control scheme and peripherals you can throw at them thanks to sourceports, with widescreen resolutions too which is always nice.

  48. TheAngriestHobo says:

    This list doesn’t contain Endless Space 2 and is therefore objectively wrong.

    • ashleys_ears says:

      This article was written almost two years ago and just copied, pasted and presented as new today.

    • RuySan says:

      Yes, i found it weird because the game seemed much more well received around these parts than Stellaris.

      But Master or Orion 2 is also missing, so i don’t know…

      • kuertee says:

        I can accept not having MOO2 in the list. If you’re a Moo2 fan, you should have tried more recent games of the genre by now and have found them better than Moo2. Sure Moo2 defined the genre which qualifies it for a “of all time” list.

  49. syllopsium says:

    OOlite should probably be on the list, it’s remarkably accomplished. Original Elite has not aged well, unfortunately, although I fancy trying ArcElite at some point.

    One of the worst space games is DOS Elite, if I remember correctly the second fancy one rather than the first. The second one has no sound effects unless you own a CM32-L, and at least one of them makes it almost impossible to find the space station when jumping into a system.

    I’m presuming Freelancer and Freespace are not worth playing unmodded. I have both, not played yet..

    Still intend to play Tie Fighter more, it’s so smooth with wonderful sound. I made the effort to get it working on a retro gaming box, it truly is a pain in the arse to configure.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      Mods in Freespace are mostly there for compatibility/resolution, added content and some shiny things, the gameplay stays the same (and it’s top notch, it’s basically a further improvement on Tie Fighter, if small). The original games had somewhat limited resolution choices, the first one in particular was very limited in fact one of the oldest (and best polished) mods for Freespace 2 is the port of the original Freespace campaign to the new engine (both retail an open) for exactly this reason.
      I hope you have a keyboard with Tie Fighter, with that game you need either a keyboard or a carefully programmed HOTAS, you could probably configure a gamepad but you are gonna need to reach for the keyboard.

      • syllopsium says:

        Shiny is usually good, if it’s sympathetic to the game (i.e. not like Morrowind mods which look nice but ruin the intended atmosphere).

        For Tie Fighter I’m running it on a proper retro PC, pentium II 300MHz, with both a Soundblaster AWE64 and a Roland Sound Canvas attached via a MIDI card. Joystick is an analogue affair connected to the Soundblaster, but not quite as advanced as some of the proper flights sticks of the day.

        Privateer sounds and plays well too, although the mission difficulty and necessary grinding can be a little annoying.

        • Det. Bullock says:

          In my time I had a Pentium II with a soundblaster 16, but After the first couple of years I had it I always used USB joysticks, I was able to finish Tie Fighter only after buying the windows version imported (because it wasn’t available in Italy due to the collapse of the local distributor for Lucasarts games) because the dos prompt after a while refused to run my old CD (which made my old 486 crash on Installation), thankfully there’s dosbox today.

          • syllopsium says:

            If it helps, Tie Fighter is an absolute git to get working. There’s a bug whereby if you use a SoundBlaster to play MIDI, sound, and run a joystick there are occasional pauses in action (every 10s or so). To fix it a second sound card is required..

          • Det. Bullock says:

            Ha, no, the problem was a “stack overflow” error when trying to run the thing, it was random at the start but after a while it happened every time I tried to run it.
            In any case, I don’t have the space for a dedicated retrogame machine (I still have my old PC cabinet with everything still in it somewhere in a box but everything else has been either re-used for the PC I had after it or broke down ages ago) and I don’t feel the need for one, basically all the old games I need and then some work with my Windows 7 PC.

          • syllopsium says:

            Stack overflow normally means either ‘this PC is faster than the designers anticipated’, a memory issue, or not sticking STACKS=9,256 (or better) in CONFIG.SYS (i.e. an actual stack overflow).

            You’re right, practically all Windows games run fine on more recent versions, DOSBox is on the whole very good, and there’s a whole load of modern engine implementations (eDuke32, Exult, nuvie…) offering advantages in play over the original.

  50. mitthrawnuruodo says:

    Elite : Tedious is #3?! Really? Its an insult to space sims of yore, including the previous games of Elite / Frontier series.

    • kuertee says:

      Ummm…no it doesn’t insult Elite / Frontier series. It pays “homage” to it…ummm…in the name. For Elite Dangerous to be ranked third doesn’t insult Elite classic. But for Elite Dangerous to have “Elite” in its name, you may argue, insults Elite classic. See the difference? :P

      And I suggest you record yourself playing an Elite classic session and release it on YouTube. Then let’s compare its tediousness with Elite Dangerous’ tediousness. I guarantee that you will find both tedious but in different ways.