To borrow a phrase from the late, great Douglas Adams, space is a big deal. Really big. That’s why video games in space must feel so massive in scale. Stories must be epic, worlds must be rich and vibrant, and planets must be numerous. We have selected the best space games that will make you feel the vastness of the endless expanse.
This does not necessarily mean that we choose the games with the largest maps. Even if the game takes place between planets, it can still make you feel part of an enormous universe through the use of great world building, all sorts of different alien species, or even existential terrors of the unknown.
If you want to explore some worlds that are a bit more grounded, check out the best sandbox games instead.
Mass Effect 2
While the entire trilogy deserves a spot here, we’d pick Mass Effect 2 as our go-to if you only have time for one game. Not only is it a great RPG with complex characters and endless fun gameplay, but the world throws humanity into a world where other universe races are waiting for us until we reach the space age. With so many races and humanity’s small standing on the galactic council, you’ll be against the odds when it comes to saving the universe.
If you’re looking for a game that’s hands-off and lets you explore an entire solar system at your own pace, Outer Wilds is a dream come true. You’d better do it quickly, because after 22 minutes the Sun will expand and the system will be destroyed, sending you back into Groundhog mode. That’s all you need to know when entering. Find puzzles and find out everything yourself.
Kerbal Space Program
If you’ve ever watched a mission controller take on a real space mission, you’ll be aware of the entire room erupting into cheers and applause when they achieve their goal. If you want to feel it for yourself, try making a rocket that exits the atmosphere in the Kerbal Space Program. This is an in-depth game where you can build fully customized rockets to explore every inch of a massive solar system, but it will take a lot of horrible explosions before you can build something to do that.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky is an all-in-one space slasher survival/crafting game, the kind of world that sci-fi authors of the 80’s and 90’s envisioned. If you bounced from the game after the disastrous 2016 launch, you need to go back and try again because the game is virtually unrecognizable now. There have been a lot of massive content updates in the years since then and it really is a special experience worth trying now.
This shows you the size of space by making you the head of an intergalactic civilization, spreading across worlds and trying your best to keep everything from collapsing. Like any 4X strategy, there is a lot to learn from scratch, but it will be worth it if you go ahead. The races you can encounter, the wars you can fight, and the civilizations you can craft are truly mind-boggling.
We’ve talked a lot about the wonder and beauty of space, but there can be some real horrors out there, too. Perhaps no franchise explores this better than Alien, and Alien Isolation is by far the best game they’ve ever put their name on. When you’re trapped on a falling apart space station littered with dead crew, you need an alien escape, which just so happens to have one of the most intelligent AI systems in gaming. It’s incredibly tense and really terrifying – perfect for the franchise.
Where Alien Isolation uses modern oppressive horror to scare you, Dead Space opts for a survival horror style instead. Beings from the depths of your nightmares will charge you trying to tear off your limbs, but you are able to fight back if you have the skill and reflexes. It still knows how to scare you, with claustrophobia approaching at all times and new horrors around every corner.
When it comes to space sandboxes, Elite Dangerous is where you need to be. After purchasing your own spaceship to cruise the Milky Way, you have all sorts of options. You can transport goods to earn money, or you can be a bounty hunter, enduring star scourge. It is a slow game, but one that you will completely immerse yourself in while playing, and its realism and atmosphere cannot be matched.
There are some corrupting forces in space, and in Prey it’s your choice whether to slip through it or not. You can refuse modifications to your DNA if you want – stay pure, so to speak – but you will lose powerful abilities that will keep you alive in a very hostile environment. There is never enough ammo to shoot every problem, so we constantly encourage you to find other clever ways to get around it.
FTL: Faster Than Light
What FTL does better than any other game is create an authentic adventure through star systems in an expanding, branching universe. You’ll run into all sorts of problems like asteroid fields, space pirates, and giant alien spiders, and you can approach these problems any number of ways with different results.
It hinges on a great combat system that has you managing an entire ship, and there are never enough resources to keep each board spinning. It’s challenging and punishing, but endlessly engaging, so you’ll want to wander around again and again.
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