Star Control 2 – classic sci-fi (pic: Interplay)
Readers discuss their favourite science fiction video games, from Mass Effect to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Carter, and covered games from every time period and format, as long as they could be described as science fiction. That includes a large swathe of games, from the dawn of gaming to the latest blockbusters.
Despite that fact, some games did get mentioned more than once, with the upcoming remake of Dead Space making it an obvious choice for many, as well as fellow horror series Resident Evil and various Star Wars games.
I’d say sci-fi is my favourite setting for all media, not just games. I like it for many reasons, as an allegory on current day issue or commentary on the human condition, showing the potential impact of technology on society or just presenting interesting scientific theory in an entertaining and compelling way. But I think all those ways are plugged in to the core appeal of sci-fi of just looking up and contemplating space and the awe, wonder, and questions it presents. Sci-fi always feels compelling and epic for me.
Hard to pick one favourite sci-fi game but I think I’ll plump for Star Control 2. It has a galactically epic main story in a universe that holds lots of interesting discoveries with lots of really well written, fun, intriguing species to interactive with. It’s more linear than it first appears but worth trying for yourself if you’ve not played it, especially as it’s available for free on PC as a fan made effort called The Ur-Quan Masters. You can find the game here and a HD version here.
My favourite sci-fi game is Star Wars Supremacy, which was released in the late ‘90s on the PC. It was called Star Wars Rebellion in other regions, for some reason. It was a sandbox game but the use of the licensed characters, as well as many from the expanded universe, meant that you could truly create your own story.
It had enough control over things like diplomacy, exploration, espionage, expansion, and warfare but somehow didn’t become too bogged down in multiple menus, like Stellaris suffers from. There was always something to do even while waiting on construction of your Death Star and a lot of variety in the gameplay.
The graphics were good for the time but look a bit dated now, so it would be great if they could remake it to bring it to a new audience. It’s well worth a try for any Star Wars or sci-fi fan, although I would recommend turning off some of the notifications from C-3PO before he drives you mad.
I’m not a big sci-fi fan, as to me a lot of environments in futuristic games come across to me as sterile and metallic. For example, I’d rather be exploring the village and castle in Resident Evil 4 than the samey corridors of Dead Space.
I did however enjoy Deus Ex: Human Revolution because despite the dreary environments, the futuristic augmentations your character had made the gameplay varied. You could turn invisible for stealth or use the Typhoon Explosive System to go all out and take out a group of enemies!
Resistance 3 was good too, as an alien shooter, with some great weapons and was the standout game in the series, the road trip you took across an alien infested America was far more compelling then the so-so games that came before it.
E-mail your comments to: [email protected]
I’m quickly getting Mass Effect out the way as the obvious candidate, especially with its excellent codex. It reminded me a bit of the appendices that come with some editions of The Lord of the Rings, and entries for things like how weapon ammunition works and the cooling system for the Normandy give the lore an almost Tolkien-like substance when it comes to detail.
My main suggestion, though, and this has been my answer for a few different Hot Topics now, is Outer Wilds. Since so much of the logic and awe it conveys is based on real physics, it doesn’t need detailed explanations for elements of the world and lore (it’s impossible to use that word without sounding like a total nerd) because a lot its gameplay relies on a history of science.
Whether it’s matching the speed of your vessel with whatever celestial body you’re trying to land on, firing a probe into a manufactured wormhole only to see it come out of the other end earlier than it goes in, or exploiting the nuances of the ‘observer effect’ in quantum physics to change the location of certain objects, all this and more ties in meaningfully to the gameplay in a way that interests (and doesn’t alienate) people like me who don’t know the ins and outs of Newton, Einstein, and their successors.
Of course, like a lot of classic sci fi, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s an element of cosmic transcendence that leaves some things unexplained but with a great sense of profundity. One of the most interesting and intelligent games I’ve ever played.
I really had to think about this and what I have in my own personal top 10 games list, see what I’ve got. Most of it is fantasy and childish whimsy. The most obvious choice is either Mass Effect 2 or 3 and call it a day. I haven’t been back to either in a while, so I’m torn as to which is better. Mass Effect 3 was very good up until, you know, that ending. But while the lore is great, the sense of immersion in its universe is lacking, seeing as you only have a bite-sized portion of each planet to explore. In as much as BioWare would allow you to, of course.
I then thought, maybe Super Mario Galaxy 2? Or Odyssey? But no, that feels like a cheat. Any sort of sci-fi angle is mere window dressing. Same would go for Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. And that’s the most sci-fi vibes the series has ever had, no? Advanced technology lost to time? But again, not really. It’s a much different focus than its Studio Ghibli inspirations of Laputa: Castle in the Sky or Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Or even Horizon Zero Dawn. Which is a bit… dull, if I’m honest.
So, I think that leaves… Resident Evil 4. Which is science-gone-wrong horror. So, it counts. It doesn’t feel right, because I don’t think it’s full science fiction unless it’s something more like Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Farscape (yes, I am very old) but it counts, doesn’t it?
Not that it really explains much about how any of it works. But hey, alien parasite – it worked for Ridley Scott, am I right? Well, they kind of imply that the Las Plagas parasite did not originate here on Earth. Which is very silly and very on brand for Resident Evil.
Also, the remake is looking very promising, yes? Didn’t Ashley look a little too similar to Ada? And will she still be voiced by Sandy Cheeks from Spongebob? Probably not. Sigh…
This weekend’s Hot Topic has a great question. What is your favourite sci-fi game?
Sounds simple enough in its purest form. Yet if you’re like me and you’re a dinosaur as far as gaming is concerned, you’ve probably been playing games since the mid ‘80s or maybe even sooner than that?
Then you will probably be looking at it from a perspective like me, that most games actually were sci-fi back in the day, although it has to said I myself am not a massive sci-fi fan, to be honest.
Sure, we had Frogger and Donkey Kong to put a bit of character into gaming and they did a fine job, one of those titles even spawned probably the most lovable character in gaming history. So it wasn’t all laser beams and spaceships.
Yet it was a sci-fi slugfest back in the day: Centipede, Millipede, E.T., Space Invaders, R-Type anyone? I would even throw Pac-Man into the mix, as he is at his headonism pinnacle when he is at his neon fuelled, clinical best.
The reason I bought the word clinical up was because back in the day when graphics where in their purest form. There was no memory available to make the place look untidy, with rubbish dotted about all over the place, or pigeons scampering off in fear. Which I suspect was probably a good reason why the scrolling beat ’em-up became so popular not long after that.
The clinical element came from lack of usable memory which leaned towards the sci-fi side of things and the interior of spaceships and the world around it which it inhabits.
I know a lot of people will put the argument across about the Alien films, which has some disgusting scenes in it, but boy didn’t they make a fuss of those messy scenes? Probably because it was supposed to be so clinical, which is exactly my point. Early games where very clinical and simplistic in their graphic storytelling.
I do feel the end of the Cold War probably helped and we all just wanted to go and blow-up enemy spaceships and feel like we were saving planet earth from the dangers of the universe. Which still feels good today through the medium that is gaming, to be honest.
Although I have to ask, is the likes of Speedball 2 considered sci-fi? It’s certainly set in the future but it’s just guys throwing a steel ball around? It looks clinical enough to be a futuristic sci-fi game though?
Resident Evil? Is that science fiction or biological fiction? Even so, Isn’t biology considered a form of science?
I’m nitpicking, here, of course, to put my point across.
My point is this, whether you are a sci-fi fan or not, as long as you are a gaming fan. Then just remember that science fiction held gaming’s hand a long time ago through its infancy, it pretty much pointed us all in the right direction and like it or not, it played a major role in what you and I play today.
GC: We’re not sure we get your point, to be honest. But while Resident Evil and Speedball 2 are unquestionably sci-fi, we don’t see how Centipede, Millipede or Pac-Man could possibly qualify.
Dead Space will always be a big success in my mind, for horror sci-fi. It did everything in my eyes, regarding the setting with all the exterior and internal artwork, which represents the world you’re playing and exploring in fantastically well.
When I watch the Alien films and films like The Thing and Event Horizon, Dead Space recreates most of my favourite scenarios and jump scares with the awesome atmosphere. The fact that the weapons you use were also so fulfilling made this exciting game even more entertaining.
For a sci-fi game the weapons were totally what you’d want. My favourites being the plasma cutter and line gun. The satisfaction I got from these weapons, from cutting up enemies, never got boring and were my most used.
But the game was completed by having the perfect derelict spaceship to explore, with all the trimmings and room types needed to make it work. From surgical rooms to the bridge, the cargo and shuttle bays, rest rooms and crew quarters, and science laboratories. All excellently designed and exactly what you wanted based on the films that ultimately the game was inspired by.
The exploration through the ship at the start, which obviously had some bloody and disturbing incidents, all leads up nicely to the first scare and panic situation. Then as the game and your character, Isaac, get deeper and more experienced with everything, the enemy types and what weapons are best to upgrade to take them on is another exciting experience.
The game’s sound effects, plus the video and audio logs you find, are good for the storylines and like BioShock, a game I closely compare to Dead Space, it makes for some interesting scenarios without bringing in actual characters to interact with personally.
The zero gravity areas and puzzle areas with all the action areas makes for me exactly what I wanted and the fact that a remake is rumoured seems great! But I always thought it was perfect as it was on the PlayStation 3. Either way, this was one of the best sci-fi games I have played and very hard to beat in my eyes, as it draws such a lot of inspiration from classic films.
E-mail your comments to: [email protected]
The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length and content.
You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word Reader’s Feature at any time via email or our Submit Stuff page, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.
You can also leave your comments below and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.
To submit Inbox letters and Reader’s Features more easily, without the need to send an email, just use our Submit Stuff page here.
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.