Is Titanfall out yet? Is Titanfall out yet? NO! But it will be soon and both Ted and Sean are eagerly awaiting its arrival on their laps. In the meantime, I decided that ahead of the game’s release that we should be talking about our favorite Science Fiction games for our Top 5. Now, keep in mind that this could’ve been a Top 5 about robots, but that’s a little bit too limiting and I really don’t think some of us have played enough video games with robots. Still, this should be another interesting list to read. Let’s get into it, shall we?
5. Mega Man 3
While many people felt that Mega Man 2 was one of the best games in the series, my personal preference is Mega Man 3. The music, sound effects, the introduction of both Rush and Proto Man, and Mega Man’s slide were some of the coolest things to have happened in the series. There’s also the fact that the level and robot designs of Mega Man 3 had evolved tremendously, with lots more animations, crazier weaponry, and even more dangerous obstacles. Ok, I guess none of those were as dangerous as say Quick Man’s stage in Mega Man 2, but as a whole package Mega Man 3 felt like it was the most fully realized game in the series to me.
4. Super Metroid
When I bought Super Metroid on the Wii Virtual Console and booted it up again after all these years, the music and the visuals that played immediately sent chills down my spine. The striking title screen and introduction was something no one had ever seen before and set the mood of the game perfectly. I could’ve stopped right there, but there’s a reason why many fans of the later Castlevania games revere the Metroid series in high regard. Fantastic gameplay, lots of exploration, and weapons that seemed to open up new areas for you to explore are but some of the many reasons why I come back to this game at least once a year.
3. Portal 2
While the original Portal provided a fantastic introduction to the game mechanics of the series, Portal 2 further defined the comedy and the expectation of what a Portal game should be. I remember when I first got the game on my PlayStation 3 and how I quickly unwrapped it from its casing and popped it in and being surprised that, after a couple of hours, I hadn’t defeated it yet. The amount of surprises, incredible characterization (for even inanimate objects that is), the mystery behind the testing facility, and, of course, the fantastic finale, quickly made Portal 2 one of my favorite science fiction games of all time.
2. Bioshock Infinite
In this particular vote for Bioshock Infinite, it’s definitely a question of style over substance. While I liked the storyline of Bioshock Infinite, I didn’t like it enough to put it on my Top 1. However, one of the most important things in science fiction games for me is the atmosphere, and Bioshock Infinite certainly delivered with its high production values and more visceral combat moments than its predecessor. Sure, it made my PS3 chug sometimes, but it’s going to be hard to top the amount of detail and atmosphere Bioshock Infinite delivered.
1. Mass Effect Trilogy
Before I talk about this series again, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am more of a Star Wars fan than Star Trek, and I scoffed at the idea of even having a series based on the 1970s Battlestar Galactica on the Sci-Fi Channel. Star Wars to me was more exciting and a more engaging experience and really captured my imagination. So how did a game that has more similarities with Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica wind up on my list and Star Wars isn’t even mentioned once?
Other than telling you that I’m probably getting old and that my tastes are becoming a little bit more sophisticated (yea right), Mass Effect engaged me like no other game before it. Sure, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic mimicked a really good Star Wars storyline, but the choices that you made in Mass Effect felt like it affected many lives. In terms of gameplay, being the Commander of your own ship is such a big deal that you feel the weight of everyone on board on your shoulders. It’s very rare that a game can do this to me and Mass Effect, despite its controversial ending, still delivered an experience that’s unlike anything out there to date. Here’s hoping they capture the magic in the next trilogy. And yea, I’m calling it that. You read it here first.
Lots of honorable mentions this week! I’m just going to list them off: Fallout 3, the Star Ocean series, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the Halo series, Star Fox, the Mass Effect trilogy, the Metal Gear Solid series, and Bioshock.
5. Super Metroid
As half of a pair of very old games that make Metroidvania games what they are, you would think Super Metroid would be obsolete by now. Nope. It’s still an incredible game, and few of the games that have impersonated it since have lived up to its standard, and fewer still have surpassed it. The other half of Metroidvania, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, is among those few, and it too holds up extraordinarily well to this day. But this is a list of Science Fiction games, so Super Metroid gets the spot. Its setting is wonderfully realized both visually and aurally—the music is out of this world—and the gameplay is addicting and fun. Super Metroid is not only one of the best Science Fiction games, it’s also one of the best games ever created.
4. Portal and Portal 2
We talk a lot about the Portal games on Gamer Horizon, and for good reason. They’re both brilliant Science Fiction games. The first game acquired our attention with its difficult, but never overly frustrating puzzles with the portal gun, and its incredible antagonist in GLaDOS. The sequel won us over with an unparalleled sense of humor and refined mechanics. As much as I’m looking forward to Half-Life 3, I’m actually looking forward to Portal 3 even more.
3. Borderlands and Borderlands 2
If there was ever a franchise that I never expected to enjoy as much as I did, it would be Borderlands. But both games ended up keeping me entertained for dozens of hours as I acquired imaginative weapons, fought off bizarre creatures, and laughed my head off while appreciating the characters and setting. The combination of a Diablo style loot-driven game and a first person shooter was a bit farfetched, but the developers at Gearbox Software did an excellent job. They also crafted an interesting Science Fiction universe and implemented a unique visual style that made both games a pleasure to look at. Out of nowhere, Borderlands became one of my favorite franchises.
2. Half-Life and Half-Life 2
When Half-Life came out, it was a bit of an oddity: a first person shooter with a storyline worth paying attention to! And the hero wasn’t a marine and/or a pile of muscle, but a highly intelligent scientist. The game was patient, with an extensive introduction that drew the player into the game world, and was filled with challenges that required careful thinking as often as accurate shooting. Half-Life 2 was much the same, improving the gunplay and storytelling while putting further emphasis on creative thinking with its physics based puzzles. As Science Fiction games, they were filled will bizarre aliens and crazy technology that made exploring the world and setting a pleasure. There’s a reason everyone is eager for Half-Life 3, and the cliffhanger ending of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 is only the tip of that iceberg.
1. StarCraft and the StarCraft II trilogy
I love the StarCraft universe; it is among my favorites in Science Fiction. The lore and history of each of the three featured races is fascinating, and even if the storyline gets a bit silly, I still enjoy just experiencing the setting. It helps that the games are among the finest real time strategy games ever produced. I’ve always preferred Blizzard’s style of RTS to that of games like Command & Conquer, Age of Empires or Company of Heroes. The StarCraft games are absolutely my favorite representations of the genre, and I’m really looking forward to playing the last game in the StarCraft II trilogy. I’m even dreaming about StarCraft III.
There may be a a seemingly glaring omission on my list with me not including Knights of the Old Republic. The explanation for that is simple: I don’t consider Star Wars to be science fiction. It’s a fantasy, not unlike Lord of the Rings, only set in space as opposed to Middle Earth. Science fiction, to me, is about the science and how man interacts with it. The themes and stories are wholly dependent on the science in order for it to work. I don’t feel like Star Wars needs the space, androids, lightsabers, The Force at all, in order for its story to work.
In all honesty, I could write a relatively short book about it, but that’s not why you’re reading this. I am simply getting ahead of anyone that reads this and thinks, why isn’t KotOR on my list.
Anyway, with my definition and reasoning out of the way, here we go.
5. Deus Ex
Ion Storm’s Deus Ex was a marvel at the time of release 14 years ago and graphics aside, it still holds up today. A complex FPS RPG with an incredibly innovative choice system, branching paths based on choices, and character upgrades, it could have been a wholly different experience from one player to the next. Its science fiction is full of what are now well-worn tropes – nanotechnology, the ethics of augmentation of humans through technology, aliens, and the advancement of China in technology. All well worn ground, but in video games it was all fresh and new. Deus Ex help usher in a whole new style of game play that to this day can still be seen in varying degrees in tons of game – from Mass Effect to even Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. If you love science fiction at all, you should play this game.
What begins as mind bending, incredibly inventive puzzle game turns into something far more sinister and intriguing before its end. The protagonist, Chell, has been dutifully taking part in a series of increasingly complex tests involving portals – intra-dimensional holes created by the Portal Gun that allows the user to shoot portals at walls and floors allowing navigation through them to reach the exit of the test chambers. Physics play a huge part in the success of the player and right when we are about to meet our end, we escape into the walls of Aperture Science to seek out and confront the malevolent AI, GLaDOS, who has been steering us to our death the entire time. It was a mind-blowing twist at the time, which even now, is flawlessly executed. Amazing stuff.
3. Portal 2
Portal 2 wouldn’t exist without the groundwork laid by Portal, but Portal 2 expands on it in every single way imaginable. Pulling back the curtain on Aperture Science, players are taken into a world where we can see the physical embodiment of the phrase, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in the section where we meet the founder of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson. Where his desire to push the boundaries of science lead to his own death from cancer caused by heavy exposure to “moon dust.” Death in the name of and caused by science. If you haven’t played it, I suggest you do because only Valve can make something as dark as what I just described laugh out loud hilarious.
The first Bioshock is an amazingly well told science fiction story, with themes of addiction, post hypnotic suggestions, the quest for Utopia that gives way to the very worst facets of human kind. Rapture is such a wonderfully realized world in which every corner is rich with details and world building. All wrapped in an amazing commentary on video games and the people that love them. Like all of the best science fiction, Bioshock has something to say. And boy does it say it really, really well.
1. Mass Effect Trilogy
I am including the entire series because it’s story encompasses 3 games, and one can’t really exist without the others, despite Bioware’s and EA’s Marketing Department’s assertions.
And what an amazing story it is – human’s being the last species to reach beyond the Galaxy. Spectres, Biotics, alien races, intrigue, an inter Galactic threat. The Genophage, the Quarrian/Geth wars, synthetics vs humans and a ton more. The Mass Effect trilogy features some of the favourite science fiction writing in any medium and my very favourite in video games.
With fantastic character development, a rich story that spanned through three games and multiple expansions, and gameplay that constantly evolved throughout the series, I completely agree with Sean with his pick for his Top 1.
5. The Journeyman Project
If time travel is science fiction, then The Journeyman Project should probably be on this list. A photorealistic game that predates Myst by a full year, you’re an agent of the Temporal Security Agency, whose job is to fix the timeline when rogue time travelers try to alter the present by changing the past. This actually isn’t a long or super difficult game, but has extreme nostalgia value for me. The developer went out of business in 2002 after publishing Whacked! for the original launch of Xbox Live, and I miss them dearly.
With so many entertainment products about science fiction about the wonderous realm of cyberspace, how about a game where you are a hacker and you hack things? Uplink fictionalizes many aspects of hacking, but in its own realm it is realistic; you get a computer that you can upgrade, get software for, and you run jobs for mysterious clients. Eventually, you might get wrapped up in something big. However, you’re never beyond your computer screen and the battle you wage is done with the same mouse and keyboard you control your desktop OS with. There’s a definite cyberpunk vibe here that jives well with that science fiction mood.
3. Wing Commander
Definitely a product of its time, Wing Commander was a simple series: You’re a bunch of flyboys out to destroy the evil aliens. That’s how it started, anyway, but there was a decent amount of depth created on both sides of the war thanks to storytelling that got fleshed out more and more. This might as well have been Top Gun in space, but it was cool and very 90’s and very fun, the likes of which will probably never come around again.
2. Deus Ex
Deus Ex created a terrifying universe where government control can grow unchecked in the face of terrorism. It is an unlikely coincidence that the game came out very close to 9/11. Seeing people being nano-augmented was believable, but the game was never about your augments, it’s about what you did with them to deal with the problems in this new universe. It also was neat to see these new nano-augments contrasted with the old and clunky looking mechanical augments. That is world building, right there. Deus Ex Invisible War may have gone off the tracks a bit, and Human Revolution somehow looked a bit more futuristic, despite being set before the events of the first game. All in all, it created something far, but not too far.
1. Mass Effect
What I look for in a science fiction game is world building. Create a universe that I can buy into, that I have to stretch a little bit to understand, but not so much that I become detached from it. Mass Effect sits perfectly between those two extremes, and as it eases you into its gameplay loop, so does it do so with its universe. You’ll get introduced to more alien races and learn the lore behind them. By Mass Effect 3, you feel like you understand and have a modicum of mastery over this universe. Best of all, if you want to go deeper, there’s plenty of secondary material, like books and comics.
Deus Ex was one of those games I missed out on while I was a hardcore PC gamer. It’s a deep game, but was one of those games that I just didn’t have the time to play. Thankfully, Square Enix reignited my interest in the series with the superb Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Voila! There you have it: Gamer Horizon’s Top 5 Science Fiction games! Did we meet or exceed your expectations? Did we miss anything? What is on your list? Sound off in the comments below or, should you wish, we can read it on the air on our Gamer Horizon After Hours podcast if you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.