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The Top 25 Sci-Fi Games Of All Time

Dan Howdle


As a game, Halo makes it into the top ten. If rated as a piece of sci-fi alone, it would have failed.

We distill the essence of videogaming sci-fi into an opinionated list. A list that's right...

Published on Jun 7, 2011

25. Gears Of War

Developer: Epic Games

Year: 2006

As brash and brainless as the Gears Of War series is, there's no denying either the level of adoration it instils in its fans or the margin by which its germinal outing set a new bar of graphical expectation. Epics rendering of Sera's ruined beauty is truly a sight to behold.

24. Doom 3

Developer: id

Year: 2004

The original Doom marked the second generation of the now-ubiquitous first-person shooter genre (FPS), being a spiritual sequel to id's Wolfenstein 3D. What Doom 3 bought to the party was its ability to combine darkness, shadow and unremitting sci-fi terror.

23. Dead Space

Developer: Visceral Games

Year: 2008

Where Doom 3 made a point of hiding its denizens in shadow, Dead Space sees them leaping at your face with dismemberment your only means of salvation. Slicing weapons make up your first line of defence in a science-fiction horror that, while somewhat clichéd, hits all of the right notes.

22. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

Developer: Electronic Arts

Year: 2007

This third outing is the culmination of a sub-series which defined the realtime strategy, but it was in itself heavily influenced by – and initially using the same engine as – Dune II, its sci-fi RTS forebear. Much mimicked but rarely equalled, the C&C series continues unabated with next year's anticipated C&C4.

21. Fallout 3

Developer: Bethesda

Year: 2009

Although set a couple of centuries in the future, the Fallout series is heavily influenced by 1950's American culture and in turn, by sci-fi works that embody that decade's special relationship with cold war paranoiac fiction. The game features a vast post-apocalyptic playground where anything is possible.

20. Aliens Vs Predator

Developer: Rebellion

Year: 1999

Wherever there exists a list of the most terrifying videogame experiences ever created, so too does Rebellion's 1999 PC outing. An FPS at heart the game took the pre-existing 'fun' AVP premise and transformed it into a tryptic of sci-fi survival horror nightmares.

19. Tron 2.0

Developer: Monolith Productions

Year: 2003

Appearing over two decades after the motion picture, unlike its predecessor, a simply themed arcade game released in 1982, techie character Jet is digitised, this time into a sprawling FPS whose intricate design easily exceeds the quality of its source material. A very rare feat.

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Tron 2.0: All the fun of the film, minus Jeff Bridges

18. The Dig

Developer: Lucasarts

Year: 1995

Conceived by Steven Spielberg for his Amazing Stories series, the concept was transmuted to game form on account of its budgetary requirements. A point and click adventure, the game follows a Xenoarcheologist who must discover the mysteries buried beneath an earth-bound asteroid before its inevitable collision.

17.Dune II

Developer: Cryo Interactive

Year: 1992

As opposed to treading the path of taking a beloved pillar of 20th century sci-fi and whittling away at its spirit to find a hollow shooter pumped into its vacuously misunderstood core, Cryo invented a brand new genre – the RTS – while paying respectful homage to Frank Herbert's hugely influential universe.

16.Starcraft

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

Year: 1998

Widely considered the last major transformation of the RTS genre to the now increasingly stale genre, Starcraft is also notable for being the sci-fi counterpart to fantasy RTS Warcraft. We're sure we don't need to tell you what happened to that particular series.

15. Outcast

Developer: Appeal

Year: 1999

Outcast was a rarity in the world of sci-fi gaming with a broad set of influences which span such esoteric science fiction material as to create something that was – in videogame terms – as good as unique to its audience. The hysterically named American beef-hero Cutter Slade finds himself exploring an alien world in which he is mistaken for a messiah after the government cut a hole through space-time and potentially sealed earth's fate. A watershed sci-fi action adventure.

14. Beyond Good & Evil

Developer: Ubisoft

Year: 2003

When great games sell almost nothing at all, it's nigh-on impossible to conduct a conversation on the subject without referencing Michel Ancel's beloved 2003 classic. Set in 2345 and focusing on enigmatic green beauty Jade, the story follows her friendships with various anthropomorphic animals and her quest to discover the truth about why her otherwise peaceful mining world of Hyllis, is being flung into infested chaos. Beyond Good & Evil was and is a unique and hugely engrossing experience.

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Beyond Good & Evil: True sci-fi? You bet your sweet ass it is.

13. Metroid Prime

Developer: Retro Studios

Year: 2002

The first outing for Nintendo's classic series since Super Metroid in 1994, there was heavy trepidation that its move to 3D on the then-powerful GameCube would interfere with the series' key strengths; those of exploration and puzzle-based shooting. Happily, these concerns were obliterated, with Retro Studios delivering an unsurpassed action and exploration experience, now rightly regarded as a modern classic. The staples of its creation also ran through its equally excellent pair of sequels.

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Metroid Prime: Here's Samus Aran looking all cool and shiny.

12. Another World

Developer: Eric Chahi

Year: 1991

Notice that, rather than credit the game's publisher – Delphine Interactive – with Another World's creation, we have instead credited an individual. The game marks a tipping point in both interactive sci-fi and in gaming as a whole. It was one of the last commercial games to – other than the score – be created entirely by a single individual as well as being one of the first to offer cinematic camera angles and dialogue-free storytelling. Not only an enigma, but also a true classic.

11. System Shock 2

Developer: Irrational Games & Looking Glass Studios

Year: 1999

One of the first game to combine RPG and FPS elements, System Shock 2 was designed by now industry legend Ken Levine, a man who went on to create BioShock (number four on out list). Heavily influenced by cyberpunk, in addition to first person shooting and melee combat, the game allowed the player to upgrade skills such as hacking to gain easier footing in the game's disturbing cyber-zombie apocalypse nightmare.

10. Elite

Developer: Frontier Developments

Year: 1984

A seminal work, creators David Braben and Ian Bell crammed hundreds of hours of gameplay and a galaxy consisting of thousands of star systems into the memory of a 32k BBC Micro computer. To achieve this, the duo employed a set of clever algorithms which randomly generated the game's parameters within pre-defined limits. Elite is widely regarded as the first successful attempt by videogames to offer a true sci-fi experience.

9. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic

Developer: BioWare

Year: 2003

KOTOR as it is commonly known, came at a time at which the quality of Star Wars licenses had hit a new all-time low. A hugely immersive roleplaying game set centuries before the events of the films, KOTOR's rules were based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. With die-rolling happening invisibly in the background, the game offered a hugely immersive experience for Star Wars fans and a large helping of insight into the early history of its universe.

8. EVE Online

Developer: CCP

Year: 2003

The only MMO to make it into this list, EVE offers the player the intergalactic privateer experience in a universe consisting of over 7,500 star systems and around 300,000 other players. Players group in formations, occupy territory, trade and upgrade their ships. All out wars can involve thousands of players involved in a single space battle. Though relatively small, EVE has among the most loyal followings of any MMO.

7. Blade Runner

Developer: Westwood Studios

Year: 1997

A point and click adventure set in the world of Ridley Scott's 1982 classic, the director's vision of Los Angeles in the year 2019 was faithfully recreated in a game which pushed forward both graphics and in-game story-telling. The game famously featured an interactive version of the Voight-Kampf test as well as several photographic clued requiring of microscopic levels of zoom to reveal their secrets. The game is also noted for featuring an augmented, but nevertheless faithful interpretation of the film's original score and the appearance of several memorable characters such as 'Eye-Man'.

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Blade Runner: The game did a meticulous job of recreating the film's atmosphere.

6. Halo

Developer: Bungie

Year: 2001

Halo is and was a truly great shooter. One which pushed what we understand as FPS into the way in which it is now commonly defined. From a science fiction point of view, the game was a bag of clichés, however – one whose lead characters contained little to no defining factors besides a faceless suit of combat armour. As a game, Halo makes it into the top ten. If rated as a piece of sci-fi alone, it would have failed to make this list. The series, which is now better known for its multiplayer elements than its story is also notable for its vehemently outspoken fans who regard the series as a sci-fi masterpiece. There's no accounting for taste, we suppose.

5. Deus Ex

Developer: Ion Storm

Year:2000

Arriving around the same time as System Shock 2, Ion Storm's Cyberpunk masterpice – an FPS/RPG that's regarded by many as the greatest PC game ever made – cleverly combined Gibsonesque wetware upgrades into its gameplay. This allowed the player to approach the story and situational problems in the manner they wished. Stealthy hackers, balls-out action men and any combination in between were accessible by means of player-controlled augmentation of the game's lead character, the charismatic and Deckard-like JC Denton. Creator Warrant Spector is currently working on a dystopian take on the Mickey Mouse franchies – yes, really – known only as Epic Mickey.

4. Bioshock

Developer: 2K Boston

Year: 2007

Originally themed as 'Nazi Zombies On An Island' according to creator Ken Levine, Bioshock went through a series of radical changes to become the underwater socio-political sci-fi nightmare that we know today. Set in a vast underwater city – Rapture – created by genius Andrew Ryan to provide a place where the best minds on the planet can live and work free from the shackles of government, the game draws on a vast array of film and written fictional influences. It is noted for its art deco design which, in appearance, gives the game an early Flash Gordon-style patina.

3. Portal

Developer: Valve

Year: 2008

It may seem ostensibly odd that a game that takes a mere two and a half hours to complete is in the top three sci-fi games of all time. But what Portal lacks in longevity, it makes up for in its near-perfect marriage of gameplay, aesthetics, an inspired set of influences, and a streak of genuinely funny humour that we challenge any sci-fi fan to frown at. The premise is relatively simple; the player starts in a cell with no idea as to how they arrived there. Their only tool is a Portal gun which fires entrance and exit holes onto any flat surface. It quickly becomes apparent that you are being tested by a mildly psychotic computer named GLaDOS – think HAL only more paranoid. Solving the mysteries of the Aperture Sciences complex and ultimately defeating GLaDOS is one of the most memorable sci-fi gaming experiences of all time.

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Portal: The companion cube design may have been inspired by Star Wars.

2. Half-Life 2

Developer: Valve

Year: 2004

Its predecessor actually defined the art of storytelling through gameplay and was for many simply the greatest sci-fi game, and perhaps even the greatest game, full-stop, ever created. That was until November of 2004 when this highly anticipated game hit shelves and made the gaming world sit up and think again.

Set in a the dystopian City 17, mute egghead action man Gordon Freeman must augment the efforts of the local resistance, ultimately thwarting the half-alien Combine and the evil scientist who is behind their trans-dimensional jaunt to Earth. It may all sound a bit hackneyed and certainly, when you count out the tripods, pet robots and nonsense scientific assumptions, it's easy to tease. However, together the elements of story, gameplay and visual appeal work together to create something altogether more magical. The series has continued since its inception with two additional full-length episodes which, unusually, are both the equal of and wholly different to the original.

1. Mass Effect

Developer: BioWare

Year: 2007

When Bioware announced its break away from the Star Wars franchise with the purpose of creating their very own sci-fi universe in its place, reactions were mixed. Those expecting a radical departure would have been largely disappointed. The themes and character archetypes – the mentor, the mysterious force, the evil master – are all present and correct in Mass Effect as if the developer's Star Wars franchise experience had left a permanent imprint. Like silly putty.

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Mass Effect: The finest sci-fi game ever made. Until 29th January at least.

But however obvious the influence, Mass Effect still managed to be almost completely unique, its more recognisable elements simply allowing players a cheaper cost of entry. The game featured a robust story which followed the traditional hero's journey template, but of course, allowed the player to decide Sheperd's ultimate fate as well as those closest to him. There were shades of grey, but ultimately, the way you chose to play the game was as either true good or evil. Paragon or Renegade. Rather than forcing the player's hand, going fully one way or the other allowed players to enjoy the game twice, experiencing different event outcomes and dialogue each time.

And then there's the style. Mass Effect set a new bar for graphics seen in an RPG at the time of its release in 2007, but that's not to say it merely rested on those laurels. NPC characters were incredibly convincing with laudable lip-sync and realistic facial expressions and eye movement. In fact, the double-take reality effect was probably more prominent on the extra terrestrial players, since there was less basis for easy comparison.

Star Trek fonts, whiter than white shiny plastic spacecraft interiors and seventies classic synth arpeggios all added to the flavour making Mass Effect a distinctly retro sci-fi experience. One packed with emotion, intrigue and genuine empowerment to the player. All of which makes it our number one pick. Mass Effect 2 hits shelves at the end of January, so if you haven't played this yet, maybe now is the time.

 

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  • screenshot
    Tron 2.0: All the fun of the film, minus Jeff Bridges
  • screenshot
    Beyond Good & Evil: True sci-fi? You bet your sweet ass it is.
  • screenshot
    Blade Runner: The game did a meticulous job of recreating the film's atmosphere.
  • screenshot
    Metroid Prime: Here's Samus Aran looking all cool and shiny.
  • screenshot
    Portal: The companion cube design may have been inspired by Star Wars.
  • screenshot
    Mass Effect: The finest sci-fi game ever made. Until 29th January at least.

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