Exploring outer space isn’t easy. Some would say it’s pretty dang dangerous. Between the lack of air, the ever-present loneliness, and the odd space pirate ambush or two, space is just too much to deal with all by yourself. So when you gotta get things done among the stars, you need a crack team to do it.
Putting yourself in command of a team or crew is something video games do really well. They put you face to face with hard decisions, or make you feel tense by having you butt heads with the more antagonistic of your space-faring fellows. But wherever these games take you, whatever stars you fly past or planets you tread, you can bet you’ll be going boldly. We’ve highlighted three games that can give you the proper space experience — space pirates included.
A Roguelike Romp Through Space
You never know what’ll happen in space. Or rather, you know what can happen, just not whether it will happen or in what order it may happen in. Discovering new problems and finding answers to solve them is all a part of the adventure, and nothing does this better than FTL: Faster Than Light. A space roguelike indie game by Subset Games, FTL puts you in charge of a ship and its small crew as you flee across the galaxy from a large rebel fleet seeking to stop your valuable information from getting into the wrong hands (or right hands, depending on your perspective).
Along the way, you’ll manage fuel and resources as you upkeep your ship, outfit it with new weapons and systems, or hire new crew members. You’ll also encounter space pirates, camera-jamming nebulae, and other space hazards. The procedurally generated nature of the game can have you breezing by with few incidents or fighting tooth and nail for every node as you make your way to the end of each stage.
At its most dramatic, FTL can feel less like a space sim and more like an episode of Firefly. You’ll encounter real dilemmas like deciding whether to buy that snazzy new laser cannon to better defend your ship, or spend it to increase your dwindling fuel stores, which are essential to get to the end of the stage. And, when an enemy ship you’d decided to engage sends the final missile that will turn your crew into space dust, you’ll feel the regret pour over you. With FTL constantly putting others’ lives on the line, sitting in the captain’s chair never felt so agonizing.
A Massively Epic Space Opera Sequel
Gamers should look no further than the Mass Effect series to make their sci-fi dreams come true. Distant worlds, interesting alien races, and well-thought technology make this series an essential gameplay experience for those who want to take command of their own ship and crew. Our recommendation (for this article’s purposes, anyway) is Mass Effect 2 for its focus on traveling across the galaxy to assemble an elite team.
The interactions you have with them makes this game an ideal simulator for team-based missions. Everyone in the character roster specializes in a different set of combat tactics. For example, Garrus’s skills make him useful when shooting from a distance, while Grunt is a force to be reckoned with up close. But combat isn’t the only factor when choosing who to accompany you on a mission. You’ll find yourself choosing characters you like, or ones who have interesting banter with each other. Or maybe you’ll choose characters who don’t get along, pairing them up just to hear them bicker. Developer BioWare always puts the care into their characters, giving you several reasons to endear them to you and have you build the eclectic, colorful team of oddities you’ve always wanted.
As these characters live, fight, and even die by your side, you’ll feel invested in the high-stakes outer space adventure that is Mass Effect 2. Only by knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses can you succeed and survive. Space is a dangerous place for a human, with battles and betrayal at every turn, but with your friends and frenemies, you can do it.
A Disastrous Time with Friends
They say you never really know someone until they’re screaming at you to “increase the octoshaft to 3.” Anyone who says otherwise has clearly never played Spaceteam. No proper sci-fi adventure should exclude your real life friends — not when you can all go to your mobile device’s app store and download this delightful co-op (and delightfully free) game.
Two to eight players are put in control of a spaceship control panel outfitted with knobs, levers, and buttons labelled outrageous things like “Gyrohole,” “Ultraoutlet Brake,” and “Lustrous Prismneck.” Together, your team will try to guide your ship to safety by operating your control panels when cued. The catch? More often than not the alerts will not be for the controls on your screen, multiple alerts will appear at once, and it’s up to you to give your teammates instructions so you don’t blow up your ship.
But the silly game of you and your friends laughing over the technobabble you’re forced to speak will soon devolve into you screaming at each other to flip your phones upside down and “hang the fucking pictures!” Mistakes will inevitably be made — dials will be overturned, buttons will be depressed — which results in panels sparking and swinging off their hinges. Green goop can begin dripping down and obscuring the lettering, so that when the later stages arrive and there’s so much going on at once, it’s easy to miss something crucial — and then, kaplooie.
The good news is games only last several minutes. And since they’ll all end in disaster anyway, you don’t have much excuse not to fire up another round with your buds.
So sure, you can experience space through music or a number of different ways, or you can suit up and see it for yourself. FTL, Mass Effect, and Spaceteam all offer great representations of having to exercise teamwork in space. Just be sure to bring along a friend or two.
Is there a game that does it better than the ones we chose? File your suggestion to our interstellar complaint department in the comments section below, and we’ll graciously consider it for the next time.