PC Gamer

Welcome back to the PCG Q&A. Every week, we ask our panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. This week: what's your favourite game world or setting? We also welcome your answers in the comments. 

Shaun Prescott: Sevastapol Station in Alien: Isolation

At the risk of sounding masochistic, Sevastopol Station in Alien: Isolation is the space that springs immediately to mind. The most appealing part of that game (in stark contrast with the least appealing part: the alien) was the coldness of its environment, and how eerily it channeled the moods of both the films and others, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also appealed to my love of hard science fiction: the clinical, whitewashed futurism of imagined space outposts, the inherent weirdness of a life spent in the stars. Several games have attempted this in the past and at least one since, but none have prompted me to stand in a control room for minutes at a time, silently marveling at the colour palette and wondering what it's meant to mean. Equally, few have made me feel as lonely and isolated like this game has. I think this game may have scarred me.

I felt a similar sensation among the stars in Elite Dangerous. And I’d hoped to feel something similar in Prey, but that game felt too contemporary, with its imagined former citizens arranging Dungeon and Dragons sessions and chatting lightheartedly in emails. Sevastopol Station feels like it belongs to a wrong, parallel future, one that we imagined in the ‘80s, and you can see Creative Assembly channeling that in the VHS grain of their menu screens. I’ll occasionally boot this game up just to relish that mood, only to shut it down in a hurry once something wants to kill me. 

Jody Macgregor: the City in the Thief trilogy

I like that the setting of the original Thief games was only ever called "the City". I like that there's no exposition at the start so you discover things like the fact it has electricity by stumbling across humming streetlamps and power generators. I like that you almost always see it at night ('Break From Cragscleft Prison' takes place during the day, but you're outside the bounds of the City during that level). I like the Tudor houses and the washing lines strung between them and the sounds of people having fun that seep out tavern windows like the flickering light. I like that the City changes, that it moves into the Metal Age and becomes more high-tech without ending up with lame steampunk affectations like goggles on top hats. I like that there's an entire district walled off to keep the living dead in and a haunted madhouse that doubled as an orphanage and yet people still live near those places because what are you going to do, move to the country? Of course not. The City is great. I'd live there.

Philippa Warr: Proteus

The island changes every time, but the feel of the world is constantly wonderful. I boot that game up sometimes to take a kind of desk-holiday from whatever is stressing me out. I can chase after rabbits or watch for owls. There are rain showers which pass overhead and blossom floating from trees. There are the grave stones and the little cabin and the ruins. Small crab-creatures pepper the shore line. There are mushrooms in the welcoming fug of autumn and a crystalline chill in the winter. I know the elements of the world by heart, but I'll always be taken by surprise by some new configuration or by something I've forgotten popping into view. Proteus, for me, is a mixture of comfort and delight—a little digital sanctuary sprinkled with blue chickens. 

Jarred Walton: Wasteland

Every since I was old enough to read, I've had this strange fascination with nuclear weapons. So when Wasteland came out on my Commodore-64 in 1988, you can imagine how pleased I was. And the game didn't disappoint. Guns, robots, radioactive mutants, religious crazies, and more made it one of the formative experiences of my youth. The later Fallout games were a great spiritual successor, followed by an official sequel with Wasteland 2 several years ago. Not surprisingly, I backed that, as well as the more recent Fig campaign for Wasteland 3.

What is it that draws me to the wastes? I blame my love of the outdoors—there's nothing better than a campout in the mountains, roasting food over a fire and hanging out with friends. The wilderness survival instinct in me enjoys exploring the radioactive ruins of our modern world, and without any of the nasty bug bites, blisters, or death that I might have to deal with in the real world. If there's ever a real apocalypse—and I somehow manage to survive—you can expect to find me roaming the countryside, wearing a badge and trying to bring back some semblance of law and order. I've had a few decades of virtual practice now, so I'm ready.

Andy Chalk: Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl

I remember the first time I decided to stay out late in Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. I'd gained some familiarity with the Zone, and what I thought was a halfway-decent gun, so as the sky started to darken I didn't make my usual beeline back to camp. To my horror, I discovered that unlike most games, where nighttime simply means a different color palette in the sky, Stalker's evenings were dark. Really dark. Long story short, I made for a fire I saw in the distance, got jumped by a two-headed Carthaginian war elephant that breathed fire (although in hindsight, I'm pretty sure it was just a pseudodog), screamed like it was my first time on a roller coaster, and through it all, somehow, did not die. It was nothing but stupid luck and three half-drunk bozos around a campfire that kept me alive that night.

But it was also the moment that I first came to appreciate something else that was different about Stalker. The Zone doesn't care. It's not there to fuel and funnel your superhero fantasies about saving the world; it just is. If you forget that, it'll happily kick your ass and not even tell you why. There's something about that uncaring, unscaling indifference to the very fact of your existence that I adore. Sure, you'll eventually end up a tough guy, with big guns and great armor. But there are lots of other tough guys roaming around out there too, and they'll stick it to you without blinking if you give them half a chance. How do you not love that?

Austin Wood: Fallout 4

I get why everyone is kind of down on Fallout 4. The main story is a wash and it's a far weaker role-playing platform than Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 3, but it also nails Fallout's uniquely flavored apocalypse. It's overflowing with what are, to me, the two definitive Fallout characteristics: found shelters and '80s sci-fi. 

From Diamond City's settlers to the Brotherhood of Steel's zeppelin to that pirate ship full of robots, the people of the Wasteland are more like hermit crabs than refugees. They hole up in whatever they happen upon and gradually build it up, so you wind up with these unorthodox, flavorful settlements and structures that feel handcrafted and genuinely lived-in. They might be surrounded by sprawling, generic shacks, but there's always something unique at their core that dictates how they sprawl. Which dovetails with my second point: Fallout 4 isn't just any future, it's the future envisioned by '80s scientists and filmmakers, all lasers and robot assistants and nukes beyond the dreams of avarice. It's this absurd, distinctive mix of the Jetsons, the Matrix and Mad Max, but it works because of the flexibility of the nuclear MacGuffin and because humanity is the through-line. 

Samuel Roberts: Liberty City in GTA 4

Clearly, GTA 5's Los Santos is the king of open world environments. I'm just saying this so you don't think I'm being a contrarian, because technically it's a way more impressive open world than the ageing Liberty City. And yet, the heart says GTA 4's open world is more evocative. Its golden skies and densely packed streets feel eerily close to real life, but it feels a little bit magical, too—like someone's half-remembered living in New York a decade ago, and captured the life of the place, if not exactly what it was like. It's still my favourite Rockstar environment. Well, while Red Dead Redemption isn't on PC, anyway.

But what about your choices? Let us know below.

Alien: Isolation

You wouldn't know it from the intimidating pile of Alien Isolation and Rise of the Tomb Raider DLC on offer, but there are some good deals in the Humble Store's Female Protagonist Sale. The aptly titled sale is now live and will run through 1 p.m. Eastern (10 a.m. Pacific) this Friday, October 13. It boasts a small but strong selection of big and indie games alike, including such highlights as:

On top of the aforementioned DLC stampede, you'll also find more modest deals on Bayonetta's excellent PC port (25 percent off) and Tacoma (20 percent off).

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info. 

Call of Duty®

I have never seen a more tragic comments section than the one from a few weeks back when we asked our readers to share their most tragic save file disasters. Over 200 of you shared stories of despair and woe as hard drives crashed, Uplay cloud saves glitched, or a simple misclick spelled doom for countless hours of gaming.

We've collected the saddest, most heartbreaking stories below so that you can wallow in their misery. And if you didn't get a chance to contribute your own story, do so in the comments.

The lost library 

This one hits hard because the emotional loss is so apparent. It's one thing to fall in love with your Morrowind character and your adventures together, but Bear's story of losing his entire library of collected books in Morrowind because of a virus really stings.

Commenter: Bear

My first Morrowind character. I had made an Argonian and enjoyed the wonders that the game had to offer, discovered mods a number of hours in, got myself a few decent ones, joined House Telvanni to appreciate the irony of being an Argonian and of Telvanni, and progressed very little on the main questline but became deeply infatuated with the world.

I kept telling myself, I'll do the main quest later, and something would come up. When the "something" was the Thieves Guild, I became captivated with in-game theft, and I claimed a home that was empty after I'd murdered the owner as my loot den.

I use the word loot loosely. I was only interested in one type of item to steal: books. I ventured back and forth across the continent stealing every book I could manage, piling stacks of books as high as I could manage in my den of ill-gotten goods, occasionally tossing other stolen things on the floor, but my pride were the hundreds of books stacked taller than my Argonian. The small room would take a good ten minutes to load because of the sheer amount of books. I'd take detours while exploring just to raid places looking for books. Even if I got one book, I was pleased to be able to add it to my collection.

This was the first time I'd pumped so many hours into any game, ever. It was probably 2003 or 2004, and I had a PC that was rough around the edges at best. It was passed to me by my father as a reject for his own uses, no doubt in hopes that I would get my 12 or 13-year-old behind off the family PC with minimal trouble, and it worked. Until my young self made an uneducated choice in my forays on the internet and I picked up a particularly nasty virus while trying to download some free graphics editing software. The PC wouldn't boot. My father refused to help me fix it (apparently he had regrets for giving me my own PC, because my internet usage increased rapidly) and I couldn't figure it out.

My father finally just reformatted the hard drive and when I went to restart Morrowind, my hundreds of hours and couple years of gameplay was lost. I'd just lost the one thing that helped let me escape the troubles of being a bullied, friendless kid so easily before.

Lost in space 

Not all of these stories have to do with losing a save file entirely. Some deal with the existential horror of being trapped in one location, never able to escape. Of course, that horror becomes a lot more tangible when there's a giant xenomorph rapping at your chamber door.

Commenter: Bob McCow

Alien: Isolation is a bit mean with the saving system. You have to find what looks like a retro telephone booth and dial a number, making sure that Mr. Alien is not about to skewer you with his tongue or show you his six freaky fingers. You can only go back two save points, so you have to be very careful.

After a month spent hiding in lockers and wetting myself, I'd progressed through the game painfully slowly. I was escaping from the nest and it looked like I was finally getting Amanda off Sevastapol for good. I only had to take a lift up to a safer level. Sadly, I dropped a gun while being chased by the Alien and it got wedged in the door in a very glitchy way. The glitch meant that although I could take the lift, the next level wouldn't load. I was stuck! I couldn't retrieve an early enough save file to avoid the glitching gun. I haven't had the courage to replay the entire game to get to that point, so I'll never know if Amanda made it.

She's left forever in that lift with the Alien banging on the door outside.

It's not you, it's Witcher 3 

Listen, people make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can hurt us, but I'm not sure if I'd ever end a relationship over a lost game save. But I guess The Witcher 3 isn't your average game.

Commenter: Piantino

Some time ago, my ex girlfriend wanted to play The Witcher 3 and I shared it from my Steam library with her. One day she played it in my PC, and when I came to play I realized that the save files in The Witcher 3 are the same when you share from your Steam library, and she saved her game in the same slot as mine. I lost my lvl 55 Geralt, my witcher gear and swords—everything. My time in Ard Skellige looking for treasures didn't serve for anything. I broke up with her some time ago and I use this story to explain why she is now my ex hahahaha.

Happy birthday 

I'm sure parents are equally as responsible for deleted saves as failing hardware. But there's something especially tragic when it all happens because they were trying to do something nice for you.

Commenter: Robáird Mac An TSaoir

In the late nineties, my dad surprised me for my birthday with some PC upgrades: a new monitor, bigger hard drive, and new graphics card. Of course, he'd wiped my old hard drive. Ten years of save files, writing, gig upon gig of films and music, all gone.

Commenter Grom Hellscream sums up the tragedy perfectly:

"Happy birthday, son. I formatted your entire childhood."

Groundhog Day 

If you've ever saved immediately before your demise only to find that you're now stuck replaying your death over and over, you can sympathise with Berty Bennish's story.

Commenter: Berty Bennish

I was playing the first Call of Duty back when it first came out. I would regularly save my games but in this instance, my last save was a couple of levels before the incident. It was the daylight St. Mere-Eglise level. After destroying the tank that comes out of the wall I ran round the corner heading towards where you would get in the car. I killed a couple of guys and ran a bit further. Game decides to auto save right when a German soldier pops round the corner and blasts me in the head. Instant death.

Game loads.

Instant death.

Game loads.

Instant death.

and so on…

What's hilarious about this particular story is that another one of our commenters had nearly the exact same problem.

Commenter: ImpatientPedant

When I was playing Call of Duty, way back in the day, there was a tank section. I hadn't saved for the entirety of the (rather long) mission, and contrived to save at the exact moment a shell was fired in my direction, a shell which would wipe me out.

Every time I tried to reload, the shell would fire and I would die. Over and over. I was shattered.

If a psychologist interviews me years from now and asks me why my dreams often have intermittent flashes of light, this is 100 percent the reason. Poor old toddler me.

Sorry, Mom 

Parents have unwittingly destroyed thousands of hours of time invested into games, but Zach Fathaigh's story flips the script. I'm assuming his mother had a hard time looking at him for a few days after.

Commenter: Zach Fathaigh

1996's The Realm is a fun proto-MMO that my mom was obsessed with. You get four or five character slots, I can't remember which. My mom let me have one of those slots (thank you, Mom). My older brother asked me what the game was like and I wanted to show him how fun it was to start a new character. So I looked at the list and saw Mom's two really badass characters, my character, and a level 1 naked character. I deleted that one to make room for my brother's character.

The deleted character was a mule with hundreds of hours worth of loot. I forgot about this incident entirely until my mom reminded me of it over the weekend.

Sorry, Mom.

Double whammy

We've all had hardware fail. Picking up and starting a game from the ashes of an old save is awful. Having to do it twice? No thanks.

Commenter: Kyosho

Christmas of 1999, I get the one game I really wanted under the tree. That big, ugly (beautiful?) orange and purple box. Planescape: Torment. From Christmas day until just before New Years, I put about 25-ish hours into the game. I was really into it. Then my hard drive crashed. I was devastated. I had the computer fixed within a week, but it took me another month or two to work up the nerve to start the game over from scratch. I did it, though. Even made some slightly different choices. It was a bit tedious to read ALL that text again, but after a good 15 hours or so, I got back to where I'd been. Played another 20-ish hours and... BAM, another hard drive crash.

Here's a tip, kids: Don't skimp out on your power supply when building a PC. It killed two hard drives before I knew the cause. Anyway, to say it was soul crushing was an understatement. I haven't beaten Planescape: Torment to this day. I've tried going back to it, but I end up losing interest before I ever get back to where I was. Best RPG of all time? Maybe. It's too painful for me to be able to ever know.

Tower of Trials 

Speaking of hard drive failures, I can't stress enough how important it is to back up important projects. We had countless stories about people losing game saves, but entire games? Seriously, don't wind up like Matt.

Commenter: Matt Pruitt

I once made an entire game in RPG maker VX-ACE. It was called the Tower of Trials. It was short and utilized only the assets the game provided. It had some random elements, little story, and was intended for short-runs about 30-40 minutes long. I worked on it for two years, starting on my old laptop and eventually finishing it on my first PC. It was my own little project and only a few of my friends played it. Then I discovered why people told me not to buy cheap HDDs. My hard drive crapped out on me and two years of work was lost. My oldest version of the game was on my old laptop and only had three floors of the tower completed. Needless to say, my current rig is running on a Samsung SSD.

Harry Potter and the Computer Thief 

It's one thing to lose a save file, but to lose the ability to play a game altogether? Now that's tragic.

Commenter: dxdy

Back in elementary school, 2001 or so, I really liked Harry Potter. Neither me nor my parents could afford a PC or anything to play modern games (had an Atari 130 XE though), so I was very happy when someone left Philosopher's Stone installed at the school's computer lab.

I could only play video games for a limited time after classes, so I only made it to Herbology Class over the course of several months. The game felt amazing to me, probably because I was reading Harry Potter books around the same time.

Once I went to school as usual, but after arriving I noticed it was completely deserted. Normally, entire halls would be filled with sounds of children playing but there was not a single soul in sight. I went upstairs. After walking around for a minute, I was spotted by the principal's assistant who rushed me to the cafeteria.

When we arrived there, I saw that all students were crammed inside. I quickly learned from colleagues that the school was robbed overnight. Robbers broke the window and stole a boombox, whole bunch of chocolate bars from school's kiosk, and every single PC from the lab. I lost not only the save file I worked for what felt like eternity, I lost the ability to play my beloved game in the first place.

These were just a few of the great stories our commenters told us. For the rest, be sure to check out the comment thread from last week.

Some comments were edited for grammar and clarity.

EVE Online

Welcome to our list of the best space games on PC. Short of training to become an astronaut or hitching a ride on a deep space probe, your gaming PC is the best way to leave Earth behind and journey through the cosmos. Whether you're trading or pirating your way around the Milky Way or being hunted by a monstrous alien on a stricken orbital station, these are the best space games you can play on PC right now. From survival horror and 4X strategy to deep simulators that let you live another life among the stars, there's something here for every wannabe astronaut.

Homeworld Remastered Collection

Year 2015Developer Relic/Gearbox Software

One of the best singleplayer RTS campaigns ever made, and beautifully remastered by Gearbox. The sight of thousands of your ships streaking across the game’s vividly colourful space-scapes is hugely dramatic. And battles are tense and tactical, with many types of ship to command, including colossal battleships. The Remastered Collection looks great on modern PCs and comes complete with the original Homeworld and its sequel.

Tacoma

Year 2017Developer Fullbright

The crew has mysteriously abandoned the Tacoma lunar transfer station, and you’ve been sent to investigate and recover its precious AI, Odin. This atmospheric sci-fi mystery from the makers of Gone Home is wonderfully written, with a cast of rich, nuanced characters telling a compelling story through interactive AR recordings. Exploring the hyper-detailed station is a delight thanks to the game’s extraordinary attention to detail, and the more you learn about Tacoma, the deeper the mystery gets.

Elite Dangerous

Year 2014Developer Frontier Developments

An entire galaxy is your playground in this space sim. Starting with a basic ship and a handful of credits, you shape your own destiny. Do you become a fearsome pirate? A master trader? An explorer? The beauty of Elite is being able to play in a way that suits you. From thrilling dogfights to gentle exploration, there’s something for everyone. And its ships are all an absolute dream to fly, whether it's a nimble fighter or a heavy duty cargo hauler.

EVE Online

Year 2003Developer CCP Games

Live another life—in space! There’s nothing else like EVE Online on PC, a massively multiplayer RPG where everything is controlled by players. It’s a living galaxy in which thousands of capsuleers fight, trade, mine, and explore together. Break away from the relative safety of your police-patrolled starting system and you’ll find a ruthless, cosmic Wild West, where piracy, espionage and scamming are rife. Whether you’re fighting in a massive space war, where thousands of real-world dollars hang in the balance, or just exploring New Eden on your own, EVE is an unforgettable experience.

Star Wars: Empire at War

Year 2006Developer Petroglyph

Developed by Petroglyph, a studio founded by Westwood veterans, this real-time strategy is one of the best Star Wars games on PC. The streamlined interface and accessible systems might turn off some hardcore strategy fans, but in the thick of its chaotic, thrilling land and space battles the game is irresistible—especially if you’re a Star Wars fan. And hero units like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker only add to the excitement.

Duskers

Year 2016Developer Misfits Attic

Despite being viewed entirely through a retro-futuristic computer interface, Duskers is one of the scariest, most tense sci-fi horror games on PC. In it you pilot a fleet of drones searching derelict spaceships for fuel, upgrades, and clues about why the galaxy is so mysteriously devoid of life. The ships you board are crawling with strange creatures, which makes looking for clues in those narrow, dark corridors an especially nerve-racking experience.

The Dig

Year 1995Developer LucasArts

A mission to divert an asteroid heading for Earth goes awry, sending a group of astronauts to a distant, seemingly abandoned world. Some of the puzzles are maddeningly obscure, even for a LucasArts point-and-click adventure, but the colourful, bizarre planet feels genuinely alien. Great voice acting too, with X-Files star Robert Patrick playing the lead character.

Universe Sandbox 2

Year 2014Developer Giant Army

This space simulator lets you become an all-powerful cosmic deity, manipulating replicas of real galaxies and solar systems and witnessing the (often catastrophic) results of your meddling. Increase the mass of Jupiter and you’ll see the rest of our solar system being sucked into it, or delete the Sun and watch Earth and the other planets drift away confused.

Event[0]

Year 2016Developer Ocelot Society

Stranded alone somewhere near Jupiter on an old luxury starship, your only hope of returning home is an AI that has serious emotional problems. You interact with Kaizen using your keyboard, and sometimes it'll be willing to help you. But then it'll change its mind and decide the best thing to do is close the airlock and trap you outside the ship until you run out of air. A clever adventure with the understated mood of a '70s sci-fi film.

Mass Effect 2

Year 2010Developer BioWare

If you’ve ever fantasised about being Captain Picard, in command of your own starship, exploring the galaxy, meeting weird aliens, being confronted with cosmic dilemmas, then Mass Effect 2 is that in game form. It’s part Star Wars space opera, part brilliant Star Trek episode, and one of the best sci-fi games on PC. It doesn’t have the freedom of Elite and is largely a linear experience, but it takes you on an unforgettable journey around the galaxy, visiting bizarre planets and getting involved in the lives of the aliens who live on them. We love the whole series, but we all agree that this is our favourite.

Stellaris

Year 2016Developer Paradox

Developed by Paradox, of Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis fame, this sci-fi epic puts the ‘grand’ in grand strategy. Explore the universe, form alliances with alien factions, and engage in the odd large-scale space battle. The multitude of systems makes Stellaris a powerful story generator, and you never know what strange beings you’ll meet among the stars.

Alien: Isolation

Year 2014Developer Creative Assembly

Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, is hunted through a dilapidated space station by a xenomorph in this incredible survival horror. Taking its cues from Ridley Scott's original 1979 film, it's a masterpiece of slow-burning tension. And the station itself, Sevastopol, is a great example of lo-fi sci-fi, with chunky retro-futuristic tech and eerie flickering lights. One of the most faithful movie adaptations ever, and a great horror game in its own right.

No Man's Sky

Year 2016Developer Hello Games

This is one of the most dazzlingly colourful sci-fi universes on PC, and being able to seamlessly transition from space to the surface of a planet is an impressive technical feat. The addition of features like base-building and a mission system in recent updates give you a lot more to actually do when you touch down on these worlds, and the procedural generation algorithm has been tweaked to make for weirder, prettier planet surfaces.

Star Wars: TIE Fighter

Year 1994Developer Totally Games

A rare opportunity to be the bad guy in George Lucas’s beloved space opera. With a variety of Empire-themed missions—dogfights, escorts, attacking capital ships—and a story to follow, it’s one of the best Star Wars games LucasArts ever published. Of course, you can replace this entry with Star Wars: X-Wing if you’d prefer to play as the boring old Rebel Alliance.

FTL: Faster Than Light

Year 2012Developer Subset Games

FTL mixes turn-based and real-time strategy together to capture the experience of captaining a Star Trek-style spacecraft. It’s a strong roguelike, too, with a backdrop of a familiar yet fun sci-fi universe that comes with its own semi-humorous lore and a neat set of narrative beats that make the journey to its finale endlessly exciting. Being able to name your ship and crew makes it all the more heartbreaking when they die together in enemy space.

Wing Commander: Privateer

Year 1993Developer Origin Systems

Fans of the series will argue endlessly about which Wing Commander is the best, but we love Privateer’s darker feel. It’s a rich sandbox in which you can be a mercenary, a pirate, a merchant, or a mix of all three. You jump between systems looking for bounties to hunt and ships to rob, and the first-person dogfights are a thrill. There’s a linear story, but the real joy lies in doing your own thing and carving your own path through the stars.

 EVE: Valkyrie

Year 2016Developer CCP Games

If you have a VR headset, this is the game to play on it. In Valkyrie you get to experience EVE Online’s famous space battles from the more intimate perspective of an individual fighter pilot. The feeling of being strapped into a cockpit, hurtling through space at immense speeds, is a visceral one. And the combat has been tuned specifically for virtual reality.

Kerbal Space Program

Year 2015Developer Squad

Wrestle with gravity and the laws of physics as you build your own spacecraft and attempt to explore the cosmos. A robust, compelling sandbox of possibilities that’s as funny as it is clever. Escaping Kerbin’s atmosphere and landing on the Mun (without exploding) for the first time with a ship you’ve built yourself is about as satisfying as PC gaming gets.

Take On Mars

Year 2013Developer Bohemia Interactive

If you like your space games a little more grounded, try Arma developer Bohemia’s Take On Mars. It’s a space exploration and colonisation simulator largely based on real astro-science. You can build a Curiosity-style rover and explore the surface of the red planet or construct your own Martian colony. A game for folk who want the sci without too much of the fi.

 Sins of a Solar Empire

Year 2008Developer Ironclad Games

Mixing real-time strategy with 4X elements, Sins is a game of galactic conquest. Choose a faction, gather resources and become a mighty space-lord. Commanding its real-time wars is thrilling, but combat isn’t always the answer: you can use diplomacy to conquer systems too. A refreshingly slow-paced RTS with some truly massive space battles to stare slack-jawed at.

Space Engineers

Year 2013Developer Keen Software House

Harvest asteroids for building materials then craft them into floating bases, flyable spaceships, and more besides. You can hover around the map with a jetpack or build a gravity generator to walk safely on the surface of bigger asteroids. One of the best co-op build-’em-ups on PC.

Starbound

Year 2013Developer Chucklefish Games

Terraria-esque survival with a science fiction twist. Hop between randomly generated planets on a starship, hunt alien creatures for food, build colonies and underground bases, and try not to die in the process. A brilliant sci-fi sandbox with a charming art style. Playable races include robots, beings made of solar energy, ape-like creatures, and colourful wingless birds.

SpaceEngine

Year 2010Developer Vladimir Romanyuk

Do you like feeling small and insignificant? Then play SpaceEngine, which features, incredibly, the entire universe. Or at least the bit we know about. Focus on Earth, then pull back at top speed, and you suddenly become aware of how you’re on a tiny speck of dust hurtling through an endless void. The tech is remarkable, allowing you to travel effortlessly between galaxies and land on planets. But besides exploring, there isn’t much else to it.

Alien: Isolation

The new Humble Spooky Horror Bundle has some very good things in store for fans of horror games. It starts with Dead Age, DreadOut (including the Manga and OST), DreadOut: Keepers of the Dark, and the Lakeview Cabin Collection for $1. But as usual, it gets a lot more interesting when you beat the average price. 

For just under $7 right now, Layers of Fear: Masterpiece Edition, the outstanding Alien: Isolation, and the latest addition to the Five Nights at Freddy's series, Sister Location, will be added to the bundle. Drop a tenner on it and you'll also get Dead By Daylight, the four-on-one survival horror game where "death is not an escape." 

The default charity for this bundle is the Delaware Aviation Museum Foundation Corp., but as always, you can select an entirely different good cause if you prefer. 

The Humble Spooky Horror Bundle is live now and will be available until September 5.   

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info. 

Alien: Isolation

The job of a concept artist is an important one. Before a single model or texture has been created, they’re responsible for establishing a game’s atmosphere and tone. The things they create might not even make it into the final game, but their work underpins the aesthetic of everything from incidental props to entire worlds. And so, to celebrate the work of these talented individuals, here are some of my favourite concept images from the last few years.

Alien: Isolation / Brad Wright

Recalling Ron Cobb’s detailed, functional designs for the 1979 film, Creative Assembly’s Brad Wright produced some stunning concept art for Alien: Isolation. These evocative images of Sevastopol station and the Anesidora are particularly striking, capturing the cold, industrial atmosphere of the Alien universe.

What Remains of Edith Finch / Theo Aretos

At the heart of Giant Sparrow’s unforgettable journey through the lives of the Finch family is their grand, clumsily stacked house. These concept images were created by artist Theo Aretos early in development to get a sense of what the strange old house might look like, and are works of art in their own right. 

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate / Tony Zhou Shuo

The Creed series has always been more concerned with capturing the romantic image of its cities and time periods than creating perfect, historically accurate recreations. These images by Tony Zhou Shuo paint a vivid picture of Victorian London,  using iconic landmarks to give them a rich sense of place.

Fallout 4 / Ilya Nazarov

The mood of the Commonwealth is constantly changing as the weather and time of day shift in real-time around you, which these elegant paintings by senior Bethesda concept artist Ilya Nazarov capture beautifully. I especially love the subtle use of colour, reflecting Fallout 4’s brighter, livelier wasteland.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided / Frédéric Bennett

The grim dystopian future of Deus Ex was imagined by a talented team of concept artists who designed everything from entire cities to individual props. Art by Eidos Montréal’s Frédéric Bennett, including this dramatic image of Golem City, helped establish the game’s distinctive, recognisable visual style.

Mass Effect: Andromeda / Ben Lo

These remarkable images by BioWare concept artist Ben Lo perfectly capture the scale and majesty of Mass Effect’s grand space opera. Refined, understated art direction is one of the series’ defining features, echoing classic ‘70s science fiction: an aesthetic these paintings are wonderfully reminiscent of.

Dishonored 2 / Sergey Kolesov

The unique painterly style of Dishonored’s visuals mean the game is a lot closer to its concept art than most. These exquisite paintings by Arkane concept artist Sergey Kolesov wouldn’t look out of place hanging on the walls of a lavish Karnaca apartment—particularly the image of Duke Abele on his palanquin.

The Long Dark / Trudi Castle

Hinterland’s survival game just left Early Access, and although the visuals have steadily improved over time, its dedication to that gorgeous hand-painted art style has never wavered. These atmospheric concept images by Trudi Castle skilfully capture the lonely, melancholy atmosphere of the game.

Star Wars Battlefront / Anton Grandert

Getting to work on a Star Wars game like Battlefront must be a dream job for any professional concept artist. These vivid, dramatic paintings by EA DICE’s Anton Grandert are reminiscent of Ralph McQuarrie’s iconic Star Wars concept art, evoking the chaotic, operatic drama of the films’ battle scenes.

Alien: Isolation

Sega showed off a VR mode for the first-person horror game Alien: Isolation, running on an early version of the Oculus Rift way back in the summer of 2014. It never evolved beyond the prototype stage, but the files that enabled the VR mode were still present in the game when it shipped. They were hidden, however, and more to the point inoperable, thanks to the many changes made to the Oculus SDK between the Development Kit 2 (which the demo ran on) and the release of the consumer version a couple of years later. But thanks to the magic of the MotherVR mod being developed by Zack "Nibre" Fannon, it's working (with some limitations) once again. 

Fannon told Road To VR that the old Oculus development kit doesn't rely on external files to operate, but "gets statically compiled directly into the game," and is thus very difficult to modify. "This limitation is the main reason why support has been restricted to the DK2 and older legacy runtimes for so long,” he said. “How I’ve been able to circumvent that is by patching every SDK call in the game when it launches, to redirect it to my own ‘fake’ SDK code. I then take these requests from the game, and reinterpret them to the current Oculus SDK, translating and fixing things along the way.”   

Technical issues aside, Fannon said that some of the limitations of the VR mode, including "mandatory smooth turning, head-locked aiming, broken re-centering that doesn’t correctly align the game horizon with the real world horizon (that was terrible before I fixed it), body positioning in VR (objects way too close), [and] forced head animation," simply reflect how the field of VR development has changed over the past few years. 

"To be fair to the developers though, in 2014 we really didn’t know as much regarding VR methodologies as we do now. So with that in mind, their VR support was actually pretty good for the time," he said.   

He also warned on the MotherVR Github page that Alien: Isolation VR is designed for seated play only. "By playing this Mod any other way than seated, you do so at your own risk. You may be able to stomach this standing, but I absolutely cannot recommend it at this time. Roomscale does not work whatsoever right now." 

It's still very early in the process—the currently available version is alpha 0.1.1—but Fannon said he wanted to make the mod available "so people can play with it while I continue to work on it." It only supports the Oculus Rift at the moment, but he hopes to have "basic Vive support" operational soon, and support for VR controllers like the Oculus Touch added at some point in the future. 

A video of the Alien: Isolation VR prototype in operation can be seen below.

Alien: Isolation

Warning! Spoilers ahead for Alien: Covenant.

Since the release of Alien: Covenant I’ve seen a few people ranking the famously inconsistent series from best to worst. Resurrection reliably festers at the bottom of most people’s lists, and for many Covenant isn’t that far off. But I also noticed a lot of people including Alien: Isolation in their list, and often rubbing shoulders with the acclaimed first two films. This is a testament to the quality and authenticity of the game, but also suggests that people are getting something out of it that the latest film failed to provide.

Covenant was marketed and described in preview coverage as a return to Alien’s horror roots. But anyone expecting a slasher flick in space with none of the earnest philosophical melodrama that weighed Prometheus down will have been disappointed. Covenant is Prometheus 2: Prometheus Harder, book-ended by a retread of the original film minus any the mystery or suspense. People complained about the absence of facehuggers and xenomorphs in Prometheus, and this is the result. Proof that you should never listen to people.

I have a lot of issues with Alien: Covenant. I had (perhaps blinkered) faith in Ridley Scott, convinced he had one more great Alien movie in him, but I left the cinema feeling much the same as I did when I emerged blinking and bewildered from Prometheus in 2012. But one of its biggest problems is showing you far too much of the alien. The original film hid the creature in the shadows, giving you only brief, close-up glimpses of it. This was because Bolaji Badejo’s rubber suit would have looked unconvincing under the glare of a bright light—a limitation that ultimately made the movie scarier.

The alien is just as scary and, arguably, sometimes scarier when you can't see it at all

In Covenant, however, Scott had no such limitations. And thanks to the ‘magic’ of computer animation, the last quarter of the film is heaving with brightly-lit shots of the alien scuttling about. Not only does the CG feel weightless and unconvincing, but it turns the enigmatic creature that terrorised the crew of the Nostromo so effectively into just another movie monster. It simply isn’t scary anymore, and the frustrating thing is, Scott knew it. “Fans wanted to see more of the original monster,” he said in an interview. “I thought it was cooked, but I was wrong.” See what I mean about never listening to people?

But the blame doesn’t lie with the xenomorph itself. It’s how it’s used. One of Isolation’s greatest strengths is that it understands that the creature is just as scary—and, arguably, sometimes scarier—when you can’t see it at all. Just hearing the distant thud of its footsteps or it clanging through a vent is enough to make your heart race. And it makes those rare moments when it finally does reveal itself, slithering out of the shadows, even more powerful. And I think this is at the core of why many consider the game to be a more effective, genuine Alien experience than anything in the last two films. Because it reminds us that the xenomorph still has the innate power to terrify.

Not to mention the fact that there’s no ponderous, long-winded section in the middle of Isolation where one Working Joe teaches another how to play the flute. The scenes in the Engineer temple in Covenant are Scott at his most indulgent and pseudo-philosophical. It grinds the film to a halt and fills your head with tedious exposition. It answers questions that didn’t need to be answered, hammering the final rusty nails into the coffin of any beguiling mystery this series once had. Knowing David created the xenomorphs adds nothing and takes everything away from them.

When the Nostromo lands on LV-426 and the crew discovers the derelict ship, the fear of the unknown is palpable. Giger’s ship is utterly alien and inscrutable, which makes the descent into its bio-mechanical depths simmer with suspense. The same scene is repeated in Covenant on the Engineer planet, but the near-identical shot of the crashed ship has no impact whatsoever. You immediately know that it must have once belonged to some blue guys, and that it’s probably filled with facehugger eggs or vials of black goo.

On the other hand, Isolation keeps the mystery intact. It tells a small story about one character in one space station and is all the better for it. There’s a lot more to it than the first Alien, of course, with acres of backstory about Sevastopol to devour. But it’s still positively parochial compared to the bloated, sprawling mythology set up in Prometheus. The story is the weakest part of Isolation, but it’s really just an excuse to lock you in a confined space with an alien—and that’s all it needs to be. The really interesting stories in Isolation are the ones you create yourself when you’re evading and outsmarting the alien.

Scott has more Alien sequels planned, and with each one I feel like it’ll sail deeper into the pack ice. When he made the first film he was a bold, untested young director with an uncompromising vision and a remarkable eye for detail. And I feel like that’s what the next film needs. An emerging talent who can come at it from a fresh, contemporary perspective and make it vital again. But until then, unless the next film really is a return to its horror roots, Isolation is the closest thing we have to that original masterpiece.

Alien: Isolation

The Humble Store Spring Sale is in full swing, and all the developers and publishers seem to be getting in on the party. Today, the SEGA Spring Sale begins, and lasts until Friday, May 19. 

In this deal you'll find the likes of Total War: Warhammer, Company of Heroes 2, the Alien: Isolation Collection, and much more for far cheaper than you'd normally find them.

Total War: Warhammer is one of our favorite strategy games of the last few years, and it's down to £20 / $30 in the sale. Check out our review if you want to know more about it.

Company of Heroes 2 is down to £7 / $5 for the rest of the week. It's several years old now, but it's got a fairly lengthy single player campaign and great multiplayer if you can find other people playing.

Alien: Isolation is, according to our review, the game the Alien series has always deserved. Grab it for £3.74 / $10 if you're looking for some horror this week.

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info. 

Alien: Isolation

We loved Alien: Isolation when it came out back in 2014. Andy's review says it's "the game the Alien series has always deserved. A deep, fun stealth game set in an evocatively realized sci-fi world." If spooky games are your thing, or if you love the Alien universe and haven't tried out Isolation yet, then it's your lucky day. You can grab the Alien: Isolation Collection on Bundle Stars for 82 percent off for the next 24 hours, taking the price down to £6.29 or $8.89.

For the whopping discount you get the base game plus a whole bunch of DLC. You're essentially getting the Season Pass and everything that's been added on in the past couple of years. You'll get The Trigger, Lost Contact, Safe Haven, Last Survivor, Crew Expendable, Corporate Lockdown, and Trauma add-ons. These bring new maps for the various game modes, and new characters to play as. 

As for the main game itself, you play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, and it's set 15 years after the original film. You search space station Sevastopol for clues to your mother's whereabouts, but it's clear there's something seriously wrong on the station when you arrive.

Bundle Stars' deal is an even better price than on Steam, where it's a mere 75 percent off right now. You don't have long to take advantage of the sale though, so grab it before 5pm BST / 9am PT tomorrow, May 13. 

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info. 

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