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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We described the 2006 Petroglyph RTS Star Wars: Empire at War as "a deep and beautifully-rendered take on Star Wars strategy" in our 2015 history of Star Wars on PC. More contemporaneously, we also said that it's "probably as close as we'll ever get to the grand RTS that the films deserve." So in short it's a really good game. There's only one problem: When Gamespy was shuttered in 2014, it spelled an effective end to Empire at War multiplayer, and thus a big reason to actually buy and play it.
That all changed today, however, as Petroglyph and Disney released an update that re-enables multiplayer support through Steam, in both the core game and the Forces of Corruption expansion. The patch also adds mod support via Steamworks and fixes a number of graphical and stability issues, "so you won’t get interrupted by errors and glitches as you fight for control of the galaxy."
"We have continued to watch the EAW community closely over the years and appreciate all the excellent support you have given us and the game," Petroglyph said. "Our thanks to all of you for the great feedback, awesome mod packs, and overwhelmingly positive reviews and Disney for facilitating the release of this work. We hope you enjoy this special update."
Coincidence or not (and I expect it isn't), the Star Wars: Empire at War Gold Pack on Steam is also on sale over the weekend for half price, cutting it to $10/£7.50/€10. The full patch notes are below.