Another month, another Top 5 here at Shoot the Rookie, and this month I wanted to take a look at my favourite genre – Science Fiction. So let’s go where (sorry about this) no one has gone before and take a look at my Top 5 Science Fiction Video Games. Sorry again.
I’ve always been fascinated by sci-fi, not just in games but also in films, TV shows and books. I’m obsessed with the idea of going to space. I love looking at stars and planets and just imagining what could be out there (apart from the truth *ahem*). Science fiction isn’t necessarily about imagining what is actually out there, but rather, about creating new worlds, introducing new ideas, species, technologies and stories to create the highest possible level of entertainment. This is perhaps better explained by our friends at the Oxford Dictionary:
Fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.
What’s a ‘mass noun’? Anyway, when I started thinking about this I realised that video games do science fiction both regularly and to a high standard. I also realised when brainstorming that I could have made this a Top 10 without even trying, but instead I had to be cruel and cut out some amazing games. There are also a lot of very famous science fiction games that I’ve never played, so I would really like you to let me know which big games you think should make this list. After you’ve actually read the list that is.
Without getting further sidetracked, here are my Top 5 Science Fiction Video Games, and for added spice this month I’ve decided to put them IN ORDER OF BESTNESS!
5. Half Life 2 (Valve, 2004)
Half Life 2 is an excellent first person shooter which depicts life during a pretty damn scary alien invasion. As soon as you arrive in City 17 and are greeted by the calm yet unsettling face of Earth’s nominated administrator, Wallace Breen, you are thrown into a complex world where you must lead humanity’s resistance against the Combine invasion.
Whilst it has its not so great moments – there is too much driving and some of the lengthy combat sections become kinda samey, Half Life 2 presents not just a great sci-fi story, but also a compelling struggle for survival against monumental odds.
Even though the protagonist Dr Gordon Freeman cuts a silent figure, the world has a number of interesting characters that make it feel very relatable, whilst the game also boasts cool sci-fi technology like the gravity gun and the teleporter. All in all it provides a thrilling and compelling science fiction gaming experience, which is even further enhanced by its overlap with the Portal universe.
4. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Platinum Games/Konami 2013)
Metal Gear Rising is an exciting action romp in an entirely believable dystopian near-future world.
Whilst it was perhaps strange to make a Metal Gear game that owes so little to the stealth-heavy action gameplay of its predecessors, it is a good fit for the series and it manages a convincing portrayal of the political and military intrigue that are common to Metal Gear games.
It is the technological elements however which identify it as a sci-fi game. The main component of this is the protagonist Raiden, who by this point in the series looks distinctly cyborgian, and the details of his transformation make for interesting reading.
He runs on a kind of fuel which he can harvest from other cyborgs. If he gets enough he can initiate ‘blade mode’, which links this fuel to his big massive blade thing, and allows him to cut up enemies in a precise manner, in turn enabling him to harvest more fuel.
This may sound kind of gruesome. In fact, yes it is, but not all of his modifications are so deadly. He also has an inbuilt Codec device for easy communication, as well as some kind of crazy AR visor, not to mention his tough-as-nails armour. I can’t help thinking when writing about this technology that we should be at once scared and hopeful for the future of our planet.
Despite being a tough game with a final boss that transcends difficulty, this is a great sci-fi action game that is well worth checking out.
3.Master of Orion (Simtex/Microprose 1993)
A little research tells me that the Master of Orion series has been rebooted in the last few years to not entirely wonderful reviews. However I have extremely fond memories of playing the original.
Master of Orion is a turn based strategy game comparable to Civilization. You start with a ship or two on the home planet of your chosen species and you explore the galaxy, engage in politics and trade, gain access to resources to allow your species to expand, build up your army to achieve galaxy domination, and if you like you can even conquer Orion – the once home of an ancient and technologically advanced alien civilization.
Whilst it has no story of its own, the beauty of Master of Orion is that in every play through you create your own unique story. I envisaged make-believe cultures for each of my colonies, crews for my ships and personalities for my advisors and the leaders of other species. I imagined myself as the ruler of my chosen race and I’d set myself different goals in each play through. Whilst it may now be tricky to find copies of the original release, this is definitely a game that made me dream of a life lived amongst the stars.
2. Super Metroid (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems 1994)
I have to admit that one of the main reasons I opted for Super Metroid over the also excellent Metroid Prime 3 is simply that it came first. Metroidvania style games number so many these days that that type of gameplay may no longer be heralded, but as an early proprietor of the genre, Super Metroid gets it spot on.
Exploring the planet Zebes to retrieve a (really cute) baby Metroid, Samus must explore the planet right down to its core, and get past a huge array of enemies and fiendish puzzles on the way. It is the beauty of the way the world opens up to you which makes this game so special. Gaining flashy new sci-fi abilities broadens your (admittedly quite narrow) horizons, each one revealing options where it previously seemed there were only impossible barriers and dead ends. It is a rare example of a game where backtracking is half the joy of it.
Samus herself of course is a great sci-fi character, decked in her power suit to which abilities can be added, but the other main reason I chose this game is because of its atmosphere. As Samus, you are alone exploring a strange planet. It feels very lonely, and that feeling is something which is explored in many great sci-fi stories. I never really think that Samus would be scared, but as the player, the sheer loneliness of the game and scale of the task at hand can certainly make you feel apprehensive. What Super Metroid achieves is a perfect harmony of excellent and varied gameplay, alongside a dark and oppressive sci-fi setting, where the planet itself is a major character.
1. Xenoblade Chronicles X (Monolith Soft/Nintendo 2015)
I can get Xenoblade games into any list, but the identification of Xenoblade Chronicles X as my favourite science fiction game is not just a casual afterthought of a Xenoblade fangirl.
Whilst the other two Xenoblade games have strong sci-fi elements, X stands out as a masterpiece of science fiction writing and vision, which could easily be translated to the big screen or adapted as a novel.
It just ticks all the boxes. Not only does it have spaceships, aliens and new technologies, but it has the beauty and terror of exploring an alien planet, the complexities of establishing contact with diverse alien species, and the gnawing uncertainty of survival in a new world. Despite all these elements however, my favourite thing about it is its exploration of humanity.
On the one hand it represents humans as a resilient race, capable of working together to survive. It also recognises that we can be frivolous and fun or adventurous and single-minded, but it doesn’t stop there, and isn’t afraid to suggest we can also be hateful, bigoted, deceitful and violent. This game shows humanity driven from Earth, struggling to survive in a new world. But instead of depicting humans as the heroes, it paints them as a people who will struggle against each other as much as they will unite to prevent their own destruction, and this depiction feels worryingly close to home.
So! What do you think? Have I written a passable Hitchhiker’s Guide to the best science fiction video games in the Galaxy, or is your phaser now set to stunned? Let me know your thoughts below.
Thanks for reading,