Science fiction and video games just go together. That makes sense: the two share a certain affinity for technology and futuristic ideas. They also share a certain appeal to the geeky set, but that’s okay–that’s why we’re here at The Portalist, where all things geek come together. The geek collaboration of the day is sci-fi gaming–and me, because I wrote the list. As always, my decisions are final beyond all reproach. Thank you for your understanding. These are my picks for the 11 best sci-fi video games.
11. Perfect Dark (2000)
Rare’s Goldeneye 007 (1997) is one of the single most influential first-person shooters of all time, but the rights to the next Bond game (The World is Not Enough, 2000) went to Electronic Arts. So Rare put out a spiritual sequel to Goldeneye with a whole new story. The result was this compelling, funny, and thrilling sci-fi objective-based shooter. Perfect Dark perfects (sorry) what Goldeneye 007 did so well, and while it may not have the historic weight of its immediate predecessor, it is the single best shooter of the “Goldeneye era.”
10. Space Invaders (1978)
A pop culture icon and arcade classic, Space Invaders is straightforward and fun in the way that the best old arcade games are. You know how it works: you play as a little tank thing, moving back and forth on the ground and firing straight up at advancing alien ranks. There’s an old-school simplicity to its mechanics, but that only makes it feel more purely enjoyable.
9. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Mass Effect’s balance of action with role-playing created a rich universe that players could really feel like they were affecting. The series reached its apex in the second installment, Mass Effect 2. Gorgeous visuals, great voice acting, and genuinely enjoyable gameplay made this one an instant classic.
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8. Mega Man 2 (1988)
Mega Man 2 is one of the greatest platformers of all time. Platformers were everywhere when Mega Man 2 debuted, but it stood out even then, and still ranks among the greatest games of all times. It’s so good that I enjoy playing it even though I die constantly and never, ever win.
7. BioShock (2007)
BioShock is a landmark first-person shooter that mixes traditional shooter action with role-playing and strategic elements. It’s a perennial favorite on lists of the best video games ever made, but I had actually never played it. Being the committed blogger that I am, I grabbed a copy for RESEARCH PURPOSES. I’m happy to report that it is so, so good. BioShock’s immersive, atmospheric setting and compelling sci-fi/horror plot support a game with unique and memorable mechanics. It’s wildly fun, and easily made the final cut for this list of the best science fiction video games.
6. Fallout 3 (2008)
Fallout 3 may have been a bit grimmer than Fallout: New Vegas (its 2010 counterpart and perennial rival in message board debates), but it felt more important and more personal. A revolutionary extended player-creation and introduction stage helped bring weight to an emotional mystery story set in Fallout’s retro-futuristic and post-nuclear-war world.
5. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
Halo marked another paradigm shift in the first-person shooter genre. After Doom (1993) and Goldeneye 007 (1997), Halo took its turn at setting a new standard. A more balanced weapon set (they accidentally made the pistol too powerful, I know, but still), huge LAN multiplayer, and a massive fan base made the first Halo game the most important shooter in years. Halo 2 and Halo Reach may have polished things further, but there are moments in the first Halo’s campaign that have never been topped: the introduction of Halo itself, the startling revelation regarding its true purpose, and the unforgettable final level are all still awe-inspiring years later.
4. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Yeah, it has “fantasy” in the name, but Final Fantasy VII leans toward the sci-fi side of its sci-fi/fantasy blend: the world of Final Fantasy VII is one of clones, mechanized robots, super-weapons, and airships. And once the genre question is settled, Final Fantasy is a shoo-in for this list. On top of a brilliant battle system, the game had perhaps the best plot in a series known for them. The story balanced personal concerns of identity and loyalty with views of global issues like poverty, the environment, and corporate power that hold up surprisingly well in modern play-throughs.
3. StarCraft (1998)
StarCraft is one of the most important video games of all time, a critical and commercial smash hit that launched esports as we know it. StarCraft is an extremely big deal in South Korea, where it turns esports pros into superstars. To non-esports fans, it’s just a really, really good game. StarCraft is the best real-time strategy game of all time, one of the most influential games ever made, and certainly one of the best science fiction video games ever. The equally great StarCraft II is the standard right now, but it all started with this original release.
2. Galaga (1981)
The arcade era of gaming was chock full of sci-fi: Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Galaxian, to name just a few. But Galaga will always be my favorite. Its sweeping enemy surges and agile controls make it feel like a more immersive version of Space Invaders, and it’s a marked improvement on Galaxian, which was its direct predecessor. Also, you can do that thing where you get two ships, and that’s super fun.
1. Doom (1993)
Doom is one of the single most influential games of all time. Doom wasn’t the only first-person shooter of its time, but it’s the one that established the genre as one of video games’ most popular. It set standards for controls, gameplay, and structure that weren’t seriously challenged until Goldeneye: 007 came out a half-decade later. Gloriously violent and endlessly fun, Doom still holds up today, whether you’re playing it on a computer or on, uh, a fridge (yeah, that's a thing).
Featured photo: BioWare