Video games are one of the only ways that most of us will ever get to fly through space or hop along the surface of an alien world.
Do you want to save the Galaxy, or take it over? Or perhaps you’d prefer to build one yourself.
Whatever you want to do there is undoubtedly a game that will help you do it, and here we’re taking a look at some of the most popular video games based in outer space, from classic games like Space Invaders, to block bluster epics like the Mass Effect trilogy.
If you are looking for a game to play, you’ll hopefully find what you’re looking for, no matter whether you’re playing on a console or a PC.
And if physical games are more your thing, discover our pick of the best space board games.
Read on for our pick of the best space video games.
Best retro space games
Pixel graphics and simplistic interfaces don’t necessarily mean a game is easy, as anyone who plays these retro style games will find.
Platforms: Android, iOS
The classic space-based video game. Fight off against ever advancing lines of alien invaders – but the more you defeat, the faster they come. This ramping of difficulty (originating from the fact the game processed faster when there are fewer things on the screen) is the first example of a ‘difficulty spike’, where a game gets gradually more challenging as it goes on and is now a fundamental aspect of almost all video games. It also means that despite its simple appearance Space Invaders can be extremely difficult, taking years to master.
An updated version of the game called Space Invaders Forever is available on most platforms, or you can download the original on to your phone to play wherever you go.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Platforms: PC, macOS, iOS, Linux
FTL: Faster Than Light is a strategy game where you play a lone ship fleeing from a chasing fleet, trying to find resources and equipment to help you keep one step ahead of your pursuers.
FTL: Faster Than Light mostly focuses on ship-to-ship battles, where you can specify what enemy systems you target with which weapons, giving a lot of strategy to each battle.
You can even decide on the minutiae such as whether you send your crew to put out the fire in the engine room or repair the guns. Fortunately you can pause the game to queue up all these orders, rather than having to do everything in real time.
However, some may not enjoy this level of micromanagement and the graphics are very simplistic, showing top-down views of your own ship and your opponents, which can detract from the epic nature of the battles you take part in.
Best open world space games
Rather than assigning set goals or tasks, these games give you a set of tools and let you run free. What you can achieve is limited only by your imagination (and the laws of physics).
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Ever wanted to create your own Universe? In Universe Sandbox – you can! The programme is actually a physics engine gives you everything you need to create your very own cosmos. You can create your own planets, arrange them into systems and then set them running to see what happens.
If you fancy something a bit more dramatic, then you can collide your new worlds together and watch the ensuing explosions light up the screen. When it comes to stars, get up close with a solar flare, or fast-forward to the end of its life and watch it explode in a supernova.
Universe Sandbox isn’t an actual ‘game’ with goals and progression, but a tool box for you to find your own fun and learn first-hand about the workings of the cosmos. For that true cosmic-deity feeling, check out the VR mode.
Kerbal Space Program
Platform: PC, PlayStation and XBox
In Kerbal Space Program you find yourself on Kerbin, a planet populated by adorable bug-eyed aliens as they venture forth into their own space age. Your mission is to build spacecraft capable of launching the Kerbals into space, sending them to other planets and, if you’re really good, bringing them home again. You can either play through in science mode, where you have to complete specific tasks set for you by the game; career mode, where you are also confined by funding limits and must protect your reputation to be awarded contracts; or sandbox mode, where you are free to do whatever you want – including recreating real world rockets and spacecraft.
The in-game mechanics are closely based on the physics and engineering laws that govern spaceflight in the real world, making it an excellent way to learn more about rockets and the mechanics of spaceflight. It does mean the game is literally rocket science, though, and the scant tutorials mean you might be reaching for the text books, though there are plenty of people online who have written guides to help you get started, improve, and set out on some truly epic missions.
- Buy now for PC from Steam.
- Buy now for PlayStation from PlayStation Store.
- Buy now for XBox from Microsoft.
Best space exploration games
Set out across the stars to settle new worlds in these games where exploration and discovery is the order of the day.
Platform: PC, PlayStation and XBox
Cross the stars and build your empire. Stellaris is a civilisation style game that asks you to take your particular alien species from its humble beginnings on its home world to become ruler of the Galaxy. Explore the stars, found new worlds, and bargain with your neighbours (played either by the game’s AI, or your friends across the internet). However, whether you choose to prosper through diplomacy or war is up to you. No two games are the same, as you can select different traits, ethics systems and other factors that will govern how your species operate.
Stellaris’s soundtrack helps immerse you in the world, making it even easier to lose yourself in the game as you find yourself saying “just one more turn” until it’s 8am. This also makes the game very complex, especially for newcomers, though there is a lively online community to help give you guidance. Each game of Stellaris can take as long as 30 hours to complete, but that shouldn’t put you off – there are plenty of avid players out there with hundreds of hours of playtime who have yet to finish a single game.
No Man’s Sky
Platform: PC, PS4, PS5, XBoxOne, XBox X|S series
Explore the galaxy and make your way towards its centre. No Man’s Sky contains 18 quintillion worlds, each of which are procedurally generated. This means the game builds them itself for you to explore looking for interesting alien creatures while you look for resources, founding planetary bases and creating a space fleet.
Though the game does have a storyline, the real appeal is exploring the Universe’s beautiful landscapes, full of vibrant colours, with an atmospheric soundtrack to help set the mood.
You may have been put off the game as its developers promised the sky, only to fail during launch by delivering a game many found lacking. Since then, however, the developers have and continue to release many free updates that have fleshed out the game considerably. It might be time to revisit the galaxy.
Platform: PC, macOS, PS4, PS5, XBoxOne, XBox X|S series
This massively multiplayer space epic sets you adrift in an open world (or rather, open Milky Way), giving you a ship and a few credits before being sent out to explore the cosmos.
Travel between the stars, gathering credits to buy a bigger ship and help shape the path of an ever evolving narrative that the players help to build.
Take part in spaceship battles which are challenging and satisfying, while immersing yourself in a hyper realistic environment that is based on the actual Milky Way. However, this means the distances you have to travel are realistically huge as well, so it can take a while to get from A to B.
For those with a VR setup, Elite Dangerous’s VR version realism gets taken to a whole new level as you can set yourself in the cockpit in what is widely regarded as one of the best VR implementations of a game to date.
Best space role-playing games
Become the hero and decide the fate of civilisations in these action adventure role playing games.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, XBoxOne, XBox X|S series
Take on the role of Commander Shepard in your quest to save the Milky Way from the threat of the invading Reapers. The game plays out over the entire Milky Way – with a map based on our actual galaxy – allowing you to explore dozens of worlds as you build up your team of allies (perhaps even romancing some of them along the way), go on missions and try your hand at the subtleties of Galactic politics.
There is a strong narrative, with a Paragon/Renegade system that lets you decide if you want your Shepard to be a Paragon of respectability, or a Renegade who’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. There is a choice about the kinds of abilities you want your Shepard, who can be either male or female, to have, allowing casual gamers to keep things simple, while also offering more complex options to experienced players.
Already one of the most highly acclaimed action-adventure games made in the last two decades, the entire trilogy was remastered in 2021 for the Legendary Edition, fixing some of the more annoying gameplay and updating the graphics.
The Outer Worlds
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch
Take on the role of a settler who has travelled to the distant planetary system of Halcyon to found a new society. But when you wake, you find you’ve been asleep for almost a century, the colony is already established and under the thumb of several megacorporations.
Over the course of the game you will hop between worlds and find yourself faced with many decisions to help shape the world – will you side with the megacorps, or will you rebel?
Despite touching on some heavy themes, the game maintains a tongue-in-cheek attitude throughout, never taking itself too seriously. This fits in well with its cartoony graphics and neon coloured worlds. The gameplay of The Outer Worlds involves a lot of dialog-based interactions where your responses will help shape how the NPCs interact with you, as well as the course of the action. But don’t worry, there’s still a fair amount of running and gunning for those who enjoy the action in their action adventure role playing game.