Having captured the attention of everyone from Steven Spielberg to NASA to Kanye, there are few people who haven’t heard about No Man’s Sky, a video game which features a universe so incomprehensibly large you’ve got about a one percent chance of ever coming across even traces of another flesh-and-blood player. There’s (arguably) no game that’s more anticipated in the space-faring genre than Hello Games’ superformula-computing, procedurally generated odyssey into the impossibly vast unknown.
As a result, every day away from its August 9 release may feel a bit torturous. With that in mind, there are a few games — each with their own flavor — you can play right now to make the wait a little easier.
Think of Elite Dangerous as a bit like No Man’s Sky geared a little more towards science or physics geeks. The conceit of exploring the universe is a familiar one, and the ways that you can engage with the game’s economy (trading, mining) or not (charting the uncharted, eschewing frontier society for piracy) are similar in their approach. But Elite Dangerous is more obsessed with scientific accuracy as well. Treks into the void to get to any given destination can last light years, while the physics of actually piloting a spacecraft put the simulation in “space sim.” Still, if you can’t want to throw yourself into new galaxies and aren’t intimidated by the complexity, this is the way to go.
The Solus Project
The recently released Solus Project is obsessed with a different type of detail, all of which hinges on its survivalist gameplay. This isn’t a game about charting the galaxy, but about staying alive after crash-landing on a planet; as such, it’s the environment itself that you have to worry about, with humidity, weather, wind and other atmospheric conditions acting as potential hazards. Crafting is also a big component as you explore the game’s alien world, and a vital one given how many parameters you have to monitor in order to stay alive. Though smaller in scope, it certainly is capable of capturing the feeling of being alone in an alien landscape.
If you’ve ever wanted a spacefaring exploration game done in a 2D style, Starbound is tailor-made for you. Similar to Terraria, here you can build and colonize settlements, go spelunking, or subsist on the land. You can also leave the planet you start on to become an adventurer, setting off to conquer undiscovered, procedurally generated worlds or simply catalog the lifeforms that live on them. If that doesn’t suit, there’s even a completely optional narrative campaign, complete with “Metroidvania”-style environments and combat, as seen above, as well as multiplayer. If it’s choice you want, Starbound probably does it.
What at a glance looks like a true spiritual successor to Wing Commander, as revived by its former lead designer Chris Roberts, is actually one of the most ambitious space sims ever made. Following various crowdsourced efforts, Star Citizen has hit over $100 million in funding, and as a result, it’s ballooned far beyond the original idea. Roberts always wanted a persistent online world (similar to EVE Online) where players could explore, trade, and dogfight in either a single-player or multiplayer capacity. The project has evolved into various “modules,” including a fully fledged narrative campaign, first-person shooter segments with the feel and production of Call of Duty, and other elements. (Like Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen also takes simulation design to the extreme, even modeling accurate Newtonian physics.) While the game is only in Alpha, parts of it are available to play now provided you’ve got a PC that can run it.
A distant cousin to a design template like No Man’s Sky’s, FTL is all about trying to bring your ship home from hostile space and worse conditions. Equal parts roguelike and strategy, players must warp through a series of randomly generated waypoints in an attempt to reach their Galactic Federation homebase while staving off attacks from hostile spacecraft and the dangers of space itself all while managing various resources and systems on their ship. As far as survival design goes, FTL is interesting because any one thing can lead to catastrophic consequences if not properly dealt with — fires will spread throughout various ship systems and damage the hull if crew members aren’t sent to repair the damage, for instance. That kind of desperate survival in space would be nothing if not brutal, and with the balancing act of managing ship resources, it’s especially hard here. Good luck.