Monday, June 18, 2012

My Top Ten Science Fiction video games and/or series. .

I don't know why exactly, but this subject has been kicking around in the back of my head for a while now. So I figured I'd give myself a break and put it on the blog for a bit of fun. But anyway, since this is such a broad subject, I'm gonna have to narrow it down just a bit. So in order to make this list, it has to have two things: 1) it has to be definitively science fiction (meaning that it has to focus on aliens, technology and other Sci-Fi conventions or so close to them that it doesn't matter) and 2) the game or series must have a real plot. So that means you can throw old Atari games and a some NES titles out the window. And this, like everything else on this blog, is just my opinion. So please non-followers, don't be a baby if I don't name your favorite game (remember, if I haven't played the game then I can't comment on it) or if you don't agree with me. Also, since something like this is very subjective and can always change later, consider this an incomplete list.

Anyway lets get down to it.

10. Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2.
Year Released: 1997.
Platform: PC.
Genre: First Person Shooter. Space Opera.
 When it comes to video games based off of movies, the general rule is that "it sucks." But thankfully, a lot of Star Wars games have managed to break this rule, and Jedi Knight was one of them. Taking place after the events of Episode six, Jedi Knight had you guiding fan favorite expanded universe character Kyle Katarn on his quest to becoming a Jedi and to hunt down his father's murders, the Sith lord Jerec and his apprentices. Dark Forces 2  was the first Star Wars game I was really aware of that truly made you feel like a Jedi, complete with Lightsaber and a full arsenal of powers from both sides of the Force. Which powers you could unlock depended on the player's actions through out the game and, depending on which side you followed, altered the ending. This mechanic would later go on to influence other Star Wars games, most notably Bioware's Knight of the Old Republic series. Its low on the list because its based off a licensed property and not original. But even so, it still a great game, and killing Stormtroopers is as fun as ever.  

9. Fallout series.
Games in the Series: Fallout. Fallout 2. Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas.
Year Released (first game): 1997.
Genre: Point and click Role-playing game. First Person RPG. Action. Alternate History. Post Apocalyptic.
Platform(s): PC, Playstaion 3 and Xbox 360.
While admittedly it is kinda weak on story and characters, the Fallout series more than makes up for it with its immersion factor. What I mean by that is that its extremely easy to forget your objective and just explore whats left of a destroyed North America. The atmosphere is just perfect. From the old music from the 1930s and 40's, the towns and cities made of scrap and ruins, the endless miles of the wasteland, all of it just enhances the mood. What really holds it together for me though is the freedom, particularly in the later games. Fallout lets you go out into the world and make a name for yourself. You can either follow the story (such as it is) or you can ignore it all together and create your own. You can join any faction you want or you can just look out for number one, you can be both hero or villain. Its your call. And depending on your choices, people will react to you differently and that in turn will affect in game events.

8. Half-Life series.
Games in the series: Half-Life, Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode one, Half-Life 2: Episode Two. 
Year Released(first game) :1998.
platform: PC, Xbox and Xbox 360. 
Genre: First person Shooter. Alien Invasion. Post apocalyptic. 

I'm not sure where to start with this one. Plot wise, you take control of a theoretical physicist named Gordon Freeman who was involved with in an experiment in teleportation gone wrong at a top secret government facility called Black Masa. Said failed experiment opens a door way to another world and the life forms of that world start to invade invade earth and its up to Gordon to stop them. That's the plot of the first game in a nutshell. The second game is a bit more sophisticated, showing a world conquered by a different race of aliens that showed up because of the events in Black Masa and its up to Gordon and his buddies from the last game to clean up the mess. Its pretty standard stuff but well told all the same. But you know what? Sometimes, story and characters aren't the reason you play video games. And that's certainly true with Half-Life. Sure you have the "killing everything that's trying to kill you" that FPS's are known for, but that's just not enough in Half-life. Some times you have to slow down do some problem solving before you advance. And in Half-Life 2, this is taken to a level that had not yet been seen before in a game. Creator Valve employed a physics engine to the game making it so that people, vehicles and objects behave as they would in real life. Why does that matter? Well it adds a deeper sense of immersion and it also makes the puzzles and problem solving aspects of the game more challenging. And it also gave birth to one of the coolest and ingenious weapons in any video game ever: The Gravity Gun, a weapon that the player can use to pick up just about anything and throw it at the enemy. In other words with this weapon, EVERYTHING is ammo. Literally. Boxes, propane tanks and oil drums, other living beings. You name it the Gravity Gun can chuck it. Its just straight up fun.

7. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.
Year released: 1995.
Genre: Point and Click Adventure game. Psychological Horror. Cyber Punk (I guess).
Platform: PC.
I don't even know how to start with this one. Its based on the short story by Harlan Ellison and man is it f***cked up. The plot is that an A.I. calling him self AM (as in "I think, therefor I am.") who went crazy and killed every human being on the planet except for five people. AM has kept these poor guys alive for 109 years and tortured them, both psychologically and physically, for his own amusement. The story is about the last of these sessions. I haven't read the original story, at least not yet anyway, but the game really impressed me. In it, AM sends each of the five survivors on a little digital psychodrama that prey on the personality flaws of each of the characters. To win each drama, the player must navigate each character through the scenario to over come said flaws, making ethical decisions that will affect not only the characters, but the outcome of the game. Harlan Ellison worked very closely with the game designers on this one, making sure that this adaptation was both as faithful to the original story as possible and was also flexible enough to turn it into a really fun, if very macabre, experience. Heck, Ellison even lent his voice to this game, playing the voice of AM. A lot of critics ridiculed his preformance, saying it was overly melodramatic, but I think he did a good job. If you can find a copy of this cult classic, check it out.  

6.Star Ocean series.
games in series: Star Ocean, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and Star Ocean: The Last Hope.
Year released (first game): 1996.
Platform: Super Nintendo, Sony Playstaion, Sony PSP, Playstaion 2, Xbox360 and Playstation 3.
Genre: Role playing game. Space Opera. Space Fantasy.

  I describe the Star Ocean series this way: "The love child between Star Trek and Final Fantasy." And that's exactly what this series feels like, a 30+ hour Star Trek movie. Which I guess isn't that surprising when you consider that the creators of the series are both Trekkies. But anyway, Star Ocean plot wise is kinda hard to talk about because, while the squeals are all set in the same universe, they don't follow one after another. Instead, each Star Ocean game takes place roughly around 1,000 years apart. So each game has a new plot and a new cast of characters. Hardly seems to matter though. Gameplay wise, Star Ocean plays a lot like old-school Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest; with random enemy encounters, specialized skills, spells and what have you. But unlike Final Fantasy, members of your party didn't stand still during battle and wait for their turn, instead the player takes control of only one character while the computer takes control of the others. Today that's pretty standard, but back in 1996, it was a relatively new thing for a console RPG. Star Ocean is also remembered for its Sci-Fi setting in a time when the RPG was largely dominated by the fantasy genre. Sadly, the first game in the series wasn't released state side until it was remade on the PSP a few years ago. The first entry we got was the second game on the original Playstaion, but the series didn't really get much mainstream attention until the Third game, Till The End of Time, on the PS2. I just hope that there will be more of them.

5. Mass Effect Trilogy.
games in series: Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3.
year released (first game): 2007.
Platform: Xbox 360, PC and Playstaion 3.
Genre: Third person Shooter. Action RPG. Space Opera. Political Thriller.

What can I say about Mass Effect that hasn't already been said? Well how about its reputation being extremely exaggerated. I mean when you boil it down to its most basic components, Mass Effect is just another third person shooter that's heavy with RPG bits. But you know what? That's ok, because Mass Effect is a series that still gets everything right. It put some real innovation back into RPGs and video games in general with its freedom of choice, in where the choices you make affect how the story will progress. And not just one game, oh no, but all all there of them. Yes, the choices you made in the first game, affects the story in the second and so on. Speaking of story, Mass Effect has the set up of a typical Space Opera. A race of sentient machines wants to invade our galaxy and wipe out all organic life, and its up to you and your crew to stop it. Its a classic story archetype but its told with the sophistication, skill and brains of a Frank Herbert or an Issac Asimov. And by that, I just mean that the people wrote the plot know what the heck they are doing. 

Year released: 1994.
Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System. 
Genre: Action/Adventure. 2D Plat former. Space Opera. 
 You can't make a list about Sci-fi themed video games and not include an entry from the Metriod series, it cannot be done, its just that good. The only question was which one? I could have put the entire series up but that would have been too easy. And yes, admittedly the series just barely meets my "It has to have a plot" rule. So why not include the game that established that established that plot. No, Super Metriod is not the first game in the series (its the third one), but it was the one that definitively told us that "yes, there is an over arching narrative here." But anyway, Super Metriod tells us the story of intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran after the events in the second game in the series, Metriod 2: Return of Samus. Samus was contracted by the Galactic federation to wipe out an alien species known as Metriods, a parasitic life form that somehow sucks the life energy out of its victim and leaves nothing but empty husks. After the deed was done, Samus found a baby Metriod that mistook her for its mother and followed her. She delivered it to the federation....only to have it stolen by the band of monstrous Space Pirates that she had fought in the first game, who wish to use the Metriod's as a biological weapon. Now Samus has to return to the Pirates home world, retrieve the Metriod and wipe out the Pirates once and for all. It might sound trite, but its enough to keep you interested. And I must stress, that sometimes plot isn't the reason you play video games. And Super Metriod is one of those games. The game has an open world design with endless forks in the road and tons of secret passages that may or may not lead you to a power up. It also has this spooky atmosphere, driving home a sense of being totally alone against insurmountable odds. 

year released: 1995.
Platform: PC.
Genre: Point and Click Adventure Game. Space Opera. 

Believe it or not, there was a time when Lucusarts didn't make only Star Wars games. They also made awesome point and click adventure games, and this was one of their best in my opinion. The plot involves a giant asteroid that on a collision course with earth, a group of astronauts are sent up to try and veer it off course (kind of like the movie Armageddon) but once there, they find something incredible. That the asteroid is actually hollow and inside are the remains of an alien civilization. The home world of which they are then promptly transported too. And now they have to find a way home. In addition to the traditional elements of a point and click adventure game (exploration, puzzle and problem solving and so on), the story of The Dig also revolves heavily on the interaction between the three main characters, Low, Brink and Robbins. Low wants to find a way back home, Robbins is obsessed with studying the dead civilization, and Brink, well Brink seems to be losing his mind. Its interesting to note that  The Dig was originally supposed to be a movie by Stephen Spielberg, which for some reason never happened. So Spielberg deiced to turn it into a game instead. He even got Orson Scott Card to come in and write the dialogue.

Games in the series: Xenosaga Episode one: Der Wille Zur Macht, Xenosaga Episode two: Jensits von Gut und Bose and Xenosaga Episode Three: Also sprach Zarathustra. 
Year released (first game): 2002. 
Platform: Playstaion 2.
Genre: RPG, Space Opera, Giant Robot, Psychological thriller, Philosophical, God in the Machine. 

Mass Effect, meet your hot mom. Xenosaga is the one of the matriarchs of modern video game sci-fi/fantasy epics. Sure there were trilogies with a single over arching narratives in video games before (most famously the Ninja Gaidan games on the NES), but Xenosaga was the first that I remember to actually get it right. An epic story, memorable 3 dimensional characters, giant robots. This series had everything. Trying to explain the plot would be like trying to explain physics in less than 3 seconds, the only way to do it justice is to play it for yourself. The only thing that sucks about this series was that it was originally supposed to six games long but for whatever reason, the publisher pulled the plug on the next three games. Kinda reminds me of what happened to Saga's spiritual brother, Xenogears. Speaking of.....

Year released: 1998. 
platform: Sony Playstaion (the original).
Genre: RPG, Giant Robot, Psychological thriller, philosophical, ancient aliens, God in the machine.

Xenosaga, meet your daddy. I don't even know what else to say. For me Xenogears was the first hard/high science fiction game that I remember having a profound affect on me, personally. It along with Final Fantasy 7 was the game that nurtured my own love for genre by showing me just how powerful the genre could be and also inspiring me to pick up my pen and try writing my own stories. Even though the graphics are kinda dated (even for 1998) and some of the voice acting is really bad, Xenogears excels in both its deep and complex plot that rivals a well thought out and well executed sci-fi novel or movie and its realistic characters (that is, psychologically realistic). And the game play is just what you want from an RPG.  exciting turn based battles, epic boss battles, giant robot battles. I can't even do it justice, go download it on the PlayStation 3 (its cheaper than buying a physical copy) and experiences it. The only thing that sucks about it is that Gears is actually the fifth part of a much bigger story that was never made for some reason. Xenosaga was made by the same team as Xenogears, who had left Squaresoft after Gears was completed, to form their own company. And is considered a spiritual successor to Xenogears, and sadly thats the closest were gonna get to a squeal.

Well there you have it. My top ten sci-fi games. I hope you all enjoyed it and maybe I inspired some of you to check these games out.
See you later.   


  1. Just proves how not a true gamer I am -- I have only heard of a couple of these. However, I Have No Mouth... sounded really intriguing (and yes, messed up).

    1. heh, heh. Definitely one of the more messed up games I've played that wasn't called Silent Hill 4 I can tell ya that, Ava. Worth playing though. And too be honest, I'm not as big of a gamer as I would like to be. I Don't have a lot of money to spend on games and PC games seem to hate me for the most part.