HERE’S the second half of the awesome Rachel Noy’s pick of the greatest science fiction computer games ever – from number five to number one.
As the first half showed, we’ve already seen games with an incredibly high standard, so what will be number one?
Read on to find out, and as before, click on the title for each game to buy it from Amazon. Oh, and any thoughts on what should be in the list are always welcome too.
Over to you Rach ….
5 – Deus Ex
Genre: Action Role-playing Game
If you like your sci-fi role playing games dark, deep and gritty, Deus Ex is worth a look. A mash-up of cyberpunks, The Matrix, conspiracy theories, The X Files and Blade Runner, it’ll certainly tickle your sci-fi fancy.
You are JC Denton, an agent for a global police force, UNATCO. You and your brother are one of their new models of agent, you’re full of nanotechnology to enhance your body, whereas your older counterparts were reinforced with machinery.
A plague, the Grey Death, is spreading rapidly, and only the stinking rich can afford to survive due to the insane cost of the cure. You are deployed to find a stolen supply of the cure, named Ambrosia. Terrorists and riots are rife, and you’re in the middle of it. As you interact with people in the game and choose your own path based upon your actions, you begin to unravel the fact that UNATCO isn’t all that it seems.
I won’t spoil the story for you completely, you’ll just have to trust me that it’s convoluted and satisfying. Your choice in character skills and conversation really do take a big impact on the way the game progresses, meaning that you can play Deus Ex many a time and see a different game every time. The setting is perfect, the plot is perfect, and the depth of content is perfect.
What isn’t perfect? Well, let’s not beat around the bush, this game is ten years old, and it looks it. If outdated graphics irk you and are going to sour your experience, don’t bother with this one. Remain blissfully ignorant on what brilliance you missed out on when it was in its prime, skip Deus Ex 2 and wait for Deus Ex 3, which is on the way in 2011 and if possible, looks even better than the original.
However, if you’re a person that appreciates substance over style this is one of the best games you’ll ever play. The plot, RPG elements, and style are fantastic, but the shooting, lack of auto save and the first levels are frustrating, which is why I’ve put this game just above slap-bang in the middle of this list.
4 – Bioshock
Genre: Horror First-Person Shooter
Platform: Mac, PC, Playstation 3, Xbox360
You like your sci-fi with an injection of steampunk? Me too. Let me recommend a little game called Bioshock that was released a few years ago.
It’s an alternate 1960, and you’re on a plane heading over the Atlantic. You’re not very lucky that day, the plane never completes its journey, and you crash into the sea. By some miracle, you’re the only survivor, and you swim out of the chaos towards a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere where a small submarine is waiting to take you underwater.
In this vehicle, you take your journey to the seriously fucked-up, utopia-gone-wrong, underwater city of Rapture.
There are promises of freedom everywhere, a lavish place where anything goes and freedom from morals reigns. This includes some very strange science experiments, the results of which are evident as soon as you hit Rapture.
Grotesque genetically modified once-people, splicers, wander the beautiful underwater halls of Rapture. You see, they’ve gone a bit mental for ADAM, a substance which allows you to genetically modify yourself with serums called plasmids. After using these you can shoot fire and bees from your fingertips and do other weird things. There are also bigger things to worry about, but I’ll let you find them for yourself.
Why you’re in Rapture you have no idea. You won’t know for most of the game, but you’re sure as hell going to try and find out through the snippets of information from times-once-good that were left behind.
The best thing about Bioshock is Rapture itself. As you wander the halls with a wrench, there are subtle things that put you on edge. It’s a terrifyingly creepy place, but a kind of place that you torture yourself to explore because it’s so interesting and because its inhabitants are so grotesque and you don’t know why.
The thing is, you don’t mind exploring and experimenting with how you want to beef yourself up with plasmids, because if you die, you simply emerge from a pod nearby. This might be seen as a cop-out, but to me, this means that there are no moments where you just want to put the pad down and never come back to the game. It makes death something positive.
The rooms are beautiful in a tragic way. The water is rendered beautifully, and yet it’s almost wasted in some scummy places. The place holds all the grandeur and romance of an affluent 1950’s, and yet the curtains are shredded and the whole place is dangerous. Some rooms seem to have been abandoned mid-event, political messages litter the place, and there’s an ingenious underwater forest to oxygenate Rapture, something that seems wasted as little girls wander around with syringes, stabbing them into corpses as they play.
As you wander around, jukeboxes play gorgeous 50’s music that betrays the dingy setting, making it all the more unnerving. The characters’ voice acting is superb, making Rapture’s plight all the more real. To play with the sound off is a travesty.
Bioshock isn’t comfortable to play, but it is compelling, and almost beautiful.
3 – Fallout 3
Genre: Action First Person Shooter RPG
Platform: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox360
Fallout 3 is grey and brown. And dreary. And grey. Did I say it was brown? It drives you insane, but perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps this really is what it’s going to be like after we all crawl out from our nuclear bunkers after the big red buttons have been pressed by the US and China in 2277.
Perhaps grey and brown will be the least of your worries when you’re a kid and you crawl out of Vault 101 to find that your father has already fled the bunker without saying goodbye, when you see other escaped small children dropping little f-bombs of their own out of their bratty little mouths, when to grow older you have to drink radiation water out of toilets knowing that it’ll quench your thirst but slowly poison you.
Maybe we all really will degrade ourselves on a daily basis by fighting over Nuka-Cola caps, the new currency in our confused world. Maybe a good day will be when we pick them out of a corpse’s ragged pockets.
Maybe our culture will come to a halt like that in Fallout 3, the music and styles of the 1950’s are present everywhere as creativity came to a halt and technology ruled.
Fallout 3 is incredibly depressing, even grueling. You witness all of the bleakness that your character has to suffer from birth to adulthood, but you ultimately make your man who he is.
There are all kinds of vital statistics in this shooter that you get to pick at birth and develop as you progress through the game with the help of the Pip–Boy 3000, a watch with all kinds of gadgets and in-built radio that you can catch the odd broadcast on if you’re standing in the right place. The Pip-Boy 3000 is basically your best friend, at least, until certain NPCs may decide to make an appearance depending on how you’re living out your life.
There’s also ‘perks’, you can choose one for every character level you gain, such as being less addiction-prone, being able to communicate well with children, or being able to chop criminals’ fingers off and hand them in for positive karma. There are only 20 levels to gain, but many more perks, so you have to choose what kind of a man you are going to be.
You can walk around blowing the heads off people if you like, or you can be more tactical and use the Vault Automated Targeting System (V.A.T.S). This brings combat to a halt and brings up a heads-up-display in which you can use action points to say, target a man’s feet with a gun, shoot it, and then exit the V.A.T.S to watch him in agony as he wanders around on some bloody stumps.
I realise that I said the world is brown and depressing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It turned a lot of people off Fallout 3, but if you’re not afraid of gritty entertainment, you might find the world beautiful. It’s certainly beautifully rendered, and the fact that you can explore whatever you want, and do it when you want, is part of the appeal.
The atmosphere is electric, the story is intricate yet brutal, and you can immerse yourself in the world completely. It’s not a light experience, but it is truly epic in every sense of the word.
2 – The Orange Box
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Puzzle
Platform: Mac, PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Okay, so I cheated. The Orange Box contains 5 games by Valve which are all excellent, but if you only play two of them, make them Half Life 2 and Portal, as the mental struggle I had between deciding which one of these to include nearly made my brain split in two.
Half Life 2: Science Fiction first person shooter, has won so many game of the year/decade/forever awards it’s hard to count. It’s also totally worthy of them. You play as a scientist, Gordon Freeman, who has set out to right the wrongs of him and his team after they opened a portal to another world, and accidentally brought about the attempted extermination of mankind.
You are the strong but silent type, and as such, you never speak a word throughout the game. This is part of the game’s genius however, as the storytelling and feelings within the story are conveyed throughout the environment and through the characters around you.
As you are a sciency man, you have sciency weapons at your disposal, including alien pheromones, high-tech programmed sentry guns, and the best, and most famous weapon of all, the Organic Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator, known to laymen like us as a BLOODY GRAVITY GUN. It opens up so many opportunities to do really insensitive things to aliens, it’s beautiful.
Yes, it’s another shooter, and there are people out there that don’t like shooters or find that there is a barrier to entry because they’re not good at them, like me. This is the only reason that this is not number one on the list, and why I have included Portal here too. This is entirely unfair, as the thing about Half Life 2 is that the shooting isn’t the main feature of the game, although it’s done almost flawlessly. The way that the shooting elements, the story, and the environment all merge into one perfectly to immerse you into your stint of not playing as Gordon Freeman, but -being- Gordon Freeman, is what makes this game more close to being perfect than any shooter, sci-fi or not.
Portal: Science Fiction first person puzzle game. Surprisingly simple in theory, devilishly difficult in practice.
You wake up in a ‘relaxation pod’ with no doors. As you wake, a friendly-sounding AI advises you that a portal will soon appear which you can exit from. Sure enough, an orange portal appears, and you step out through it to see a blue portal nearby in which you can see yourself. When you step in one portal, you exit through the other. Simple eh? Well no. When you gain your portal gun, the shit hits the fan. Shit, meet orange portal, shit, meet fan with blue portal in front of it. Wheeee!
The aim of the game is to navigate your way through a seemingly impossible level with your portal gun, sometimes moving things in the room need a new route, sometimes you need to jump through the ceiling to get to the floor, sometimes you just need to create a situation where you’re constantly falling so that you can pick up speed and launch another portal just at the right time.
When playing Portal you feel your brain expanding as you play. It’s pretty rare in the real world that you have to solve these kinds of spatial puzzles. It also makes you laugh, there are subtle things in the environment that display a sense of humour, and the AI, GLaDOS, is cleverer than you might think.
The game is a stroke of genius, the only problem being that it is far too short, about 6 hours if you whiz through. The end credits more than make up for it though. How often does a game’s ending credits song make it onto a Rock Band track list?
1 – Mass Effect 2
Genre: Action Role-playing Game
Platform: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox360
So, the number one. Mass Effect 2. It may be a young game, released in January 2010, but this isn’t honeymoon period syndrome. It is the ultimate space opera, not only when you come across an alien singing his own version of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Why is this game number one on the list? Well, because this is a top ten sci-fi games list.
Mass Effect 2 makes you feel like you are in a combination of all the sci-fi shows you’ve watched since being a kid more than any other on this list. Mass Effect 2 lets you live your own sci-fi story and be the character you want to be, without putting too much of an emphasis on shooting aliens like a lot of other games.
It’s so approachable and customizable it’s unreal.
There is shooting if you want it, but you can also use biotic upgrades, or even your words to torture whoever you want to. Oh okay, you can be good too. Paragon or Renegade.
You can create your very own Captain Picard, Malcolm Reynolds, Boba Fett, or The Master with the decisions you choose in-game, and with who you let live, who you let die, and which sexy blue alien babe you let into your trousers.
Where was I? You are Commander Shepard, and what you are is up to you. You can be a hero or an evil arsehole, or a little bit of column a, little bit of column b. Either way, preservation of yourself, and if you’re not a cold hearted bastard, of every other friendly alien race, is your mission.
Yeah, we’re out to save the universe from a load of ancient aliens, a theme perhaps all too common in sci-fi, but damn do you feel like a freaking saviour in Mass Effect 2. Everywhere you go, people have heard of you and ask you to record messages that they can play in their shops to draw in punters. That’s proper fame.
Mass Effect 2 is yet another RPG on the list, but this one is especially special.
The developers, Bioware, already knew how to create believable characters that you love, hate, and care about either way, but in this game it really shines through. Bioware have struck that golden middle ground, a game that on one hand attracts an awful lot of women and casual gamers for a supposed ‘hardcore’ game because of its soft touch and promise of romance and friendship, and on the other hand doesn’t alienate hardcore gamers who want a game where they can blow shit up like they do in every other game they own.
This may sound stereotypical, but you ask any woman who’s played this game (or the Bioware fantasy counterpart, Dragon Age), which person they fell in love with, and you’ll always find an answer. Mine’s Garrus, by the way. Adorably socially-awkward alien heroes with head tentacles have never been so attractive.
Speaking of attractive, the game looks phenomenal. Holograms everywhere, control panels, spaceships, everything to make a sci-fi fan drool. The characters look brilliant too, everything is rendered well, and the space fashion is marvellous.
One thing I will say when going through the very detailed character creation, is to swallow any manly urges you may have and be a chick. Female Shepard is voiced by the brilliant Jennifer Hale (Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic, Disney), and her performances give a real depth to your character. Male Commander Shepard is still fun to play, but he has a bit of that generic Action Man feel about him. Woman Shepard makes you even more emotionally involved in Mass Effect 2, if that’s even possible.
Whatever you do in Mass Effect 2, there is a consequence, and you have to live with that. You even have to live with your actions in the original Mass Effect if you played it. If you exterminated an entire race in the original, you won’t be seeing them in Mass Effect 2. If you saved someone in the original, they may just be there to give you a helping hand in the future. While playing the game it really feels as if the game is shifting around what you do, and it makes you feel pretty damn special.
The world however, can also make you feel small. There are so many planets that you can fly off to in your ship and explore. There are bigger things than you going on in them, sometimes there’s war, sometimes nature has just decided it’s fed up with a planet and has left it desolate. There’s also the ever-present ‘The Illusive Man’, who has given you a ship and a crew, but gives no hint of his motives and seems to be a puppeteer in something much larger than one person.
Mass Effect 2 is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure book with beautifully fleshed out characters and an amazing, living world that you can get lost in for over 50 hours, and it’s more sci-fi than most sci-fi without being cheesy or redundant.
Why is this the best sci-fi game released so far? Because you can make it your sci-fi game.