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Stick and Rudder: Five more space sims to fill the Star Citizen void

Jef Reahard
Jef Reahard|March 23, 2014 4:00 PM
Stick and Rudder - Five more space sims to fill the Star Citizen void
A few months back I put together a list of my favorite space sims in an effort to pass the time remaining until Star Citizen's release.

Well, that release is still a ways off, even though we are scheduled to get our grubby little space mitts on the dogfighting module next month. I'm in the mood to pew pew right now, though, and if you are too, here are a few more classic games to help fill the void.

Elite classics
(1984 to 1995, DOSbox or physical media)

If you're already enjoying the Elite: Dangerous alpha, then you can safely ignore the next couple of paragraphs. If you're not, you can either pony up Frontier's early access asking price and have at it, or you can journey back in time to catch up on some old-school Elite action.

Fan site Elite Forever is a good place to start, as it has everything from video documentaries to information about Elite novels and comics to a download section featuring the classic games themselves. Keep in mind, though, that playing these titles is akin to visiting a gaming history museum. The most recent Elite sequel, First Encounters, shipped in 1995!

(1995, Steam)

I waffled a bit when it came to putting Descent on my list simply because the series doesn't scream "space sim!" in big, bold letters like the other 1990s classics I've mentioned previously. The gameplay fits, though, as its basically a 6DoF shooter set in a dystopian sci-fi future.

You play as a mercenary tasked with eliminating an alien virus that has infected the robots on various mining colonies, and the game's cockpit perspective grants you a dizzying view of 30 different levels populated by a fun assortment of baddies and bosses.

Descent also spawned a couple of sequels, the first of which was made available alongside the original game on Steam earlier this year.

(2000, Steam)

This next one comes to you courtesy of the comment section from my previous column. Reader mcgreag suggested that I take a look at Tachyon: The Fringe, and I'm glad he did because I completely missed this gem when it launched way back in the year 2000.

It's pretty accessible compared to most of its genre brethren, often allowing you to skip parts of missions in order to get right to the action. There's a branching series of campaign sorties in the Wing Commander mold, not to mention the nifty ability to "slide" your ship along in one direction while pointing your nose (and your weapons) in another. This is way more fun in practice than it sounds in prose, and while I encountered a similar mechanic in Vendetta Online, it's rare enough to feel novel and even liberating.

Aside from all that, you really can't go wrong with Bruce Campbell voicing your character and serving as the model for both his mannerisms and his build.

(2000, physical media)

The only reason that Starlancer didn't show up on my previous list is because it would've been the fourth Chris Roberts game to make the cut. And even though I love it, I love Freelancer, Privateer, and Wing Commander just a wee bit more.

Starlancer is still worth playing, even today, assuming you can find a physical copy for your PC. Unfortunately, it's not available on Steam or GoG, and more's the pity because the typical Roberts recipe is present and accounted for via the tight space combat mechanics and the engrossing presentation.

Starlancer also appeared on Sega's short-lived but much-loved Dreamcast platform, so if you can't make it work on your PC, it's worth checking in with classic console dealers or your favorite online retailer.

Independence War
(1997, Good Old Games)

Independence War, or simply I-War outside of North America, is another one I would've included last time if I'd had the space. Ahem. Sorry.

It's looking a little long in the tooth in 2014, but you can't argue with a sim that gives you your very own corvette as well as four command stations and the ability to control other ships via remote link. The player's vessel is basically a small capital ship, which was something of a departure in both flavor and handling from most of the fighter-centric space sims of the day.

Independence War was also one of the more challenging space sims I've ever played, though this was more due to the tricky mission design than superlative AI.

My late '90s self was as enamored of Independence War's cutscenes as its gameplay, and that's no slight to the latter. I fondly recall fighting my way through 40-odd missions and actually caring about what happened to my character and my ship thanks to a storyline that strayed well above the typical pilot-as-savior-of-the-galaxy genre standard.

In closing, you really can't go wrong with any of these seasoned space sims. Most are showing their age in terms of aesthetics, but they're also continuing to hold their own in terms of fun gameplay.

Whether it's interviews with Chris Roberts and the Cloud Imperium team or tips and guides for pushing your ship's performance envelope, Stick and Rudder is your inside source for news and commentary on the world of Star Citizen. Join Jef Reahard every other Sunday during the run-up to alpha, beta, and beyond.
Stick and Rudder: Five more space sims to fill the Star Citizen void