Fetch the smelling salts! NMS was delayed last week in an announcement that stunned fans and nearly killed Adam! It left a raft of gamers strewn up and down the emotional spectrum, some are angry, some sad, and some are still holding onto the hope that it’s all a hoax. It’s like watching a crowd of downtrodden refugees, refugees with pop-culture t-shirts and ambitions of space travel. Not all of the reactions have been so.. contained, now while missing a deadline this late in development is a huge blunder, it’s no reason to go threatening the man. So, this has left allot of very excited people with allot of time to kill. Don’t worry though I’ve got you covered with five hand picked titles that’ll tide you over.
Space sims are an old ooold genre on the PC, hell I started playing them in 96’ and that’s considered way late to the party. Ultimately the genre really took off in the second golden era of PC gaming, the 90’s, it was one of those magic timing moments Where the tech and the tallent were in just the right place. The big draw for me was just the sheer size of it all, sure more linear games gave you a rollercoaster thrill, but they didn't have the replayability or exploration factor that are hallmarks of space sims. In list I’ll be concentrating on the more open ended exploration type games rather than the mission based combat sims, because honestly all the entries would just be Freespace 2.
But enough waffle, let’s get to the list!
5 - Vega Strike
This one’s a little special for a couple of reasons. Firstly it was one of the FOSS community’s early ‘big’ game projects, and it also happens to be the best freeware space sim out there. Sporting a decent story campaign, with a raft of mission types, trade routes, ships, and mind bogglingly large number of systems it’s a project with quite some scope! Vega Strike was my go to game for whittling the time away whilst waiting between big releases or for hunkering down during crappy weather, so it's not really a game you “finish” rather one to pass the time and entertain yourself with. Unfortunately it’s a little undirected at times, and definitely has the feel of a community project, getting started can be a real pain due to the lack of any real tutorial. That said at the end of the day Vega Strike holds it’s own as a fine entry in the genre, and while it’s rough round the edges it more than makes up with an intriguing depth and a price that can’t be beat!
4 - X3: Reunion
Now while Vega Strike has more depth than your average Privateer clone, this just isn’t enough for some people, not nearly enough. This is where the X series comes in, it’s pretty much peerless in the sheer amount of fiddling you can do. Why become a merchant, bounty hunter, or pirate when you can found your own mega corp, or mercenary outfit? In simple terms the X series takes the very staples of the genre and makes them big, very big. The Series truly peaked with X3 it offered a gobsmacking amount of content and shiny visuals that still look brilliant!
3 - Wing Commander: Privateer
And here it is, the big daddy of space sims Privateer was the next logical step in the Wing Commander universe. You weren’t just some hotshot ace taking orders and checking off missions, you were your own man free to explore fight and trade. Many argue that Privateer is still the greatest of the single player space sims, not because it was the first, but because it was the first one that was any good. Of course there were those who had greater appreciation for Elite and Frontier’s depth, but Privateer quite simply charmed the pants off us! Its buckets of fun and still holds up well, a bright colourful cheesy wad of Origin at it’s finest.
2 - Elite Dangerous
I gave myself quite allot of stick for putting ED above Privateer. It’s cold it’s clinical it’s shallow, but it’s the closest thing to NMS out at the moment so for the purposes of this list it eeks out ahead. It’s not all bad of course, ED’s flight mechanics are as smooth as silk , and it’s a joy to veer a craft in with a tricky manual landing and see the bustling docking station all around you. The problem is that I’ve just described 40% of the game, I mean if you throw in the combat (which is an absolute blast!) that’s 70%! Updates come in a trickle and add nothing more than a few new menu items. There's an expansion that’s ever so slowly being squeezed out but you have to buy the game twice, so fucks to that! Elite Dangerous is a shallow husk of a game riding on the coat-tails of the phenomenal series which spawned it, It might be worth a purchase when all the expansions are done (likely to be in the next 3 decades), but for now it is closest modern title to NMS.
1 - Freelancer
Freelancer was Chris Robert’s followup to Privateer and in my opinion is the best game to play in your buildup to NMS. Unlike StarLancer Freelancer outright surpassed its predecessor in every aspect. It has a lengthy single player campaign, slick interface, interesting worlds and a detailed (but static) economy. The biggest appeal of Freelancer is it’s modding community, new ships, dynamic economies, and customisable fleets are some of the many many many mods popular with freelancer, you can tailor it to be a more intimate singleplayer experience or just blow it outwards to near X level of management. End of the day Freelancer is a pretty slick package, it’s more narrative driven than NMS, but it’ll more than tide you over till it’s release.
SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY ...