The vast reaches of space are naturally prime material for video game settings, with the likes of the upcoming Dead Space remake and Starfield being some exciting examples of its prominence in the medium. In a way, it’s the other side of the coming to fantasy, with sci-fi space settings being great at opening up endless gameplay and narrative possibilities.
As such, many of the highest-ranked games on Metacritic use this as the foundation for their premises. Nintendo has developed some of the most memorable within the lucrative Super Mariofranchise, while Xbox juggernaut Halohas made its own mark on the industry.
Starcraft II: Wings Of Liberty – 93 (PC, 82 Reviews)
In the real-time strategy genre, Blizzard’s Starcraft games are frequently held in high regard. A sequel 12 years in the making, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a sci-fi game set in space following three factions of characters: the Terrans, the Zerg, and the Protoss, with the former being the focus of the main game’s story and DLC expansions dedicated to the latter two.
The mainline story follows Jim Raynor as he galvanized a group of insurgent soldiers to fight against the tyrannical rule of the Terran Dominion. Starcraft II, much like its predecessor, was praised for its layered and strategic combat, all the while building upon the first game’s strengths. Similarly, reviews gave high marks to the polished approach to storytelling.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic – 94 (Xbox)
Often hailed as one of the greatest Star Wars games ever developed, BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic was widely acclaimed as being one of the deepest RPGs of its time. Likewise, it was equally praised for being one of the best-written Star Wars stories in general.
Taking place in the Legends continuity away from the mainline Disney canon, Knights of the Old Republic takes place thousands of years before the events of The Phantom Menace. It sees Darth Malak lead a resurgent Sith Empire to change the tide of war against the Galactic Republic, with the player taking on the role of an amnesiac Force user. The game was incredibly rewarding when it came to player choice and customization.
Halo 3 – 94 (Xbox 360, 86 Reviews)
Bungie’s Halo series was a landmark gaming franchise of the time, pushing the boundaries of what the first-person shooter genre is capable of in single- and multiplayer. It wasn’t another generic shooter whose campaign is mere stage dressing for a monotonous online mode, and Halo 3 was a climactic finish to the original Bungie trilogy.
Halo 3 also featured an exciting story mode with equally engaging co-op gameplay, seeing Master Chief, Arbiter, and co. take part in the heated interstellar war between UNSC, Covenant, and the impending doom facing everyone in the form of the Flood. The game easily cemented its status as one of Xbox’s best exclusives.
Portal 2 – 95 (Xbox 360, 66 Reviews)
The most sci-fi-themed title out of Valve’s iconic video game IPs, Portal 2 is beloved as one of the best puzzle-platforming games ever made. In addition to having some of the most fun and thought-provoking puzzle elements in games of that genre, it featured an enticing story packed with grand-scale revelations and clever dark humor.
The player fills the shoes of Chell, who wakes up imprisoned in the Aperture Science Facility and is guided by the robot Wheatley in an attempt to escape. These ventures naturally end up taking the story to space, with the game itself being lauded for utilizing the spaces in its level designs to get the most out of Portal 2‘s unique puzzles.
Halo 2 – 95 (Xbox, 91 Reviews)
Halo 2 achieved the tall order any blossoming media franchise is faced with: a sequel that can match the emphatic success of its progenitor. Like the original, Halo 2 was lauded for building upon its co-op and online multiplayer foundations that made for a thoroughly addicting experience.
The story is set around a month after the end of Combat Evolved, with players following both Master Chief on the UNSC side and the Arbiter on the Covenant side for a parallel campaign. Halo 2‘s online component was perhaps the turning point in raising multiplayer standards.
Mass Effect 2 – 96 (Xbox 360, 98 Reviews)
For BioWare, Mass Effect 2 was another resounding success and a notch on its belt in terms of gaming’s all-time greats. It became one of the most critically-acclaimed sci-fi RPGs to date, successfully blending several genre mechanics. It begins not long after the end of the first game, featuring perhaps one of the most gripping cold opens in a video game.
Players then assume the role of Commander Shepard as they attempt to gather an all-star team to travel across the Milky Way to battle a universe-ending threat known as the Collectors. As with any good RPG, Mass Effect 2 was praised for its player freedom in shaping their character and the outcomes of the various stories, engaging third-person combat, and some of the best narrative/character writing in both the main and side questlines.
Halo: Combat Evolved – 97 (Xbox, 68 Reviews)
The game that started it all, Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved started the revolution of the first-person shooter genre in the mainstream gaming space. The iconic Master Chief and the game itself essentially became the face of the Xbox brand in the process.
It begins with the aforementioned surviving Spartan soldier fighting alongside the UNSC in a war against the alien Covenant, which launched its attack on humanity on grounds of religious persecution. While Halo 2 was a turning point and 3 might’ve been the series at its best, Combat Evolved was one of the most influential games topave the way for the FPS genre to achieve what they now have.
Metroid Prime – 97 (GameCube, 70 Reviews)
For all the high-end space-faring sci-fi games coming out on the likes of Xbox, PlayStation, and PC gaming systems, Nintendo has an impressive collection of such games in its backlog as well. Developed by Retro Studios and published by Nintendo, Metroid Prime earned its label as one of the best titles to come out of the gaming giant.
It’s even still regarded in some fan circles as the best in the series today, and the game makes excellent use of its sci-fi/space setting and Alien influences to create something memorable all on its own. Playing as galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran from a first-person perspective, players travel to the planet Tallon IV to fight against Space Pirates and a slew of biological experiments in a suitably eerie, claustrophobic environment.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 – 97 (Nintendo Wii, 87 Reviews)
On a much lighter note, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a genuinely stunning and addictively fun space-themed game. Many longtime fans of the franchise feel it’s the best game in the Super Mario franchise, with the game getting incredibly imaginative with the possibilities of the platforming genre.
Just as well, the game has stunning presentation and overall production quality, with the art style and galactic setting going together masterfully, including that powerful musical score. Especially looking back on it now, the game managed to achieve following up on its predecessor’s success and push the technical boundaries of the Nintendo Wii.
Super Mario Galaxy – 97 (Nintendo Wii, 73 Reviews)
When it comes to the elite tier of mainline Super Mario games, the original Galaxy is also in that conversation alongside the likes of its direct sequel and the trailblazing Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64.
The game set an exciting new standard for the iconic, long-running platforming franchise, using the outer space setting as both a beautiful artistic foundation and a way to inject a new sense of freedom into the platforming gameplay. Its ingenious level design and colorful boss fights earned plenty of praise, as well as the implementation of gravity mechanics.