Space Truckin': 6 Space Sim Games You Must Play Before You Die

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The Space Sim genre of video games has been around for quite a long time. And they offer a sort of freedom that few other games do. From being a trader to a mercenary to a pirate, there are always so many options open to the player for how they want to approach their space sim adventure. But it's a genre that few developers are brave enough to venture into, which means that there's only a small collection of truly great space sims on offer.

So, for all your space truckin' needs, here is a list of 6 space sim games you must play before you die. To ensure a varied and fair list, only one game from a franchise will be included.

1. Freelancer

  • Developer: Digital Anvil
  • Released: March 3rd, 2003
  • Platforms: PC

This is one of my favorite space sims of all time. Freelancer may never have released with all the ambitious promises Christ Roberts has announced with Star Citizen, but it was nevertheless a damn fine game. In the single player mode you take on the role of Edison Trent, a freelancer stuck on the planet of Manhattan after the station he resided in was destroyed.

Left with no money or ship, Trent looks for work and finds employment with the LSF. It isn't long, however, before Trent gets caught up in a mystery surrounding an artifact and becomes a wanted criminal. He must find a way to clear his name.

Throughout the game, players can embark on missions, trade goods, and roleplay as things like a pirate or miner. The choice is entirely up to them. Every action the player performs affects their reputation with various factions and corporations. Overall, Freelancer is a classic Space Sim.

It may not be the ultimate game that Roberts had initially promised, but despite pressure and compromises, Digital Anvil came out swinging. Even today, Freelancer still has a massive following with player-run servers that are often modded continuing to run to this day and exploring the vast and open galaxy as they please.

2. Elite: Dangerous

  • Developer: Frontier Developments
  • Released: December 16th, 2014
  • Platforms: PC, Mac and Xbox One

The long-awaited fourth installment in the Elite series. Originally named Elite 4 and scheduled to release in 2007, it suddenly disappeared. It wasn't until 2012 that development began again on Elite: Dangerous. This return of the series that started the Space Sim genre has been one well worth waiting for.

The game starts just like the previous games. The player begins with a basic spaceship and a small amount of money, and must find their own way in the open ended galaxy. They can make their way in the galaxy either legally or illegally through trading, mining, bounty hunting, piracy and assassination.

Elite: Dangerous is pretty much everything that fans would want from a modern release of the series. With the introduction of multiplayer for the first time in the series, players can now join forces and enjoy the massive open galaxy together.

3. X3: Terran Conflict

  • Developer: Egosoft
  • Released: October 16th, 2008
  • Platforms: PC, Mac and Linux

Out of the entire series, X3: Terran Conflict is without a doubt the best. Like the other entries in the series, the player is free to explore the universe as they please. Throughout their journeys, they can trade, buy new ships which can be operated manually or using an A.I.

Players can purchase and construct various properties such as factories, stations and weapon platforms. Conflicts can scale from anything from small skirmishes to huge fleet battles. While there is a plot to be found in X3: Terran Conflict, it can be progressed as the player wishes.

In truth, the main highlight of the game is its open world design and just being able to do what you want, when you want. The plot is okay, but it is far from what truly makes Terran Conflict the best in the series. If you want a single-player space sim experience, you don't get a much more open galactic adventure than this.

4. Wing Commander: Privateer

  • Developer: Origin Systems
  • Released: 1993
  • Platforms: DOS

Privateer is certainly the oldest of the titles on this list. You take on the role of Grayson Burrows a freelancer in the Wing Commander universe. Similar to the early Elite series, players could choose what they do, whether that be a merchant, mercenary, pirate or anything in between.

There is a plot to follow if the player wishes to do so. Essentially, Burrows is hired to by a stranger who gives him a strange artifact to protect until his return. Upon returning, Burrows finds the man dead. Eventually, he gets in contact with a Xenoarchaeologist named Dr Monkman.

Monkman informs Burrows the artifact is technology of race known as the Steltek. Burrows must then find the ancient ship the artifact leads to. While Privateer may not have aged well graphically, it is still a highly playable and enjoyable game and gives you tonnes of freedom.

5. Void Destroyer 2

  • Developer: Iteration 11
  • Released: September 22nd, 2016 (Early Access)
  • Platforms: PC

Void Destroyer 2 is the latest Space Sim to enter Steam's Early Access program. It takes quite a unique approach to its graphic design, with a more simplistic yet colorful look. Despite being in Early Access, the game already has a ton of content to keep players busy.

From embarking on a large variety of missions to trading or mining, there is plenty to keep you occupied and you can do it all in any way that you please. There also more features still to come -- including ship capturing, owning factories, and more.

Even if you aren't a fan of investing in Early Access titles, Void Destroyer 2 is certainly one to keep an eye on over the course of the next year.

6. Eve Online

  • Developer: CCP Games
  • Released: May 6th, 2003
  • Platforms: PC and Mac

I guess I couldn't end this list without including Eve Online. While my days in the universe are long over and it isn't particularly a game for me, I admire and respect the game and its community.

You begin the game by choosing your race, appearance, skills and occupation. From there you embark on your intergalactic adventures. You can be anything you want -- from a mercenary to a merchant to a miner to a pirate to the CEO of a corporation...or anything in between. The choice is yours. You can join player-made corporations and fight for the control of sectors and territory within the universe.

The possibilities and freedom are endless in the world of Eve Online, and if you like the sound of it, there is no better time than now to check it out. Because just this week, CCP Games announced that after 13 years, Eve Online is free to play.

And there you have it -- 6 space sims for all your space truckin' needs. From the modern Elite: Dangerous to the MMO Eve Online, or classics like Freelancer, everyone is bound to find a space sim that suits them. 

What are your thoughts on the list? Are there any titles you feel are missing? Let me know in the comments below!

Published Nov. 20th 2016

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Playing video games for over 23 years, love to write and love everything video game related.

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