6 Games Like Star Citizen

Image credit: Cloud Imperium Games

Star Citizen remains one of the most promising and controversial pieces of gaming — at times seeming like an unimaginably great space combat and trading game, at others looking like the biggest piece of abandonware since Duke Nukem Forever.

The game’s development began a decade ago, in the heyday of Kickstarter campaigns and the crowdfunding model that brought us so many high-budget indie titles in the meantime. And at the start, it seemed like Star Citizen would be one of them.

However, feature creep soon set in — despite the development team displaying some awesome ideas and collecting literally hundreds of millions of dollars in crowdfunding over the years. The latter part is also what makes the game so controversial; the developers have been maintaining a real-money shop where you can buy ships that you’d otherwise have to play countless hours to get in-game. And those ship prices range from a few dozen bucks to thousands of dollars.

On the bright side, in the past two years, some of the promised game systems have slowly started to come together — but the game is still extremely buggy and far from finished. While you wait for the full version that remains years away, there are plenty of other games like Star Citizen that you could be playing.

Have a look at some of our suggestions below!

Elite: Dangerous

The first Elite game was a watershed moment — not just for space sims, but for gaming in general. To this day, it remains one of the most influential and ambitious games ever created — and its entirety could fit on one floppy disk and 22 kb of memory.

Apart from the then-revolutionary use of wireframe 3D graphics, the game also introduced players to the possibility of an open universe, free for the players to explore, fight, and trade. And while many games have expanded on this promise in the subsequent decades, none have succeeded in living up to the Elite name like its latest iteration — Elite: Dangerous.

At the start of the game, you assume the role of a spaceship pilot. Once the initial tutorial missions are complete, you’re free to explore a 1:1 scale, realistic, and open-world Milky Way. The entire galaxy invites you to explore it — as do countless star systems, planets, outposts, and space stations.

In terms of the gameplay itself, it’s truly something you have to experience at least once in your gaming career. Instead of the more arcadey space games that we’ll mostly cover in this list, Elite: Dangerous remains committed to its more sim-like set of mechanics and rules.

And a fair warning — this is definitely not the game for folks that just want a quick and fast-paced space dogfighting experience. The Milky Way depicted in the newest Elite is a place you can inhabit. It’s governed by extensive political, legal, and trade systems, and its ships are actual machines.

Many other space games have tried to reach the same level of visual spectacle and gameplay fidelity — but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that does this better.

Homeworld

When you’re looking for great space games like Star Citizen, not every title you’ll encounter is necessarily a flying simulator with RPG mechanics. There are a handful of strategy games, for example, that manage to pull you into its spacefaring encounters and universe with the same power of attraction — and Homeworld is one of those lucky few.

Homeworld, and its subsequent expansions and sequel, is still one of the best space-bound sci-fi strategies the gaming industry has ever produced. Despite being over twenty years old, it’s more than capable of engrossing you in its countless ships that make their way through the endless vastness of the cosmos — a vastness that few other games have managed to capture as well as this series.

And if you’re worried about the graphics and gameplay being too dated for your modern sensibilities, you can rest easy — both the original game and Homeworld 2 have been remastered in the meantime, and a new third game is underway.

Gearbox has done a marvelous job remastering the original Homeworld opus with an updated UI, a fancy new lighting system, and high-res textures. And if you’re someone with an affinity for challenging RTS games and sci-fi stories, Homeworld will fit you like a glove.

Both games tell an exciting tale of a pilgrimage across the stars, in which you’ll control a colossal mothership that represents the primary offensive tool of the remnants of your species — and their only remaining home as well.

This mothership can create everything from small mining vessels to attack craft and bombers — it’s a self-sustainable economy, but only if you sustain it yourself. And you’ll have to do so while battling space marauders and other species, as the epic story of Homeworld unfolds before you.

Freelancer

If Elite was the game that birthed the open-world space genre, Freelancer was the one that perfected its presentation. This 2003 space sim puts you in the classic Elite-esque starting position: you’ve got an entire galaxy to explore, earn credits by trading and smuggling through its vibrant economy, and fight plenty of bandits and any other space vessels that stand in your way.

These days, the game is still remarkably playable, and there are a number of mods that somewhat enhance its graphics. However, the main reason why you’d still be able to enjoy Freelancer today is that it’s arguably the first modern space game.

Its interface, piloting controls, and countless other design choices have since become a genre staple. In fact, when you read the first Freelancer reviews from 2003, you’ll get the same amused feeling you have while watching footage of Steve Jobs unveiling the same iPhone a couple of years later.

Crowds were utterly bewildered by the ability to, for example, zoom by pinching — which is something even toddlers view as a standard smartphone interaction today. And when you read people’s first impressions of Freelancer almost two decades ago, you’ll see them equally astounded by the slick, smooth, and responsive mouse-and-keyboard piloting controls.

The same goes for many of the HUD elements that all space exploration games have these days. And while its trading and world-building elements weren’t as original or revolutionary, Freelancer still has a secure place in any gaming hall of fame for its (inter)stellar combat system.

Star Wars: Squadrons

While games like Star Citizen or Elite up entire exciting galaxies for us to explore — there is another subgenre of space combat games that’s equally thrilling, but more linear. These were games solely focused on the space combat aspect of the genre; without an open world, or trading and political simulations.

Instead, it was all about a linear series of missions, which you’d undertake as a lone (space) wolf or a part of a larger squadron. Sometimes, you’d get an opportunity to upgrade or change your craft between missions; but the crux of these games was always the juicy combat.

The trend started with Star Wars: X-Wing games back in the late 90s; though these serious flight simulations were soon displaced by their more popular and arcadey cousins from the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series.

This series was abandoned for a long time, before the newest Star Wars: Squadrons game in 2020. And if you’ve got the means to run it, this is the most exciting space combat you can experience in any game today.

The game lets you battle with and against some of the most iconic spacecraft from the Star Wars universe. And while the game is playable without a VR headset, it was primarily designed for virtual reality; that’s also the way we recommend you play it if you can.

Squadrons is a pretty great Star Wars combat experience even without VR — but once you see a full-scale Star Destroyer glide above you menacingly as you throw panicked looks around your cockpit, most other space combat games will seem pretty dull.

Everspace

The folks behind Everspace clearly asked “What if FTL was an arcade space shooter?” and decided that their game would be the answer.

The tale of the Everspace is pretty simplistic — but it serves its purpose. You play an amnesia-ridden clone of a space pilot, and you’re on a mission to recover fragments of your origin. You’ll do this by traveling from sector to sector, which is where the FTL roguelike element comes in.

As the AI in your cockpit will quickly reveal to you, a reptile alien species called the Okkar (no one sprained any muscles naming them) had a war with the human federation, and there’s still a lot of tension; for some reason, they’re adamantly chasing you throughout the stars.

It’s the equivalent of the rebel fleet from FTL — they’re far too strong for your lone ship, and letting them catch up to you means certain defeat. So, you jump across sectors, which spawns you in a new flying area, where you’ll have an opportunity to blow enemies up, loot any remains, do some exploration, and collect resources like credits, fuel, or plasma.

Just like in FTL, the emphasis is on fuel, because you need it to make your next jump. The looming threat of the Okkar is represented by the time limit you have in each area — after a while, a red, blinking warning light will inform you that the Okkar fleet is on its way to this sector, and that you have a small window to jump to the next one before they catch up.

While the game doesn’t have any of the FTL’s strategic combat, its arcadey dogfights are equally thrilling — so make sure to check it out.

EVE Online

When most EVE Online players describe their favorite space sandbox MMO to you, they’ll typically start with one sentence: “It’s probably not for you.” And you shouldn’t take this as the classic arrogance of most experienced players in a multiplayer game; EVE Online really isn’t for everyone.

As you might have assumed, the game gives you the freedom of exploration in a living, breathing galaxy — but with hundreds of thousands of other players. However, the reason many experienced players down-sell newbies is that daily gameplay is quite monotonous, difficult, and sometimes simply boring.

However, all of that is spruced up with some colossal inter-player wars, intrigue, and amazing stories that all happen solely based on player interaction. This virtual galaxy is deeply compelling — but also deeply tedious. It takes a lot of patience to achieve anything — and yet, in the end, it’s worth it.

Since its introduction in 2004, EVE has grown and evolved immensely. These days, if you’re a PvP fan, you can play as a pirate, or join one of the militias of the different factions. And after you finish toying around with other newbies in the low-security sectors of the galaxy, you can also try your hand at fighting in the null-security sectors — that’s where the massive fleet battles that the game is most famous for take place.

However, all of those exciting moments are interspersed with tasks that, simply put, just take long. Mining requires player input only once every 20 minutes or so, which means many players do most of their EVE playing while they’re working on their computers, watching Netflix, or even playing another game.

Still, if you can get used to that off-hands gameplay that makes up the majority of your time with EVE, you’ll be treated to some of the most memorable sights and events you can experience in gaming.

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