What is the best classic space shooter and why?

Space Shooter arcade
Space Shooter arcade

There are a ton of great space shooters from console to PC and it started with a simple premise, invaders from space. Something as simple as shooting down attacking aliens became one of the most played shooters in history. I guess technically since the ship is on earth it is not a space shooter, but you get the point. In years since we have fired off shots at everything from Asteroids to Intergalactic warlords and had a ton of fun doing it.

We are beginning a new season with the Insider Discussion and will be focusing more on ranking, commenting and comparing classic games and what better place to start than with the space shooter. I personally loved the space shooter from Galaga to Tie Fighter to Descent, but honestly there was one game I really got into overall.

Freelancer

I loved this game because it was the first that felt really open ended to me. You started off as a jack-of-all trade’s character and from there you could decide what you wanted to do. There was an overall storyline, but you could go off on your own and fight against various factions. You could be a good guy or a bad guy, a pirate or an agent of the law, a miner, a broker or a thief, there were tons of choices.

There were also tons of areas with wide open space areas full of other ships and hazards. What I really enjoyed was that events happened in each area regardless of storyline or even your presence. You could warp into an area of space and right into a war between two factions and choose to either get involved or run for your life and if you did get involved it would affect your faction.

As you gained money you could upgrade your shipping and become a real badass. Honestly, once you got a few key upgrades you could own pretty much anyone, but it did take time to do that. The controls were pretty easy to use and standard for open space shooters like a Decent Free Space. In addition the battles could get really intense and there was a strategy to winning as well as avoiding battles.

One of my favorite things were the warp gates, especially when you were being chased and had to wait to be able to go through, made for some exciting times. Overall this was a fun game and you could even play with others online with one group on one side of the galaxy and another on the other side. Perhaps it was not the best space shooter of all time, but it was true enjoyment for me and a game I will remember for a long time to come.

Panel Choices

Defender

Chris Skaggs from Soma Games wrote: Does Defender count? (and Stargate) I think that game was a fantastic and unique vision of the space shooter that did something really unique.

Life Force

Justin Melendez from Lan Slide PC’s wrote: Life Force for the Super Nintendo was one of the coolest space shooters ever made. Not only did it have awesome power ups and a two player mode, but the entire game takes place inside the guts of a giant alien. If that isn’t awesome I don’t know what is.

Xevious

Juan Gril from JoJu Games wrote: If you include Shoot’Em Ups, I think that would be Xevious for me.

Asteroids

Aaron Hunter from Playtechtonics Inc wrote: All I can think of as an answer is ASTEROIDS! But that’s probably because everyone says the control system in Starport is very similar. So if you like asteroids, check out Starport.

David Warhol from Realtime Associates wrote: I like Asteroids.  The mechanics of the rocks getting smaller and more dangerous is great, and the physics of the ship really good too.  Space ballet.

StarWars: X-Wing

Mike Jorgensen from Zombie Studios wrote: Back at the dawn of time (which I like to call the early 90’s), there was a surge of crappy Flight Sims (including Space Flight Sims). From the chaos, there would arise 2 predators to sit atop the food chain, namely the Wing Commander Series, and the X-Wing Series. These two would embody the very ideals of Survival of the Fittest, with each iteration getting stronger and better than the last (not to mention stealing ideas). Watching the two grow and evolve was like watching Lions and Tigers (and we all secretly hoped for a Li-Ger, which would finally occur in Wing Commander 3 with the talents of Mark Hamill and Ginger Lynn).

In the end, the crown of King Of the Jungle would go to the Xwing Series (and specifically the first Xwing title).

Ok, so let’s strip away the sheer awesomeness of StarWars. You are still left with an engine that;

  1. Runs in 640×480 in 16bit color on 486 hardware (and is VERY versatile for scaling up or down on a relatively wide variety of hardware)
  2. Includes a full suite of gameplay related functionality (such as in-game movie recording and playback, character progression and awards, and those mission prep and planning screens)
  3. Includes an editor for making your own missions, scenarios, decals, textures, and modifying ships.

I can’t help but to re-iterate how significant the first accomplishment was. This was in the days before DirectX, before any abstraction layers, back when Men were Men & Women were Women & game programmers had to write universal binaries for what hardware MIGHT be running their code. That feat is the equivalent of walking into the UN Building and trying each language until you’re talking to everyone.

 

Separate from the capabilities of the engine, the game itself was a near masterpiece. Several missions included a pre-rendered intro. The audio and music was fantastic (but really, what else would you expect from LucasArts audio division). Nearly every actionable piece was animated, and I really do mean nearly everything. The user feedback on committing and completing an action, still stands out today. The beeps on the target lock, the HUD color change when within range, the end dots indicating which guns could probably hit the target. The actual gameplay was easy enough to get your feet wet in the first five minutes, but could take a couple days to master. You could spend days perfecting the little things like when to “set your deflector shields to double front”, or selecting in which pattern your lasers fired, or selecting what type of craft you were flying and what armaments it had.

In the end, the Xwing Series concluded with the Xwing Alliance, which included full 16 player support (OVER DIALUP NO LESS), frigate combat (with Turret and AI support), and more realistic physics (which are perfected in titles such as Freespace 2).

If you haven’t played anything from the Xwing Series before, grab the oldest PC you have in the house, throw the demo on, and enjoy the finer points of the 90’s.

Galaga

Grace Snoke from EOGamer wrote: Galaga.  Because it was fun and frustrating to me as a kid.  Okay, I’ll be honest, it’s still frustrating to me now.  It was one of the games that required a lot of thought, planning and quick reactions.  I reacted, just sometimes not quick enough, or not agilely enough and would end up dead so quick.  I admire the folks who have set world records in that game.  It would drive me insane to attempt that.  I just don’t have the patience required for it.

What is your vote for best classic space shooter?

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J.A. Laraque

J.A. Laraque is a freelance writer and novelist. His passion for writing mixed with a comedic style and intelligent commentary has brought him success in his various endeavors. Whatever the subject, J.A. has an opinion on it and will present it in writing with an insight and flair that is both refreshing and informative.