Sunday, 24 January 2016

My Top 5 Favourite Space Games

I wrote this piece for Forces Of Geek during the week that news about David Bowie's battle with cancer and subsequent death surfaced. His music has always been in my life and I have so many memories ingrained in his songs. His influence even helped me mourn for the loss of a family member a few years ago. Naturally, I couldn't think of much else to write about...

As the Starman returned home this week, I haven't been able to think of much else. It never did occur to me that David Bowie was mortal. It's prompted me to think about my favourite space games. These aren't just games set in our own galaxy either, whether set in a fictional galaxy, a real planet or just on a space station these games have stuck out for me personally so after a lot of consideration, I have narrowed it down to a few titles.

1) Space Invaders

My first experience of a space game was the 1982 version of Space Invaders on my dad's Atari. A true classic arcade title that has ingrained itself not only into pop culture, but into my heart.

I believe the fact I was introduced to games as an activity where I spent more time with my dad (and later, my mum - 2 player Columns was our jam!) shaped me into the person I am today and it directly influenced my love of games.

Space Invaders also encapsulated the base element of every other game that followed it; the simple premise of shooting enemies to progress and of levels that grow exponentially in difficultly and skill. 

That's why it's the first game I thought of when I began compiling this list. That and I remember the blisters on the palm of my hand.

You don't forget that pain! So er, thanks for the memories/injuries Atari. 

2) Halo

The Halo series has always been a big part of my life. The first console I ever bought with my own money (in fact probably the very first thing I purchased for myself) was a second-hand Xbox which came with a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved. 

This was during my college years and I'd just recently cut ties with people I thought were friends and left an unhappy relationship. I spent most evenings alone, either watching films in my room or playing Halo. 

During college, I started making friends with other Halo fans and very soon, we were having LAN parties and Halo tournaments. It got me through a pretty rough time.

Years later, Halo 3: ODST was released and I'd just met my now, husband. He shared my love of the game and we spent many hours playing through the local 2 player co-op campaign together. Despite the fact that Halo 5: Guardians has ditched the local co-op mode, I'm willing to forgive the series because it had such an impact on my life. It was also one of the first game series that opened my eyes up to original scores in games. I still listen to Martin O' Donnell's scores for the Bungie led Halo games and it'd take something pretty spectacular to replace it as my favourite video game score.

3) Mass Effect

Where do I begin with the Mass Effect series?

I adore this franchise and I'm one of seemingly few who wasn't disappointed with the ending/endings of Mass Effect 3. 

Sure these games have their problems, (mainly the illusion of choice when there was actually very little, oh and the mining resources which got very dull, very quick), but for me, these games are still incredible. I relish sci-fi worlds, whether in book, comic, film or video game form and I'm just happy science fiction is still popular.

From the emotional attachment I felt for my crew, the fact I could play as woman, my first video game character crush (Kaidan Alenko, forever!), the varied and interesting alien species, the Star Trek like politics, moral dilemmas and beautiful images of space...these games blew me away.

They affected me greatly, I mean, I cried when I lost one of my crew members. i hadn't cried over a game since Aeris died in Final Fantasy VII. I remember turning to my husband, the tears beginning to form, shock setting in...I was responsible for Mordin's death (and this was in the second Mass Effect game, not the third, so I'm sure you can understand my heartbreak).

I actually sobbed the words "...but...but...he used to sing to me...*waaaaaaah*...why Mordin!?" Of course, this amused my husband until he realised I was being serious. He knew I was role playing this game properly so there was no simple solution of booting up a previous save. It's no wonder this game series is on my list when it triggers multiple emotional responses like that!

4) Metroid

My very first encounter with the Metroid series was Metroid Prime on the GameCube, after which I promptly searched out the previous titles. This game series was monumental, it was the first time I'd played a female character that wasn't being sexualised...sorry, Lara, while I like your games, I was never interested in the way your bum wiggled when you crawled.

I was still a teenager when Metroid Prime was released and I was still finding my way, working out who I was and who I wanted to be. There weren't very many strong females to look up to, least of all in the games I played. Samus Aran was a breath of fresh air.

The Metroid games themselves are excellent, Metroid Prime especially, the isolation as you wander through each environment actually made me feel alone and the tension that builds as Samus explores each location had me on edge for the entire game (much in the same way playing Alien: Isolation makes me a nervous wreck - which, sadly did not make the list but came verrrrry close).

And those boss fights...oh my, the boss fights! They were a challenge, that's for sure, but they made the series because they were so satisfying to defeat. 

5) Galaga

Not the original and by no means the best of the Galaxian series but it was one of my favourite things about Tekken, where I first encountered it. My experience of the game was as a fun mini game you played before the game loaded.

If you could beat 8 levels without missing a single enemy ship it would unlock an alternate costume for Kazuya.

I remember it became a competition on the playground with everyone making wild claims of how they did it first time or telling tales about their older brother, a gaming prodigy to be adored and glorified, who managed to unlock an even better costume that is far superior to anything our puny 9 year old minds could comprehend.

While these were all playground lies, of course, I felt as though I was involved in something.

I had played the mini-game everyone was arguing over for a start, though sadly, none of the boys in the class believed me, much in the same way I once drew an awesome picture of Sonic and Tails and they all accused me of tracing it.

Girl gamers had it way harder back then, I can tell you!

Still, it didn't matter, I knew I had played it and I was involved. I even stayed after school to watch a fight which started due to a dispute over who unlocked it first, James Flint or Barry Carmichael (not actual names). I found it incredible that a simple arcade game had the power to divide entire classrooms.

I had actually forgotten about the game until the release of The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble over here in the UK) in 2012 when Tony Stark makes a reference to it:

So, there you have it, my 5 favourite space games. I know I've omitted a lot of classics and arguably, even better games from the list but the ones I've focused on stick out for me for various reasons, some coincided with big events in my life, others created fond memories and Halo even marked the start of lasting friendships for me. So, you'll forgive me, I'm sure. There's also the fact that, given how little we actually know about our galaxy, the ultimate space game is yet to come. 

Who better to point the way than David Bowie's son? 

Still, if you have any suggestions of your own, as always please add them in the comments section. 

Rest-In-Space David Bowie, 
the stars look very different today. 

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