One of the great things about the rise of the digital distribution platforms like Steam and GOG is the sheer number of games that have been rescued from undeserved obscurity. The newfound availability of these games that fell into the cracks of time and were once difficult to find allows those who have haven’t played them before to experience their delights for the first. Of course it also pokes returning players with the double-edged sword that is nostalgia. Here are 10 obscure sci-fi videogames that are pretty easy to find now and totally worth your time and money.
Anachronox is probably as close as we’re going to getting a decent A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game that isn’t a text adventure. You play as a private investigator trying to make the most of living in the crappiest city in the galaxy. After a series of comedic mishaps you team up with your secretary, who’s been killed and confined to your PDA as an AI, and a miniature planet (among others) to save the galaxy. The game holds up remarkably well due to its absurd sense of humor, and it’s a bit of a shame that we never got the sequel that ending hints at.
Anachronox is available on GOG.
Long before they made a little game about a green dude shooting aliens and running them over in his jeep, Bungie created a shooter in the mid-‘90s called Marathon that gave players an early look at the sort of first-person shooter design twists that Bungie would build their reputation off of. It’s not quite as fun as roaming around Blood Gulch in a jeep while your buds fire rockets at you, but Marathon’s a good time, especially if you have an iPad and can play the remastered edition for free.
Shiny Entertainment’s MDK is an action-adventure series where you get to run around as a man in a suit with that has a sniper rifle strapped to his head. Oh, and you can play as a gun-toting, six-legged dog named Bones, too. That’s all it took to sell me on it, really. It’s also a pretty funny series filled with wacky jokes that still land more than 15 years later. Worth a go if you’re looking for a light-hearted romp through a dark universe.
MDK (and its sequel, developed by Bioware!) are available on GOG.
No, I’m not talking about the surprisingly ho-hum shooter that Starbreeze made a few years ago. Instead, I mean the original series that shooter is based on, developed by Bullfrog, the same folks responsible for Dungeon Keeper and Magic Carpet. A gripping strategy game set in a cyberpunk universe that’s dingy but not dull, you control a squad of agents and send them against enemy corporations, often ordering them to assassinate executives or steal vital technology. It’s a super difficult game but also satisfying in a bloody, ruthless way.
The original game and its expansion pack are available on GOG.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto is another game that was forgotten surprisingly quickly after its release, and it deserved better. You played as one of three species inhabiting, and going to war over, a single planet. Each species has its own unique playstyle so that every character you played as felt like a new game. The setting is beautifully tropical and the game has a wacky sense of humor that’s endearing. There’s also a spiritual successor to the game being Kickstarted right now called First Wonder that looks promising and is making decent progress toward reaching its funding goal.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto is available on GOG.
Crusader: No Remorse is basically a damn good Judge Dredd game in everything but name. You play as a Silencer, a badass super soldier, who works for the unified and corrupt government entity controlling the planet. Your job is to squash any resistance to the powers that be. Eventually, of course, you join the side of the resistance and fight against your former employers because that’s the only thing games know how to do with that sort of plot. Still, Crusader is an enjoyable top-down action game that’ll probably delight fans of the original isometric Fallout games.
Crusader: No Remorse is available on both GOG and Origin.
Outcast is a gloriously oddball adventure game released back in 1999 where you step into the boots of a man on an alien planet tasked with recovering a probe. Outcast was ahead of its time, allowing you to switch back and forth between first-person and third-person perspectives and giving you a huge world to explore at your own pace. It’s also still really pretty to look at all these years later. A Kickstarter campaign to do an HD version of the game failed, but a touched-up version of the game is available on Steam.
Messiah was probably the strangest game of 2000. You play Bob, a cherub trying
to save humanity from itself. The game’s set in a very vague cyberpunk future and gives you the powers of possession, allowing you to control enemies and other lifeforms in order to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. It’s a pretty interesting (if clunky) game that should be experienced if only because of just how hard and unapologetically Shiny Entertainment embraced such a goofy concept, which is a pretty accurate summation of most of the developer’s games, I’d argue.
Messiah is available on GOG.
Project Eden is a neat little gem of a game where you control a squad of soldiers, each with their own unique abilities, to overcome obstacles and progress. The game’s focus on puzzle-solving over combat and the story’s environmental trajectory as you rise from the slums of a futuristic city to the surface streets and beyond has made it stand the test of time. If you dig Lost Vikings, Portal, or anything in that puzzle mold, you should probably check this one out.
Project Eden is available on GOG.
Every now and again famous military espionage novelist Tom Clancy would dip his toe into the realm of science fiction. One of these books, Shadow Watch, was actually made into a game in 2000. It’s an entertaining tactics game where you control a squad as they attempt to end the construction of a space station. In contrast to the washed out look commonly seen in the genre, Shadow Watch is actually colorful and a pleasure to look at in addition to be challenging and generally fun to play.
Shadow Watch is available on GOG.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.