There is no image in science-fiction more endearing and perhaps even optimistic than that of the spaceship. Even more enthralling than the tech fantasy such a craft embodies is its promise of exploration, the fantasy of allowing us to zip around galaxies and see sights beyond our comprehension. The freedom to push against frontiers in search of new, bold experiences was a huge part of the appeal in what’s probably the greatest spaceship in fiction, Star Trek’s USS Enterprise.
But enough about The Enterprise. Let’s talk about the best spaceships that were introduced in games and why they’re so fantastic.
So great they made it again after the first one got blown up. Probably the most famous star ship in contemporary games, The Normandy is the vessel that Commander Shepard and their crew use to try and save the universe. It’s sleek, has a top-notch stealth system, a sassy AI controlling its systems and it’s also spacious enough for a fancy bar so crew members can escape the void of outer space by getting drunk off their asses.
Nintendo’s answer to the X-Wing. Star Fox’s ship is a deadly little fighter capable of zooming in and out of tight spaces while shooting down foes and doing barrel rolls to avoid incoming enemy fire. Too bad the ship doesn’t come with a mute button so you can shut Peppy up when he starts squawking unwanted advice at you.
Samus’s ship doesn’t technically have a name, so let’s just call it “Helmet” because well, look at it. You don’t actually get to use the it that much in the series but somehow its design manages to balance “goofy as hell” and “stylish” perfectly so that you can’t help but remember it. Plus, it’s a giant helmet flying through space. What’s not to love about that?
The Pelican is a gunship in Halo that’s used mostly during assault missions on various planets to drop off troops and provide support. It’s more or less the dropship from Aliens with a few cosmetic adjustments. The Pelican’s also capable of some space flight, delivering troops to bomb stations. Yet another techno-rugged expression of military bravado in a genre filled with them, but the occasions in which the Pelican is used (and Halo’s own tendency to slide back and forth between deadly seriousness and self-deprecation) have made it one of the most memorable ships in videogames.
Ah yes, one of the big ones. The first one. The unnamed one. Asteroids had you playing as a pilot in a small fighter ship shooting down asteroids that came flying out of the edges of the screen. There’s not really much going for the ship beyond the fact that it was the first one in a really popular video game since there’s no real story to Asteroids but we are talking about an arcade game from 1979 and sometimes just being first is enough.
You don’t pilot the absolutely massive Ishimura or even command it. Instead, the ship is essentially a haunted house floating in space, filled with all sorts of nasty creatures who want to smash open your skull and munch on the gooey grey casserole inside. The Ishimura is a fantastic setting, one where every vent or storage room might hold the means to your demise. Even the ship’s architecture is unsettling, as this trailer demonstrates.
Gradius is probably the most famous shoot-’em-up series made, and with good reason: It’s just as much fun to play as it is to say “Vic Viper,” the alliterative name of the spaceship you control. The Vic Viper is fast and powerful enough to destroy countless enemy ships, especially if you arm yourselves with deadly power ups scatted throughout the games. That doesn’t meant the game isn’t a challenge though, throwing loads of enemies at you and forcing you to earn that sensation that you’re a skilled pilot, weaving in and out of enemy sight, defeating all of them without taking a single scratch.
Okay yes this is Star Wars, but this cool, rusty ship that looks like it was pulled out of a junkyard and stuck together with random bits of other ships was introduced in a video game set in the Star Wars universe. If it was a car, it’d probably be an ancient Opel Commodore with a broken radio that wheezed and smoked all over the road but was otherwise charming and rustic.
Okay, all that stuff I said about Dead Space and The Ishimura? Goes double for System Shock 2’s The Von Braun, a bloody labyrinth containing all sorts of horror, both physical and psychological. When you wake up on the ship after a long sleep you discover the place has become overrun with mutated monsters that are killing off the few remaining survivors. Also, the one voice that tries to help you survive turns out to be a murderous artificial intelligence who wants to control the universe and is only using you to serve her own means. Fun times in scary space.
The Protoss Carriers are powerful warships from which Protoss commanders control their armies. Massive, armored to the core and filled with countless units to unleash if the ship is attacked, the Carrier is a behemoth not to be trifled with. It also serves as the centerpiece of one of the best cutscenes ever put in a game, in which the commander of a Carrier transforms the ship into a giant warhead in order to destroy The Zerg Overmind at the cost of his own life.
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.