Approachable Sci-fi Games: science or fiction?

Here in Tricycle, our goal is to make the most enjoyable and accessible games that we can. A lot of people were surprised by the success of game streaming platforms like Twitch, but we always remembered games are, at their heart, a communal thing. We want every game that we make to be so easy to use you can simply toss a controller to a visiting friend and let them be able to play, right here and there.

So, what makes a game truly accessible? It is not only the mechanics and controls of the game, after all. Certain genres and styles are often seen as less friendly and approachable, and at the top of that list, you can find science fiction.

Sci-fi worlds are often a niche market, full of technobabble, scientific formula, internal logic, exotic planets and an invented history that can stretch thousands of years into the future. Games like Mass Effect have entire galaxies full of alien species, each with their own history and background. Strategy sci-fi games like Stellaris and Master of Orion pride themselves by letting players design fleets of thousands of ships, each composed of thousands of components.

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There are, however, some truly accessible sci-fi games, games every person can simply pick up and enjoy. Here are a few recommendations you could try:

1. Portal

Credit: Jorge Figueroa

Years ago, when I was managing a chain of game stores, one of the most common requests I got from customers is for a game that is perfect for “a first-time gamer”. A game that’s easy to pick up, that everyone can enjoy, but that will hook them up. A game through which where our boyfriends / girlfriends / sons / daughters / favorite squids can see what we see.

In all this time, my top recommendation hasn’t changed. Portal, and its sequel, remain in my opinion the best introduction to gaming. Time marched on and so has the technology and computer graphics, but Portal still looks great. Beyond that, its an entire game built around one mechanic – a portal gun that allows you to connect point A to point B. That’s it. Nothing else.

No UI, no health bars, no stats or character sheets, no complex control scheme. Puzzles that will challenge everyone – but anyone can figure out. Add a zany, quirky story and some sci-fi trappings and you get a nearly perfect game.

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2. No Man’s Sky

A lot has changed for No Man’s Sky since it released – the developing studio, Hello Games, has released dozens of updates that have drastically changed the game. But at its core, No Man’s Sky remains a game of pure exploration, where everyone has the freedom to do as they wish. You begin the game stranded on an alien planet, and given an entire universe to explore on your own.

This complete freedom is what makes No Man’s Sky so accessible – anyone can the keyboard or controller on any planet and just start walking anywhere they fancy, discovering new things that no human has ever seen before. The colorful and exotic vistas only enhance the appeal and the imagination, and while there are certainly some complex statistics, systems, and interfaces in the background, for the most part, you can ignore them, if you so wish.

While there are some, nominally, some risks and even the chance of death in the game, No Man’s Sky is an incredibly friendly experience, especially in its builder mode.

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3. Transistor

Supergiant Games made a name for themselves in 2011 when they released Bastion – an isometric action role-playing game. To dedicated gamers, the most immediate comparison would be Diablo, but Bastion broke the mold with the use of truly interesting game mechanics, puzzles, a beautiful, vibrant world, and an achingly beautiful soundtrack.

Their games are known for quirky mechanics and terrific stories – as well as having an in-game narrator, narrating your every move.

The company continued to make similar games, keeping a strong focus on clear, intuitive mechanics and small, tight levels that makes such games so easy to pick up and play.

One of their greatest successes is Transistor, their sci-fi, cyberpunk masterpiece. One of the greatest strengths of Transistor is the combat, that combines both real-time and the ability to freeze time and plan ahead – making it a game with a very wide appeal.

But Transistor isn’t just a fun game to play – it’s an artistic achievement, with a very strong visual style, a great soundtrack, and a painfully moving story, about love, loss, and self-expression.

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