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<firstimage=”//”>space simulation gamesThese days it can be hard to find a decent space sim, whether you’re into combat, exploration or the die-hard simulation experience. The genre is regarded as “dead” by many, with projects like Elite 4 never having seen the light of day.

Luckily there are hobbyists, fans and those obsessed with the genre that still produce and maintain projects for free Nemexia - An Awesome Free Online Space Simulation Game Nemexia - An Awesome Free Online Space Simulation Game Read More , in their spare time. This list of 6 totally free to play space-themed time-wasters is bound to ring a few bells amongst old fans of the genre. Then again, If you’ve never enjoyed a good space sim before now might be your chance!

Freespace 2 Open [Windows, Mac OS X & Linux]

Freespace 2 is an often raved-about title that went open source in 2002. Since then a small team of dedicated fans have worked on engine updates, gameplay tweaks and a whole host of modifications that inject some new life into this aging classic.

space simulation games

In case you missed it first time round, the Freespace 2 space simulation game was originally released on PC in 1999 and developed by Volition Inc. Gameplay involves space combat, reconnaissance and escort missions that don’t adhere to true Newtonian physics, but instead use simplified space physics that make controlling your ship that little bit easier.

Once the source code was released 8 Awesome Free Open-Source Games You Can Enjoy On Windows, Mac and Linux 8 Awesome Free Open-Source Games You Can Enjoy On Windows, Mac and Linux Read More , the Freespace 2 Open Source Project was founded. Downloads include the original Freespace 2 on the updated engine and total conversions that take their cues from popular TV shows such as Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica available on the mods page.

The Ur-Quan Masters [Windows, Mac OS X & Linux]

Star Control II was originally released on the PC in 1992 and later ported to the Panasonic 3DO. To this very day it still enjoys a cult following, so much so that it was remade once the source code went open in 2002 as The Ur-Quan Masters.

space simulations

The game doesn’t really fit into one genre as it combines strategy-based battles, exploration of the vast galaxy, diplomacy and resource gathering. Much of the game involves meeting other species and visiting new worlds, though there is also a two player space combat mode (which has been upgraded to allow for online combat in this remake).

Oolite [Windows, Mac OS X & Linux]

It was only a matter of time before this oh-so-faithful Elite remake cropped up! Oolite is the classic Elite you knew and loved, with improved graphics and a lot of expansions.

Much like the game it was based on, Oolite is a completely open-ended space combat and trading simulation. There are no real objectives, though it can be argued that the game’s primary goal is to reach “Elite” status.

space simulations

If you’ve never played Elite before (or you’ve misplaced your manual) then I’d recommend reading the Elite Wiki, which also has a section dedicated to Oolite. This should get you up to speed on the basics that you’ll need to master this notoriously in-depth space sim.

Vega Strike [Windows, Mac OS X & Linux]

Not a remake this time, though heavily inspired by Elite and Wing Commander, Vega Strike is another trade, exploration and blast ‘em up set in space. The player must undertake missions in order to earn money which can then be spent on upgrades and new vehicles (thus enabling more missions).

6 Free Space Combat, Exploration & Simulation Games [Windows, Mac OS X & Linux] vegastrike

Once a ship has been equipped with a jump drive, the player is free to dart around different corners of the galaxy at special portal-like jump points. Missions are varied and can be received via the ship’s computer or by talking to certain individuals in bars.

Example missions include transporting cargo, rescuing escape pods from battle zones and patrol missions where the player must scan undocumented targets. Vega Strike is an incredibly rich game, and costs absolutely nothing! For a more in-depth look, check out our existing article Go On Space Adventures With Vega Strike Go On Space Adventures With Vega Strike Read More .

Allegiance [Windows]

In March 2000, Allegiance Zone was released by Microsoft Research to the online games portal Microsoft Zone, under a subscription model. Unfortunately only 29,000 units of this 3D online multiplayer shooter Top Five Free Online Shooter Games - Must Read For Gamers Top Five Free Online Shooter Games - Must Read For Gamers Read More were sold, and servers were switched off in 2002.

space simulations

There were of course a small number of fans who weren’t best pleased, and sought other ways of playing their new favourite game. Allegiance Zone went under a shared source licence in 2004 and is now maintained entirely by volunteers.

Blending space combat and real-time strategy elements, there are 8 playable factions each with their own perks and attributes. Many find it hard to place Allegiance into a genre, as it is so unique in its approach and was undoubtedly released before its time.

Orbiter [Windows]

Less of a game and more of a simulation, Orbiter is a space flight sim that makes use of realistic physics and both real-life and fictional spacecraft. The simulator was released in 2000 after the developer felt that there were no space sims that adhered to the rules of Newtonian physics.

space simulation games

Players are able to launch the Space Shuttle from the Kennedy Space Centre, download additional spacecraft and tour the whole solar system before re-entering the atmosphere and attempting a landing.

If you think space flight sims are too easy then you’ve not played Orbiter.


This list should keep you busy even if you only have a passing interest in space flight, interplanetary trade or full-blown space battles. Don’t forget to check out NASA’s full iOS line-up 7 Cool iPhone & iPad Space Apps From NASA [iOS] 7 Cool iPhone & iPad Space Apps From NASA [iOS] NASA and its astronauts have boldly gone where many of us can only dream of going – the depths of space. Their website is full of information, thought-provoking imagery and a couple of awesome free... Read More if you’re space-mad!

Have you played any of these space simulation games 6 Space-Faring Alternatives To Eve Online 6 Space-Faring Alternatives To Eve Online Here are a few games that manage the same flavor of Eve, and that can satisfy Eve players burnt out by the MMO’s gameplay and vicious fighting. Read More ? Any others you’d like to recommend? Is the genre dead? Or has it simply changed? Have your say in the comments below!

Intro image: Shutterstock

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  1. uncleBen
    November 3, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Freespace 2 isn't free!

  2. Bobz
    August 20, 2016 at 3:15 am

    Would love to be able to play Ascendancy again.. that was an awesome game for sure!

  3. Dittoslash
    December 20, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Elite Goddamn Dangerous
    It's not free but it's bloody amazing

  4. codevark
    April 6, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Star Control II was released in 1990 for Amiga and PC.

    Anyone know what happened to Tachyon? That was a pretty fun game. Amusing that your voice was the voice of Bruce Campbell :)

  5. tom_bombadill
    January 30, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    There is also X-beyonde the frontier, X-Tension, X2- The Threat, X3-Reunion, X3-Terran Conflict, X3-Albion prelude, and there is also X4-Rebirth, but steer clear of the last one, not so good, up to the X4 complete series was excellent

  6. Joe J.
    August 19, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I've been looking for a really good 4x Space game for OS X (Something like Stars or Masters of Orion.)  Anybody have any suggestions?  It would be even better if I could play with my partner over the local network.

  7. Anon
    August 12, 2011 at 3:16 am

    I have to admit they are good, but Ascendancy for MS-DOS is the best space exploration game ever made. 

  8. Derp
    August 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Allegiance is da best

    • Yossi Preminger
      August 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm

      You're only saying that because you're hopelessly addicted to epic space combat where skill and team work are the king and queen.

      Also, it's playable on netbooks!!!

  9. Cell Travis
    August 11, 2011 at 5:33 am

    There's a bit of retro gaming action there but Orbiter looks cool. Thanks for the recommendations.

  10. Joseph Gorman
    August 11, 2011 at 1:46 am

    I recently learned about a new program called Kerbal Space Program. It's free during development and the devs plan to charge eventually (development versions will always be free). It has plenty of community content available and seems to be growing quickly.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Thanks for the tip, will be sure to check it out!