Hello, my name is Brian Rubin, and I’m a space gameaholic (Hi Brian!). I’ve had a love affair with space gaming ever since playing Lunar Lander using a freaking cassette tape on a Radio Shack TRS-80. For the top ten videogame spaceships, I’ve first of all chosen more than ten, because there’s no way there are only ten. To pick the most historic and memorable ships, you need at least 11 slots. And since I’ve mostly played computer games, Star Fox isn’t on here.
After the jump, the top ten (or so) that aren’t Star Fox
11. Trailblazer-class Cruiser from Lightspeed
The Trailblazer-class cruiser was truly a remarkable ship in the annals of space gaming. Around 15,000 feet long, sporting numerous small craft that could function in a variety of roles (a fighter, a kamikaze bomb, or a homing missile), as well as a turret and massive forward-firing gun for defense, she was the first fully-flyable and configurable capital ship of her size in space gaming that I can recall. She was a massive ship that could be improved upon with better weapons and equipment, and when in battle she could deal out massive amounts of damage if used correctly. While other games gave you capital ships to fly before Lightspeed, this was the first game in which you were able to get up close and personal with one, featuring graphics which were stunning in their day. The Trailblazer represented a significant step forward in space gaming that definitely deserves to be remembered.
10. The ship from Zaxxon
The fighter in Zaxxon never had a name (that I could find anyway), but it represented a significant leap forward in both technology and gameplay. Adding a third dimension thanks to its isometric graphics, Zaxxon asked pilots to do maneuvers they hadn’t done before, such as flying over or under obstacles as well as shooting through them. Transitioning from the top down 2D ships of Asteroids and Space Invaders to Zaxxon was a revelation at the time, and one that has stuck with gamers ever since.
9. Kilrathi Dralthi from Wing Commander
The Wing Commander games had a wonderful hanger of fighters and bombers to fly in and against, but none as ubiquitous or recognizable as the Kilrathi Dralthi. This medium fighter wasn’t the most powerful ship in the Kilrathi fleet by any means, nor the most maneuverable, but she still appeared to be the most numerous you would encounter in your flights, becoming a symbol of the Confederation’s war against the Kilrathi.
8. Cobra Mark III from Elite
More than just a ship with sleek, beautiful lines (and nothing else, because it’s made entirely of lines), the Cobra Mark III has become a symbol for freedom in space games due to Elite’s massive popularity. This multirole ship had ample cargo room and enough firepower to deal with the scurviest of pirates. This jack-of-all-trades design helped the Cobra Mark III become a popular and ubiquitous vessel in the history of space gaming, and she’ll soon see a triumphant return in the upcoming Elite: Dangerous.
7. Rocket(s) from SpaceWar!
SpaceWar! had two rockets of similar design, yet they would symbolize the birth of one of the most enduring genres videogaming has to offer. While having only simple weaponry and weak propulsion, these basic ships were, for over a decade, part of the only game in town, and these deserve a place on any list, if only for the history they represent.
6. Interstel Cruiser from Starflight
I feel the need to give a special shout-out to this ship because she was the first one I felt like I truly captained. Sure, most space games before Starflight gave you a spaceship you could be proud to helm, but none gave you such control as this. Name her (and her crewmembers), outfit her however you like, and go explore a vast open universe full of horrors and treasures. Budding space captains truly found their own Enterprise in this beauty.
5. Dreadnought from Independence War
Flying a spacecraft using Newtonian physics is a dance few space games try to conduct. Fewer still focus on the intricacies of flying a capital ship. Out of all of these, Independence War’s Dreadnaught is the best dance partner you could ask for, as she was as graceful in flight as she was deadly in battle. She took more finesse and skill to master than ships in other games, but the effort was rewarded tenfold. Maneuverable, versatile, and built to have a near 360-degree field of fire with her forward and rear-facing weaponry, the Dreadnaught class ship is a true joy to fly and fight in.
4. Ur-Quan Dreadnaught from Star Control
The Star Control games had a wide variety of wacky ships to fly, from the bumbling Earth cruiser to the hilarious Ariloulaleelay Skiff. None, however, are more terrifying than the massive Ur-Quan Dreadnaught. In the right hands, the Dreadnaught was a massively deadly weapon, with a powerful forward-firing gun and autonomous fighters, she could deal out massive damage to just about any enemy in the game. Not without her own weaknesses (she was slow to move and turn, for example), she’s still a symbol of the greatness that embodies the first two Star Control games.
3. TIE Defender from Star Wars: TIE Fighter
When your career in TIE Fighter began, you were placed at the controls of the recognizable mainstays of the Empire’s fighter fleet, such as the TIE Fighter and TIE Bomber. This amazing game would add several new vessels to the Star Wars canon, such as the Assault Gunboat and Missile Boat, but none were as fun to fly nor as deadly as the TIE Defender. Sure, one could call the ship a massive win button, as she had four laser cannons, two ion cannons, two missile launchers AND a tractor beam, but who cares, she was fun to fly. Maneuverable as all heckfire and faster than anything else in the game, the TIE Defender was truly a symbol of Imperial might and ingenuity. The TIE Defender is also interesting in that it’s in a video game based on a series of movies but she herself never appears in any of the movies and is completely original to the games (as were the two “boats” mentioned above, but c’mon, they were boooooooring). At the time this was mind-blowing because, as a player, one would think the TIE Advanced would be the cream of the crop of Imperial fighters, since Darth Vader himself flew one in Star Wars. TIE Fighter surprised us all by giving us a fighter that was even more advanced and amazing than we were even anticipating, which is one of many reasons she’s so memorable.
2. TCS Tiger’s Claw from Wing Commander
While the first two Wing Commander games had many memorable ships on the Confederation side of the conflict, none were more memorable or more important than the TCS Tiger’s Claw. In the first game she was your home and your haven, becoming the center of the game’s small social universe. In the second game, which began with her emotionally-crushing destruction, she became a symbol of your journey from disgrace to redemption. The Tiger’s Claw is one of the most symbolic ships in the entire Wing Commander franchise, having appeared in two games, the movie, and the animated series, rightly deserving an honored place in one of the most important series in space gaming.
1. Shivan SJ Sathanas-class Dreadnaught from Freespace 2
The first choice on this list was the toughest, but as I thought more and more about the entirety of my space gaming career, one ship stood out more than any other. There were a lot of great ships in Freespace 2, but none more memorable, recognizable or terrifying than the Sathanas-class dreadnought. Representing a quantum leap in size and firepower over previously encountered Shivan warships, the Sathanas only lead to feelings of terror and dread in Terran and Vesudan pilots. She’s also integral to one of the finest moments in any space game, because if you didn’t nearly pee yourself when you heard “DIVE DIVE DIVE! HIT YOUR BURNERS PILOT!” and saw this monstrosity heading right for you, you’d need to make sure you’re not a robot.