Whenever space travel gets introduced in a video game, the lead protagonist is almost always part of a fictional organization or aerospace corporation not rooted in any existing agency. Some iconic examples include Isaac Clarke of the Concordance Extraction Corporation in Dead Space and Amanda Ripley working under Weyland-Yutani in Alien: Isolation.
But then there also come certain science-fiction games that want to be somewhat grounded in reality and focus on astronauts. Some serve as the main character solving a deep-space mystery or surviving on an alien planet, while other astronauts might not even be human. Each is interesting and finds themselves in some very intense situations.
10 Kosmos – The Great Perhaps
The first astronaut we'll mention is from a 2D side-scroller called The Great Perhaps, a lesser-known Indie title with a story that extends far beyond your ordinary space exploration. In The Great Perhaps, the astronaut protagonist Kosmos travels back to Earth only to find it in a state of apocalyptic ruin, which sends him in search of answers.
Kosmos, donned in a blue and white spacesuit uniform, has the company of an A.I. named L9 and a unique lantern whose light offers a glimpse into the past. The puzzles in the game rely on the mechanic of retrieving items from the past for use in the present. The art style transition from what was and what exists now is remarkably stunning.
9 Kerbonauts – Kerbal Space Program
Kerbal Space Program is focused more on the actual physics of designing and testing a spacecraft to ensure a successful launch rather than the characters. Still, there's no denying that the alien astronaut volunteers are some of the most adorable. They're a small green species known as the Kerbals that somewhat resemble Despicable Me's minions and are eager to achieve space travel.
This being a simulation game rather than something more story-driven allows little room for you to play as them. However, these cute little guys populate your screen in the hangar as you build your rocket and are in constant zany communication with you.
8 Lifeless Planet
At the center of Lifeless Planet is a nameless astronaut who finds himself on what seems like a desolate desert planet but soon uncovers remnants of a lost Soviet Union civilization. The story is most intriguing and becomes more complex the further you progress, and the sound design is terrific, even using authentic Russian voice acting for the colonist's audio logs.
The game features plenty of eerie set pieces, and the terrain exploration of its barren landscape involves environmental puzzles and platforming, aided by the slight boost from the astronaut's jetpack. The design of his spacesuit is an almost identical version of a NASA astronaut that's right down to the details of the gold helmet visor and life support pack.
7 Ava Turing – The Turing Test
Lifeless Planet bases its mystery on a fictional planet, but The Turing Test has you travel to Jupiter's moon of Europa as astronaut Ava Turing. She's an engineer and part of a team commissioned by the International Space Agency to establish a research station on the lunar surface. However, she's awoken to the news that the rest of the team has gone missing.
From the first-person perspective of Ava, you navigate through the research station by solving various area puzzles with a rifle that can manipulate energy orbs to distribute power and grant you access to the next room. An A.I. named T.O.M. is with you every step of the way, which gives off a Portal vibe, and the game delivers an excellent twist.
6 Dr. Morgan Yu – Prey
Arkane's Prey steers itself in a much different direction than the Dishonored series with a near-future alternate space race timeline about a chief researcher experiencing memory loss caught in the middle of an alien disaster aboard the massive Talos I Space Station. And you even have the option here to choose your preferred gender for your astronaut character, Dr. Morgan Yu.
It's a narrative-driven first-person shooter RPG where your choices can affect different endings, making you feel more in control of your character and their story. The creative sets of weapons and supernatural abilities available at your disposal to use against the shapeshifting Typhon aliens are what make this astronaut memorable.
5 Buzz Lightyear
Venturing to infinity and beyond Pixar's animated films, Buzz Lightyear makes his fair share of appearances in video game form. On top of some of the more classic Toy Story games, he's also a character in Disney Dreamlight Valley, Disney Mirrorverse, and Kingdom Hearts 3. Though Buzz is named after real-life astronaut Buzz Aldrin, his space ranger personality resembles more of an action hero.
And there's nothing more exciting than being beside him in action, like in the Toy Box section of Kingdom Hearts 3 or using him on your squad in Disney Mirrorverse mobile battles. Even more fun is the gameplay and mechanics of the Toy Story 3 game, where you can platform and control his flight pattern.
4 Cosmo – Guardians Of The Galaxy
The heroic members of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy would strongly refer to themselves as anything other than astronauts, but one character they interact with bears the title. That would, of course, be Cosmo, the sweetest-looking Golden retriever mix inspired by the first Soviet cosmonaut dog sent to space.
Unlike Laika, Cosmo gained telepathic communication, among other abilities, from his interstellar journey and was installed as the Chief of Security in a sprawling space station called Knowhere. Designed with a thick Soviet accent, he's a lovable supporting character in the game that plays a significant role in the narrative.
Astroneer is a more whimsical take on space exploration and more to the tune of No Man's Sky. As the title suggests, you're a cutely named Astroneer rather than an astronaut who's free to explore open-world planets and equipped with a unique terraforming tool to vacuum debris from terrain and create new stuff with it.
Some of the game's other mechanics include crafting different forms of transportation like buggies, rovers, and other spaceships, as well as the necessary structures for building your base. There are absolutely no story moments in Astroneer as it aims for you to immerse yourself in an astronaut's shoes.
2 Selene Vassos – Returnal
Some astronauts here have traveled in time, uncovered mysteries in the planets they explore, and were forced to survive an alien onslaught. Selene Vassos, a pilot from the ASTRA Corporation, experiences all of the above in Returnal, with the twist to the time travel aspect being that she's caught in a perpetual time loop.
All the puzzling factors begin the moment Selene crash lands on a planet called Atropos when going after a signal referred to as the "White Shadow." She'll encounter hordes of terrifying tentacled creatures that shoot out orb projectiles and must safely traverse through distinct biomes and face giant grueling Soulslike bosses to exit the loop.
1 Deliver Us The Moon
Deliver Us The Moon gives you an astronaut tale straight out of an Andy Weir novel and the best of both worlds in terms of your perspective, switching between a third and first-person point of view. You're an astronaut with the World Space Agency transported to Earth's moon to investigate the disruption to the global energy power source it now maintains.
It feels like an astronaut simulator game but has a compelling story filled with lore and rooted in a high-stakes mission to reestablish power and save the Earth. The lunar environment is gorgeous and quite realistic, you have a robot companion, and the zero-gravity movement adds immersion. Some scenes even give the aesthetic of an astronaut film like Gravity and Interstellar.
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