When K. W. Jeter coined the term “steampunk,” it’s unlikely he imagined the incredible impact it would have on entertainment mediums. First used in Jeter’s novel Morlock Night, the author sought to convey a world that was powered by steam rather than electricity. Over the years, a sub-genre of science fiction emerged – and with it, the promise of stunning digital adventures and action-packed narratives. Of course, we’re referencing the best steampunk games crafted from Jeter’s initial vision of a steam-powered world.
From RPGs to real-time strategy games, steampunk has provided creators a unique aesthetic for the following incredible, and often perilous, tales. Here are the best steampunk games you should be checking out.
Developer: 11 bit studios Publisher: 11 bit studios
It’s the 19th century, a step back from where we are today, and the world has been turned into a winter “wonderland”. Surviving will require smart use of resources, the trust of your people, and the use of tech pulled right from the steampunk genre. Frostpunk doesn’t revolve solely around steampunk, but the aesthetics are certainly inspired by other genre-specific media.
At the height of the volcanic winter, players erect their city in this strategic city-building survival title. 11 bit studios was also behind the war survival game This War of Mine, and the heavy and grim tones from its wartime thriller are present in Frostpunk. Don’t expect the decisions you have to make to be easy as you allocate resources, build up your city, and try to combat external and internal threats.
Looking Glass Studios may not exist anymore, but the legacy it left behind with the Thief series won’t soon be forgotten. Think of it as a medieval Hitman, with Agent 47 replaced by a thief skilled in the arts of stealth and, well, thievery. The first-person stealth game was best known for what was an advanced AI for its time, which provided players with a multifaceted experience that required plenty of thought and consideration.
Though it’s not a major part of the story, the steampunk aesthetics are unmistakable, particularly in the gadgets that protagonist Garrett has at his disposal. The Dark Project launched a series of games that plenty of players would love to see revisited. Released in 1998, it was one of the major pioneers of the stealth industry, alongside Metal Gear Solid (which released two months earlier) and Hitman (which launched two years later).
Players that enjoyed the meticulous stealth of The Dark Project have likely been pining for a similar experience – and may have found it in games like Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed.
8. Syberia 2
Developer: MC2-Microids Publisher: MC2-Microids
If you’re the type that wants to equip yourself with high-powered steampunk weaponry and cruise across massive landscapes in steampunk-inspired vehicles, Syberia II is definitely not for you. American lawyer Kate Walker is far from an action hero, and the game’s gameplay reflects that. Syberia II, much like its predecessor, is a graphic adventure, emphasizing story over gameplay.
For anyone that loves a deep, rich, and engaging narrative, though, Syberia II is absolutely worth a playthrough. Steampunk fans will note the steam-based tech and themes often associated with a steampunk setting, which works in the background of Kate’s grander adventure.
7. Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Developer: Level-5 Publisher: Nintendo
The Professor Layton series has been an “up and down” mix of titles, but the Curious Village has remained a top choice. This Nintendo DS puzzler is steeped in steampunk, from the settings around the titular professor to some of the gizmos that are part of his grand adventure.
Summoned to solve the mystery of the Golden Apple, Layton and his assistant Luke set out to crack codes, decipher clues, and unlock some of the most devious puzzles known to man. The prize? A family fortune of the late Baron Augustus Reinhold.
When you’re not immersed in the many puzzles the Curious Village has to offer, you’ll enjoy fully animated cutscenes that feather that steampunk aesthetic you’re looking for.
6. Skies of Arcadia
Developer: Overworks Publisher: Sega
We’re going back to the Dreamcast for this gem, a JRPG pieced together by team members from games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Sakura Wars, and Phantasy Wars. Though Skies of Arcadia features turn-based combat and characters that can level up, like a traditional RPG, one of its primary focuses was exploration. With six different regions, accessible via the player’s airship, there is quite a bit to see.
It’s hard to deny the steampunk inspiration as you dive into this rich and immersive story set in the Arcadian skies. In true RPG fashion, players can build a party of up to four characters, choosing from a pool of six primary protagonists.
If you’ve played any turn-based RPG, then Skies of Arcadia should feel very familiar and comfortable.
5. The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
Developer: Nintendo EAD Publisher: Nintendo
One of only a handful of steampunk-inspired The Legend of Zelda games, The Phantom Hourglass is a delightful departure from the themes and tones of the core series. The predecessor to Spirit Tracks, The Phantom Hourglass is actually a sequel to The Wind Waker, following Link after he awakens on a mysterious island in the middle of the Great Sea.
The Phantom Hourglass spans multiple islands, which Link travels to using the S.S. Linebeck, a paddle steamer. Link often needs to defend himself aboard the vessel, using the on-board cannon and jump mechanic to evade obstacles and incoming enemies.
The Phantom Hourglass went on to score several industry awards, including Editor’s Choice awards from IGN and GameStop and the 2008 Golden Joystick for Best Handheld Game.
4. SteamWorld Dig
Developer: Image & Form Games Publisher: Image & Form Games
Get to digging in this unique platformer, which sends players digging through the world as Rusty, a mining steambot. As if the name doesn’t give it away, SteamWorld Dig is deeply rooted in steampunk, with the environment, characters, and tools all fitting well within the genre. All robots, including Rusty, run on steam as they go about their daily business. For Rusty, that means digging until there’s nowhere left to dig.
The more you shovel through the ground beneath the old mining town, you’ll uncover incredible riches and long lost information on humans, who have since become shells of their former selves.
SteamWorld Dig is surprisingly bright and vibrant and offers a ton of content, particularly for players that don’t mind hunting around for secret items.
Slip into the role of Corvo Attano, a disgraced bodyguard framed for the murder of the Empress he swore to protect. With all of the city of Dunwall after him, Corvo has to get crafty to unravel the mystery and survive long enough to clear his name. Luckily, he’s equipped with some nifty mystical powers, like the ability to summon rats or slow down time.
Dishonored encourages players to tinker with Corvo’s abilities and find new ways to combine them. This leads to memorable gameplay, especially when coupled with the game’s often-required stealth. Dishonored’s combat is inspired and is a far cry from the stagnant first-person firefights of similar titles.
Dunwall is designed with steampunk in mind and much of the tech Corvo gets his hands on captures that “nuts and bolts” quality of the genre.
2. Final Fantasy VI
Developer: Square Publisher: Square
Before the pinnacle of the Final Fantasy series launched, Square was churning out a series of RPGs that would help define a genre. Among them was Final Fantasy VI (or Final Fantasy III, as it was released in North America). Whereas most Final Fantasy games had a medieval theme to them, this entry changes things up for a steampunk look and feel.
The result is a welcomed deviation from the norm. Final Fantasy VI scored the Electronic Gaming Monthly award for Best Role-Playing Game, Best Music for a Cartridge-Based Game, and Best Japanese Role-Playing Game. The game earned ample praise, particularly for its visuals and soundtrack.
As you play through Final Fantasy VI, you’ll choose between 14 different primary characters to fill your party. It is one of the largest rosters of any game in the series, offering a ton of variety when you need.
1. BioShock Infinite
Developer: Irrational Games Publisher: 2K Games
The BioShock series first introduced us to a metropolis beneath the sea. The failed experiment wasn’t the only outlying city waiting for us to explore as Infinite sent us flying high to a civilization in the sky. Columbia is a literal floating city, kept soaring among the skies through steampunk-inspired tech and gadgets.
At the heart of BioShock is unrest as players step into the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a disturbed former member of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. DeWitt has his demons, and they follow him as he gets sucked into the revolution threatening to break out across Columbia. BioShock Infinite offers fantastic and engaging gameplay, but the world that Irrational Games crafted may be the real star.
The touches of steampunk allow the tech of the early 20th-century city-state to exist, lending to incredible set pieces and unforgettable firefights.
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