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Five Classic Sci-Fi RTS Games That Have Stood the Test of Time

Mechs and soldiers fighting on the battlefield - Five Classic Sci-Fi RTS Games That Have Stood the Test of Time

Although they may be considered simple and outdated by modern standards, these sci-fi RTS games  transcend the generation gap and remain just as fun now as they were during their initial release.

Over the years, we’ve seen so many great sci-fi RTS games come and go, but out of the many gems, there are some true masterpieces that were so good that they never went out of style, some holding their own since the days of dial-up.

Sadly, for the longest time, the only way we could play these games was by downloading special patches and tinkering with the code. But thanks to popular demand, some of these otherwise inaccessible titles are available as either freeware or for download on Steam. So if you’re looking for a good retro game, ditch the modern day iterations and give your poor processor a break.

5. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds – Sci-Fi RTS Games

As far as sci-fi RTS games are concerned, Galactic Battlegrounds may not be the most innovative, but it still has its place on this list. Accused of being nothing more than a re-skin of Age of Empires (and rightfully so), the familiar engine and similar gameplay made it easy for diverse RTS fans to pick up and play.

Like AOE, there’s technology progression with plenty of choice in terms of factions and campaigns. Players can take control of the classics, like the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, but there’s much more to it. For instance, if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, there’s the option of leading the Gungans, Wookies and Trade Federation in their own campaigns as well.

Like it or hate it, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds was the first Star Wars RTS that came close to getting it right.

4. Command and Conquer: Tiberian Dawn – Sci-Fi RTS Games

If you’re looking for an amazing RTS experience in one of its simplest forms, look no further than the original C&C. The groundbreaking title set the standard for Real-time Strategy and made the iconic GDI eagle and NOD scorpion symbols as easily recognizable as a stop sign — at least to us gamers.

What made the game so impressive was it’s multiplayer feature. C&C was one of the first games to offer PvP via dial-up or network gaming. It was a huge selling point for so many people, so it’s no surprise that copies of the game were flying off the shelves faster than they could be produced.

Set in 1995 to 1996, we’re introduced to the mysterious substance known as Tiberium. Originally seen as a potential energy source and gold mine for precious minerals, we soon realize that these shiny crystals are toxic to humans. Meantime, our favorite charismatic sociopath, Kane, shows up, forcing the Global Defense Initiative to intervene and stop NOD’s plans to…well, we don’t really know. Aside from being a cross between a religious cult and a military organization, NOD’s aims don’t seem to reach beyond domination. That’s cool, though, because there’s a sequel for that.

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3. Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun – Sci-Fi RTS Games

As far as RTS games go, Tiberian Sun is as immortal as Kane himself. Sporting improved graphics, futuristic units, a massive campaign mode, excellent multiplayer, challenging new missions, destructive terrain and mutants, this title took C&C to a whole new level.

The minute you start the game, it becomes obvious how much things have changed. Tiberian Sun takes us to the year 2030, where Tiberium has managed to terraform a huge percentage of the planet. The human population makes due with what it has, but survival is becoming harder. Tiberium exposure leads to mutations in some people, which NOD is all too happy to exploit. Meantime, GDI wants to rescue and treat these infected citizens, but with little success. Making matters worse, NOD has found ways to weaponize Tiberium, and they have to qualms with using it against anyone who stands in their way.

If you want to travel back in time and experience a gritty, no-holds-barred, semi-apocalyptic world of technology and destruction, Tiberian Sun is for you.

2. Starcraft – Sci-Fi RTS Games

Very much alive today, the Starcraft series is an RTS masterpiece, with the first installment being just as great today as it was during its 1998 release. Taking place in the 25th century, the game unravels over the course of three acts, having us play as the Terrans (humans), the insect-like Zerg and the Protoss respectively.

Each faction has its own balanced set of units, abilities, characters and motivations. But it pretty much revolves around self-preservation, as each group wants to avoid being overrun by the other. It’s funny to think, but the game series could quite literally have ended if these enemies decided to simply coexist — but that would be boring.

1. Command & Conquer: Red Alert – Sci-Fi RTS Games

Just when we thought C&C had nailed the sci-fi RTS genre, we were treated to the classic known as Command & Conquer: Red Alert. While there are plenty of great characteristics that made this game perfect for its time, the most unique boon was its somewhat successful attempt to link crazy sci-fi technology with actual revisionist history.

The opening scene shows Albert Einstein traveling through time to kill Adolph Hitler. But instead of preventing World War II, our heroes manage to complicate things further. With Hitler out of the picture, Joseph Stalin decides to lead the Soviet Union on a campaign of Eastern domination.

The Soviet campaign has you playing as a commander in the Soviet army, killing anyone who stands in the way of Stalin’s agenda. As the Allies, it’s up to you to rally your markedly weaker, outnumbered forces to mount what — at first — is a desperate defense.

When compared to the original C&C, Red Alert is a lot deeper and better balanced. For the first time, we get to build and control a vast array of diverse naval and air units. Each side had its own unique buildings and units that balanced the advantages of their enemy. For instance, Soviet ground units were bigger and stronger, but they were also a lot clunkier and more expensive than the faster — but markedly weaker — Allied units. The Allies dominated the seas with their ships, but Soviet submarines easily made short work of them. The Allies may have been overwhelmed by Stalin’s diverse array of air units, but these could be easily countered by powerful, deadly anti-aircraft guns or rocket soldiers.

The bottom line is that, for its time, Command & Conquer: Red Alert was a true gaming masterpiece.

Final Thoughts

In an era where we obsess over graphics and production value, it’s easy to forget where these games have its roots. Although rather simple and outdated by our standards, some sci-fi RTS games just manage to transcend the generation gap and remain just as fun now as they were during their initial release.

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