Science fiction may be the only narrative genre that's more often done better by games than by movies. Just flip to the Sci-Fi channel (I refuse to call it "SyFy") and watch five minutes of some b-movie crap about giant ants and you'll know exactly what we mean.
Maybe it's because gaming is rooted more in nerdom than film is, so sci-fi games don't have to try to appeal to the larger mainstream. Maybe developers tend to give great video games sci-fi elements because it allows them to turn the realistic into something fantastic. Either way, no other genre quite captures that feeling of wonder, and no other medium captures that genre quite like video games. (Besides books, but that's a whole different article.)
The Metroid series as a whole has a great science fictiony premise, with a lone wolf galactic bounty hunter exploring ancient ruins and defeating brain-sucking jellyfish and so forth. But Metroid Prime took it to a new level (and the third dimension) when it debuted on the GameCube, and it kicked off one of our favorite series ever.
It perfectly captured the atmosphere of earlier Metroid titles: isolation, powerlessness in the face of unknown odds, the wonder of unearthing ancient secrets on faraway worlds. Plus Meta Ridley is clearly the most awesome version of Ridley ever—a Space Dragon and a cyborg? Sign us up.
The first X-COM game was originally released as UFO: Enemy Unknown, a title that perfectly sums up a big part of what made the game special. It was the ultimate conspiracy theory scenario come to life (albeit grainy, isometric life). Aliens are invading Earth from the top down, and if their government takeover ends up successful, there won't be anyone left capable of stopping them.
Pivotal to the development of the real-time strategy genre, it also painted a picture of alien life that was far more compelling than the little green men popular in early sci-fi. These invaders were unknown and unknowable. Hopefully 2K's upcoming franchise revival can capture that same feeling.
Rare's unofficial follow-up to GoldenEye, Perfect Dark seemed at first like little more than a smart secret agent thriller, albeit with some impressive technology at Miss Dark's disposal (the laptop gun springs to mind). But partway through, the sexy secret agent travels to Area 51 to rescue a mysterious "ally," and the game pretty much jumps the laser-equipped shark.
That ally turns out to be a big-headed, stars-and-stripes-vest-wearing alien named Elvis, sojourning on Earth to save humanity from a sinister alien threat. That opened the doors for awesome space-age weapons, vicious Skedar adversaries and a final mission on a distant planet that no one who only played the beginning would have ever seen coming. And somehow, it managed to be even better than GoldenEye.
Ya'll can cry and moan all you want about day-one DLC and Shepard not having the same eyebrows when you imported your save fie, but for our money, Mass Effect 3 was one of the most competent sci-fi games we've ever played.
The sheer scope of Mass Effect's galaxy—even when explored from the vantage of a meathead space marine like Shepard—is incredible. How many other games let you play arbiter in half a dozen eons-old galactic conflicts, determine the fate of all synthetic life, and have gay sex with an alien or two along the way? These are sci-fi trappings most other series wouldn't touch with a ten-foot mass relay.
Just when Resident Evil started to get terrible, Dead Space happened, and it was like the universe was balancing itself out. Dead Space had everything that survival horror games needed, yet it felt modern in a way that Resident Evil still hasn't captured.
It was a claustrophobic science fiction journey aboard a planet-cracking mining ship that somehow made a practically Biblical zombie apocalypse seem like it could really happen. Everything from Isaac's movement-slowing stasis power to his life-saving RIG suit oozed sci-fi goodness, and it was scary as hell to boot.