The Victorian clothing, the brass designs, and the awesome airships are common staples when it comes to steampunk. As a subgenre of science fiction, steampunk games first began to appear around the late '80s and early '90s, when PC games like Myst as well as the early Final Fantasy games were first taking shape. Known for fusing futuristic technology with 19th-century designs, steampunk isn't confined to the realm of talented cosplayers and science-fiction novels. Depending on the franchise, steampunk video games can cover a number of different related themes, from space-age pirates to fictional Victorian cities and more.
Determining which steampunk games are the best requires a deep dive back through the years to find the ones that may have been released years or even decades ago, but still hold up in 2020. Massively popular games like BioShock: Infinite and Dishonored are standing pillars in the steampunk canon, but lesser-known games like Alice: Madness Returns and even RPG epics like Skies of Arcadia are definitely worth mentioning.
While there are a broad number of factors that help determine what makes a great steampunk game great, this list features some of the most acclaimed in the series. Best of all, most of these games are either available on modern consoles, Steam, or both.
- Photo: Irrational Games
Setting: BioShock: Infinite is set in an amazing floating city, which is a fantastical steam-powered dystopia filled with ambition and imagination, the likes of which aren't found in most games.
All BioShock games feature some elements of steampunk, but the one that devoted all of its time and energy to the genre was BioShock: Infinite. The setting is a city in the clouds, and it's kept there, thanks to steam-powered technology. While it is clearly influenced by the Victorian era, BioShock: Infinite is an amazing sci-fi world as well.
The blending of those two genres is nothing new in gaming, but it's rarely done as well as it was in this title. All of the technology appears to be both vintage and futuristic at the same time, and when a game does something like that, it's worth any steampunk fan's attention.
- Release: 2013
- Developer: Irrational Games, 2K Marin
- Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, OS X, Linux
- Photo: Square Enix
Setting: Most Final Fantasy games feature expansive landscapes centered around a theme, but the one title that is all about steampunk is the sixth. The setting is an industrial world, and all technology is based on steam power.
Final Fantasy VII gets a lot of attention from players, but gamers new to the franchise shouldn't skip Final Fantasy VI. Everything about the world seen in the game is centered around a booming industrial age through the use of steam-powered technology, which takes the form of airships, weapons, and just about everything else.
It's also one of the best role-playing games ever made, and because it is also an amazing steampunk adventure, it's often considered to be one of the greatest steampunk games ever made. Even the intro oozes with steampunk goodness, with a (then) stunning cinematic screen of mechas walking in the snow.
The game came out in 1994, but don't worry if you don't have an old Super Nintendo lying around. You can still play it on the PlayStation via the PlayStation Network.
- Release: 1994
- Developer: Sqaure
- Platform: Super NES, PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, Android, iOS
- Photo: SEGA
Setting: The world of Skies of Arcadia takes full advantage of a trope of the genre: the steam-powered zeppelin. The continents are floating in the skies, and you'll need to get from one to the other via your ship, which is perfectly wound into the story.
The game features plenty of steampunk elements, but it also combines those with fantasy and technology, which runs the spectrum of steam-powered to futuristic. The game was popular when it came out for its intense world-building, which allowed for a great deal of exploration.
When it came out on the Dreamcast in 2000, it quickly became one of the best-reviewed games on the console. Unfortunately, it didn't sell well, but it did manage to receive a port for the GameCube in 2002 under the name Skies of Arcadia Legends.
- Release: 2000
- Developer: Sega Wow, Overworks
- Platform: GameCube, Dreamcast
MachinariumPhoto: Super Rare Games
Setting: Machinarium is the setting as well as the name of the game, and the city of Machinarium is a retro-futuristic steampunk world that is beautifully illustrated throughout the game.
Machinarium follows the adventure of a robot names Josef, who was named after the inventor of the word "robot." He must move through the eponymous city to solve puzzles, so that he can save his girlfriend, Berta. While doing this, he must also go up against three robotic thugs causing problems throughout the city.
Everything about this game is designed to make the player truly appreciate the steampunk setting. It is a point-and-click puzzle game, but it has no dialogue, nor is there anything written down anywhere. Players have to pay close attention to the gorgeous surroundings, and it makes for a unique and innovative game.
- Release: 2009
- Developer: Amanita Design
- Platform: Windows, OS X Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, iPad 2