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.
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
- 6Photo: Ubisoft
Setting: The island of Myst consists of interactive puzzles and worlds within worlds. One such world, Mechanical, takes a lot of inspiration from steampunk themes, though these are also spread about the main island.
Often referred to as one of the earliest predecessors to the steampunk genre, Myst was a surprise hit when it was first released in 1993, and it quickly went on to become the best-selling PC game of all time. It lost that title when The Sims came along nearly a decade later. The game plays out without dialogue and relies on the player to make their way through the various Ages (worlds) to solve puzzles.
As play progresses through the Ages and across the island, the backstory of the game's characters is revealed. Myst definitely broke new ground upon its release, and it continues to see new life on modern consoles. A port for the Nintendo Switch, realMYST: Masterpiece Edition, was released in May 2020. In addition to that, a thematic sequel, Firmament, is being developed for VR systems, and it will feature far more steampunk than the original.
- Release: 1993
- Developer: Cyan Worlds
- Platform: iOS, Philips CD-i, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Portable, Sega Saturn
- Photo: Inc. IMGS
Setting: Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is set within a world riddled with zeppelins, magic, futuristic weapons, and steampunk designs. It's a mishmash of various themes, but the primary one is steampunk, as the name implies.
Arcanum is a classic isometric RPG that came out in 2001, which is when this type of game was dominating on just about every system. The game does a good job of blending fantasy and steampunk elements into a cohesive world, which is on the cusp of a new industrial revolution.
The main theme in Arcanum is magic meeting technology, and how those two worlds either do or do not work together well. Players can choose how their character looks and acts by choosing to follow a magical or technological path, which favors the standard steam-powered technology favored in the steampunk genre.
The unique steampunk world of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was designed by Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Jason Anderson, which was the team responsible for creating Fallout, so there's no lack of amazing locations, creatures, contraptions, and technology.
- Release: 2001
- Developer: Troika Games
- Platform: Microsoft Windows
- Photo: Nintendo
Setting: The games typically begin in London, but as Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke leave the city, the strange places they visit are filled with steampunk imagery, which is to say nothing about the steampunk airship they use to get from one place to another!
The third game in the Professor Layton franchise spends a lot of time featuring large steam-powered clocks, airships powered by steam, and of course, a ton of puzzles featuring gears turning all over the place. The game almost throws steampunk at the player without any expectation of it, and it makes the title all the better for it.
Many fans consider the series to be steampunk-lite since its focus is less on environment and setting than it is on solving puzzles, but the theme is clearly represented throughout the game. All of the games in the Professor Layton series feature a ton of steampunk imagery, but the one that does it best is the third, Professor Layton And The Unwound Future.
- Release: 2007
- Developer: Level-5
- Platform: Nintendo DS