originals\ Mar 6, 2012 at 9:00 am

Too poor to buy Mass Effect 3? Try these space-themed free-to-play games


Mass Effect 3 is upon us, but if you’re like me and have too many bills and not enough bill-paying-money, then you might not be able to hit the midnight release and snag a copy of the game you’ve been waiting months to buy.

So, what to do while you bide your time, saving each and every penny you find on the street and in between the couch cushions? Try out these free to play space games that will surely fill the gaping hole of time that would have instead been filled taking on the Reapers as Commander Shepard.

They’re like playing Mass Effect... you just have to use a little bit of your own imagination.


If you’ve ever thought, ‘Hey, I really wish I could fly the Normandy around freely, like in space and stuff!’, then maybe you should check out Orbiter, the space flight simulator where all the game physics are accurately modelled! Fly from the Earth to the Moon... if you can. Do you have a degree in orbital dynamics? How about a joy for calculating escape trajectories or return angles? Come on, if Joker can fly the Normandy, surely you can take on lifting off the space shuttle and at least placing a satellite in geosynchronous orbit.

The game, created by Martin Schweiger Ph.D. of the University College London is small, fun, and can run on any old thing. Be sure to download the manual or you’ll be completely lost in the confines of the cockpit. Of course, you could just start hitting buttons like me and hope you make it off this dastardly rock called Earth.

Just make sure you download some high-res texture maps, or you’ll be flying over the blurriest render of the ground you’ve ever seen.

Space Engine

To go where no human has gone before. Exploration is why you love Mass Effect so much, isn’t it? Setting down the Mako on new and uncharted worlds to drive around and stumble into some giant worm’s sandy home. Or perhaps just seeing where the Normandy can go tickles your fancy. If so, then the procedurally generated universe contained in Space Engine is for you.

That’s right, Space Engine is the whole universe. Not just the planets painstakingly created for missions in Mass Effect, but the whole damn universe. The game contains billions and billions of stars, as Carl Sagan once said, that are fully explorable, including planets and moons all the way to the surface. It’s a marvel, really, but also quite system intensive. Make sure you bring enough RAM to the fight, and you’ll be fine.

Can you find the Citadel? It’s there somewhere, right? Who’s really going to care when you’re flying through space and having your mind blown by how big space is. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.

Black Prophecy

It’s time to kick some space-faring ass. You want to play as Commander Shepard because he’s a military commander. You probably would have played ME3 with the combat level turned all the way to 11 if you could, so load up some Black Prophecy and start blasting your way to victory in this action-oriented MMO.

Reapers can wait. Restorers are who you’re after. Just jump right into the thick of things and save the galaxy... for free! Did I mention that you get to start shooting things right away?

Star Trek Online

Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer count you among their fans. You can’t wait to hear Martin Sheen and Freddie Prinze, Jr. espouse dialogue. For you, Mass Effect is a marvel of story-driven voice acting. This is why you’d download Star Trek Online. Fly around Federation space with the voices of Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy in your ear! It’s just like Mass Effect... only more Star Trek-y.

The F2P MMO from Cryptic will let you fight Klingons and the Borg, who are totally just like the Reapers; alien monsters who just want to destroy Earth because it’s so damn beautiful. Just imagine that your flying saucer is actually a kick-ass Cerberus vessel roaming the galaxy to eradicate an alien threat. Heck, just level to Tier 3 rank and attain Commander status, and it's like you've bought the real thing.

Add all these games together and you've got yourself a date under the stars. Though, on second thought, maybe you should just beg for some cash and go buy the damn game. I mean, come on, it's Mass Effect 3!

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