The sci-fi genre, inclusive of both video games and movies, is unique in offering practically limitless options for writers to explore. Over the past few years, we’ve seen Interstellar’s time-bending black holes, alien sea monsters in Europa Report, and Commander Shepard’s epic struggle against the Reapers in Mass Effect.
It’s a slightly awkward category, as anything involving robots, aliens, monsters, runaway technology, telepathy, and many other elements can be considered sci-fi. For that reason, the Final Fantasy franchise can sometimes be considered as much a sci-fi series as The Matrix, Star Wars, or the Terminator.
There’s only enough room for so many different movies and games though so, for the sake of this retrospective, we’ll only be considering titles that place a heavy emphasis on space travel, alien invaders, starships, and other worlds. That means no Deus Ex or Marvel superheroes, and no post-apocalyptic adventures like Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Games like XCOM 2, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, EVE: Valkyrie, DOOM, Gears of War 4, and RimWorld had much to offer the genre this year but 2016 will always be the year of Hello Games’ PR disaster, No Man’s Sky, a game that should have been an exploration epic of innumerable planets but became a lesson in not trusting marketing hype. No Man’s Sky only became something approaching pre-release concept art in December, following nearly four months of silence from the developer.
In a similar vein, Call of Duty finally jumped the shark by taking off into space. Infinite Warfare is not a bad game by any means but it was perhaps a step too far for players concerned that the franchise no longer knows who or what it’s supposed to be.
With that in mind, the year arguably belongs to the 2016 reboot of DOOM, which gets credit for letting us saw demons in half (just like in 1993), and alien invasion game, XCOM 2, a title that did the unthinkable in making the player a severe underdog in a losing war, and then added perma-death to make the loss of each soldier sting a little bit harder.
A few titles in the casino niche deserve a mention too. For example, Space Katz and Alien Farm Invasion, two titles made in-house by UK company mFortune, have given the sci-fi genre a presence in iGaming. They’re playable on most devices currently on the market and mFortune’s unique payment options, including deposit by phone bill, mean that players can even defer the cost of their games until the end of the month.
Sci-fi movies had another stellar year, with the two most influential space adventures in history (Star Trek and Star Wars) making fresh appearances in 2016. The return of Roland Emmerich’s alien-bashing film, Independence Day, was a welcome sight too, as was the debut of two new IPs in Arrival and Passengers.
Star Trek: Beyond has the dubious honor of disproving the long-running odd/even rule, which dictates that all odd-numbered movies in the series aren’t very good. It’s about as subjective a curse as you can possibly get but Beyond proved popular with critics, ratcheting up 84% on aggregated review site Rotten Tomatoes.
The new Star Wars film – Rogue One – has only just begun making the rounds in cinemas so we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt (it has a 0.6 advantage over Star Trek in the popularity stakes on IMDb) but Independence Day: Resurgence deserves scrutiny just for making its fans feel old – the first film came out 20 years ago.
Resurgence sits squarely in the category of “dumb fun” so it won’t be for everybody. However, the special effects and the series’ characteristic devastation are incredible to watch.
Finally, Arrival is a high-brow alien invasion film about linguistics and staving off impending doom, while Passengers occupies the rare genre of space romance, telling the story of two beautiful people stranded on a starship. It’s very much a Christmas movie, due out on December 21.
So, to conclude, sci-fi movies proved the same bankable genre it has always been in 2016, while gaming lacked a true star in the mold of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is due out next year. The obvious shadow cast by No Man’s Sky on the latter is endemic of a larger problem in gaming – overpromising long before a product is even playable.