If you've ever done an internet search for top hats, attended a convention of any sort, or were ever tricked into watching Wild Wild West, you know what steampunk is. A type of speculative fiction where steam is king and Victorian fashion never went out of style, it's gotten so big that it's effectively become a pop culture movement all its own. There are steampunk books, steampunk movies, steampunk bands, steampunk versions of every bit of pop-culture you've ever loved (yes, even that one). And you can bet there are steampunk video games, with a range of titles fully covering the genre and its many, many subcategories (for all five of you out there who know the difference between clockpunk and gaslight fantasy).
But Great Scott, we've yet to prepare a proper list of what the genre has to offer! Here you'll find the best steampunk games that you can buy right now, to give those in the know their steampunk fix and everyone else an education in all things gold, corseted, and full of gears. Steam-powered laptop optional.
It's rough being a little robot in the big, grimy, unfriendly industrial world of Machinarium. It's especially bad when you come to in a junkyard missing your arm and leg (the steampunk equivalent of waking up in a bathtub full of ice with no kidneys), and quickly learn that a gang of evil robots wants you melted down for scrap. Thankfully you've got more processing power than they think, and your point-and-click powers are exactly what you need to take down these robo-jerks.
Everything about Machinarium works like a well-oiled machine. In addition to using a simple but well-realized art style that makes its grungy urban landscapes look beautiful, the point-and-click interface is responsive and handles well, making exploring the world and figuring out puzzles a treat. Sure, some of the puzzles may be tricky, but it's nothing a smart little machina-man can't handle.
Steampunk tends to involve a lot of solid metal, and you know its position on gaseous vapors, but the liquid phase of matter usually isn't touched on much. Thankfully Vessel's there to fill that empty space. With fluids, mostly. See, engineer protagonist M. Arkwright specializes in automatons that run on liquid power, and when they run amok well, things get a bit damp.
Using mecha-magical devices called Seeds that suck up liquid and turn it into a fluid body (which has a clear scientific explanation, I'm sure), Arkwright creates minions out of water, acid, or lava to do his bidding and fix the broken machinery of his world. While there's no shortage of gimmicky 2.5D puzzle-platformers out there, Vessel's delightfully clever gameplay, fun puzzles, and unique use of physics help it float above the rest. Apparently water can flow uphill.
Set in the stunning floating city of Columbia, where Victorian fashion, steam-powered machines, and old-timey renditions of Beach Boys songs are as common as apple pie, BioShock Infinite looks to be a steampunk dream. At first. Then you quickly find out that people who want to kill you are also as common as apple pie, and not nearly as delicious.
Infinite runs the gamut of awesome steampunk-esque scenery from chugging factories, to incredibly racist museums, to creepy science labs full of stuff that's only sort of science-y. Plus, about 54% of the game is spent trying to board, defend, or not fatally crash an airship, each one more fancy than the next. And you're going to tear your way through it all like a hurricane, killing armies of guards with the help of magical elixirs and ripping holes in the space-time continuum. Huh, maybe the Victorians were onto something with that water irradiating thing
While the recent Thief reboot may have ground some gears, don't let that poison your vision of Thief entirely. Set in the back alleys of a half-magical, half-industrial city, Thief is a revolutionary stealth series that explores the darker side of the steampunk genre. As in, physically darker. God, I can't see a freaking thing.
Playing as a thief (duh) named Garrett who has a particular talent for absconding with even the best-guarded treasure, you'll eventually sneak through every nook and cranny of this steam-powered city. The first series to pull off first-person stealth and still one of the best, Thief makes sneaking around without getting caught feel like a huge accomplishment. Gameplay is solid across the series, so where you start just depends on your tolerance for blocky graphics. Thief: The Dark Project may not be so pretty anymore, but it's what's inside that counts.
There's something to be said for simplicity. Sure, steampunk is known for lots of gold and shiny bits and excess gears (seriously, your eyepatch does not need to look like a disemboweled pocket watch), but you don't always need that fancy-shmancy stuff to do the genre proud. Case in point, SteamWorld Dig, which is a game about a robot who digs. That's it. That's all she wrote. Because as well as SteamWorld captures the feel of a steampunk universe with clever environment design and fun characters, it's all she needed to write.
Set in a Wild West locale populated by robots (which neither gets nor needs an explanation), brass protagonist Rusty spends his time digging through an abandoned mine, gathering resources and altering the environment to suit his needs. Things get less steampunk-y the farther down he goes, but the game never loses its touch, making it a title you'll definitely want to something into. There's a word for this, I swear.
Final Fantasy 6
A classic from the bygone days of the SNES, one glance at the cover shows any steampunk fan that they're in for a treat. A lovely lady in a wrought iron BattleMech, looking on a city of towering gothic spires and a decked-out hot air balloon. And you haven't even opened the box yet. Oh, this is gonna be good.
Final Fantasy VI delivers on that aesthetic promise by being a proper anachronism stew, with medieval castles sporting industrial fans and armies going to battle in giant mech suits. Enemies fit the theme just as well, particularly a living steam engine called Phantom Train (which, no lie, fights with its whistle) and a monster that's literally called Machine. Oh, and then it tops things off with a full-blown opera for that extra baroque charm.
While this beloved turn-based RPG focuses more on the trappings of WWII than Victoria's reign (seriously, the battle system is even called BLiTZ), it still has plenty of steam behind it. Set on the fantasy content of Europa during the Second Europan War (a World War, you might call it), Valkyria Chronicles is flush with the sort of anachronistic kerfluffery that steampunkers love.
Its weapons are equal parts hi- and low-tech, the setting is distinctly old-world, and the teenagers who populate it apparently rode a DeLorean back to the 1930's and are trying to maintain their modern fashion sense. Combine that aesthetic with strong turn-based gameplay that creates a challenging yet fun experience, and why bother splitting wires?
Sunless Sea is a little game about a steamboat journeying across the seven seas. Aww, how delightful! Or it would be, if not for the whole crew going off the literal and metaphorical deep end in the midst of a Lovecraftian nightmare rife with madness, death and cannibalism. My dear, do you feel faint?
Pulled from the darkest corners of Jules Verne's night terrors, Sunless Sea touches on an aspect of steampunk you don't see much, detailing what becomes of your crew as they explore the oceans beyond their home of Fallen London (your first clue that something's up). That sends you to eerie ruined cities and statue graveyards, and well as putting you in contact with diabolical monsters and machines that rip your team's psyches to shreds. Sunless Sea sails straight into the darkest parts of the genre, and unfortunately for your crew, it does it very, very well.
Professor Layton series
The steampunk aspects of the Professor Layton series might not be obvious at first, since it seems to mostly be about a boy and his master solving puzzles and being delightfully British. Then you start seeing things like giant steampowered clocks and puzzles full of gears and poorly parked dirigibles, and you start to realize there's some merit to it. Plus, that top hat.
Much of Layton's steampunk-ness actually comes about when the Prof and Luke peace out of London, traveling to foreign lands in a luxurious airship or shooting through time to future-London... which looks weirdly more like past-London than present-London does. Man steampunk culture REALLY took off there. All that works as a nice border to the series' famously fun trademark puzzles. That may make the series Steampunk Lite, but it does a lot of things lite, so why not?
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
Top hats. Grand clocks. A silent film aesthetic. A magical pie that can control time and alter the laws of physics so a fat jerk can eat as many pies as he wants. Yes, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is steampunk through-and-through, a tale of gluttony, destruction, and the almighty power of time. Also pastries.
Reminiscent of Portal in its humor, scientific focus, and obsession with mythical baked goods, P.B. Winterbottom is about a pudgy thief's desire to eat every pie within the Earth's gravitational pull. After losing a night's worth of tasty loot, what I can only guess is some sort of Nordic pie god grants him the power to go back in time and clone himself so he can get it all back. As awful as Winterbottom may be, solving puzzles and manipulating physics to help him reclaim his ill-gotten spoils is satisfying and stupid silliness that you won't want to put down. Who knew you could have such fun helping a selfish jerk?
Dishonored is the little stealth game that always wanted to make grandpa Thief proud. Not only did it surpass expectations on that front, but it did so with the same love of steampunk as its beloved predecessor, doubling down so hard on industrial-Victorian imagery that it'd look ridiculous if it didn't work so freaking well.
Set in a plague-ravaged city that can best be described as a mix between Victorian London and Edinburgh if you lit them both on fire, Dishonored blares its steampunk influences everywhere you go. Giant gothic clocks, towering smokestacks, electric weapons that shouldn't exist - it's a long list. You discover all that while traversing the city and taking vengeance upon your enemies however you desire, making both the gameplay and the setting worth experiencing. Plus, theres a possible Eldritch abomination god in disguise, so hey, Lovecraftian bonus!
While Syberia deviates from other games on this list by setting itself firmly in the present, that only helps its steampunk elements stand out more - and trust me, they didn't need much help. In an effort to secure ownership of toy factory on behalf of her law firm, attorney and Lara Croft look-alike Kate Walker travels to a small French town obsessed with mechanical toys. There she meets an automaton that drives the train to where the factory's current owner is in hiding, and is forced to follow him if she ever wants to seal the deal.
Steampunk in everything but year, Syberia's period decorations, factory machinery, and the metal man Kate befriends all could have been ripped out of a good Sherlock Holmes remake plus robots (Sherobo Holmes, maybe). Plus, it looks damn good for a game made ten years ago, and with a simple point-and-click setup, it's still plenty of fun to play. And hey, it may be getting a sequel this year, so why not get a head start?
Quite the proper set
Yes ladies and gentlemen, these are the best steampunk games you can play right this moment, without delay. Have you dropped your monocle in your tea from sheer amazement? Will you need some smelling salts to handle this astounding number of pulchritudinous offerings, or a spell on the fainting couch? Or are you positively incensed that we forgot a grand steampunk title? Speak your mind in the comments below, you fine cavaliers.
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