Steampunk is an artistic subgenre that portrays life in an alternate setting (be it an archaic distant future or just a reinterpretation of the 19th century) where electricity is not a thing, and steam is the go-to power source. Mixing 19th-century fashion and modern elements like computers, guns, and flying machines, Steampunk is definitely one of the most popular subgenres in science fiction, dealing with post-apocalyptic societies and utopian worlds more often than not.
However, and contrary to what you might be thinking, there really aren't that much Steampunk video games. Sure, we have a lot of Cyberpunk, a lot of generic retro-futurism... but Steampunk and its derivatives, like Dieselpunk or Clockpunk, are not as common in the gaming industry as we'd like to. So, shall we talk about some of the best games using this particular style to back a plot? Top hats, aviator goggles, corsets, cogs... gotta love Steampunk!
10. Code Name S.T.E.A.M.
- System: Nintendo 3DS
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
- Release Dates: Mar. 13, 2015
The best Steampunk works are found in literature, with a lot of sci-fi and crime novels to choose from. Still talking about books, there are also a few Steampunk comics like Mike Mignola's Gotham by Gaslight, a famous Batman story published in 1989. And why do we mention this? Well, because Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. may be a video game, but its art-style is heavily inspired by superhero comic books.
In this alternate London, our goal is to save Queen Victoria from an alien invasion, using a team of heroes with different strengths and skills. Combining third-person action with turn-based strategy, Henry and the other Agents of S.T.E.A.M. fight the invaders using steam-powered weapons. However, soon the battle against the aliens becomes a global issue, with Abraham Lincoln himself taking matters into his very own hands. Expect a lot of laughs in the process!
9. Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~
- System: PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita
- Publisher: Idea Factory, Aksys Games
- Developer: Otomate
- Release Dates: Oct. 21, 2015 (PS4), Mar. 30, 2018 (PS Vita)
We’re more than sure that most of you already have heard of Code: Realize as an anime, but did you know it was inspired by an otome visual novel? The female lead is Cardia Beckford, a Steampunk beauty with poisonous blood running through her veins. Set in 19th-century Britain, and just like Code Name S.T.E.A.M., this game also has a lot of character names inspired by classic literature (just like in Code Name S.T.E.A.M.), such as Arsène Lupin.
As interacting with other people would kill them, Cardia confined herself and had little contact with the outside world. Later on, Lupin and his men "stole" her and that's where our reverse harem starts, with all of them trying to help her get rid of her poison just to make her happy... and to make her touchable and kissable, because our heroes may not be that altruistic after all! Though this is a romantic novel, there are a lot of Steampunk elements to it, from Cardia's gorgeous clothing to flying machines and other things we won't spoil.
8. SteamWorld Dig
- System: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, OS X, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Wii U and Nintendo Switch
- Publisher: Image & Form
- Developer: Image & Form
- Release Dates: Aug. 8, 2013 (3DS), Dec. 5, 2013 (PC), Mar. 18, 2014 (PS4, PS Vita), Aug. 28, 2014 (Wii U), Feb. 1, 2018 (Switch)
A thing that not many people knows is that Steampunk stories are not always inspired by the Victorian era; the Wild West is fair game too. In fact, there's nothing more dystopic than a society composed of steam-powered robots living in the middle of nowhere, with humans hiding underground. That's Steampunk too! In this game (the second one in the SteamWorld franchise) we play as Rusty, a robot trying to find out what happened to his now dead uncle, looking for clues deep below Tumbletown mines.
SteamWorld Dig is an action-adventure platformer with RPG elements, but we can also define it as a beautiful game in terms of gameplay and art-style, with satire as a premise for its adventure plot. Although this is a world where technology is way ahead, every robot's design seems to come out of an old sci-fi movie, and the Wild West setting helps to create the retro-futuristic Steampunk feel. If you like what you read, then don't forget to try SteamWorld Dig 2 once you're done with the first one!
7. The Order: 1886
- System: PlayStation 4
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studio
- Release Dates: Feb. 20, 2015
Just by looking at the title you know this is the 19th century, but the approach to things in The Order: 1886 is not the same as in other fantasy Steampunk stories. In fact, this game tries really hard to make you think of it as an alternate world where every "fantastic" thing (like werewolves) has a reasonable explanation, so the Steampunk-ish outcome is more like an indirect consequence rather than an exaggerated aesthetic decision. You know, it has four legs, it barks... but don't call it a Steampunk dog, because it has no goggles nor does it breathe steam!
If you want a game where you can play freely, then forget about The Order: 1886. It would be more appropriate to call it a CGI movie with some quick-time events here and there, with third-person shooting sections to help you move the plot forward. For what it's worth, it's still an interesting way to flirt with the Steampunk genre, so here we are recommending it. Just ask a friend to lend it to you instead of spending a fortune on a single day of play!
6. Guns of Icarus Online
- System: PlayStation 4, Linux, OS X and Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Muse Games
- Developer: Muse Games
- Release Dates: Oct. 29, 2012
Muse Games has a thing for Steampunk, and Guns of Icarus is the perfect recommendation for those Steampunk lovers looking for an online experience. This is a game where up to 4 players join forces to kill the enemy team, taking turns in the different tasks involving airship wars through steam-filled skies. Guns of Icarus is one of the few 100% Steampunk games, but you won't get anywhere without true teamwork.
How do you like aviator goggles finally fulfilling its real purpose?! In this game full of cosmetic Steampunk items to enhance your looks, you can play as either the captain, a gunner or an engineer, maneuvering while shooting enemy airships or fixing yours to stay afloat. Unfortunately, not many people play this game, so bring your own friends if you don't want to waste your time waiting in the lobby. If you don't like PvP, you can always buy the PvE DLC, Guns of Icarus Alliance.
5. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
- System: Nintendo DS
- Publisher: LEVEL-5, Nintendo
- Developer: LEVEL-5
- Release Dates: Sep. 12, 2010
After a failed demonstration of the first time machine ever created, its creator, the prime minister, and other scientists have gone missing without apparent reason, with Prof. Hershel Layton as one of the survivors. A few days later, Prof. Layton and his sidekick Luke are contacted by someone who claims to be Luke himself, but from 10 years in the future! Asking for help, future Luke informs them that future London is now in danger, and the only ones who can help are Prof. Layton and Luke.
Future London is a prime example of Steampunk, showing us that 10 years are more than enough to make the click. In this time-traveling adventure, Prof. Layton and Luke team-up with future Luke to defeat the mastermind taking over the future, but we don't want to spoil you the details! Underground trains instead of buses, hidden time machines, clock cogs around town, and a mind-blowing plot to keep you interested. Puzzles and Steampunk for the win!
4. Wild Guns Reloaded
- System: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows and Nintendo Switch
- Publisher: Natsume Inc.
- Developer: NatsumeAtari Inc.
- Release Dates: Dec. 4, 2016 (PS4), Jul. 11, 2017 (PC), Apr. 17, 2018 (Switch)
Wild Guns' western release was in 1995, and it was an instant success thanks to its frantic arcade shooting and particular setting. Fast forward to 2018 and we have Wild Guns Reloaded, a port with the same essence and new cool features. For example, the original game lets you play as the vengeful Annie or as Clint, the famous bounty hunter, while the remaster adds 2 new characters (one of them being a dog!), making 4-player local co-op possible.
Although this game uses a lot of retro-futuristic things, you can easily spot Steampunk influenced elements not only on characters' design but the technology you see around the town. Whichever the case, we embark on a journey through Carson City and its surroundings, fighting the malevolent Kids' henchmen. Too bad this game is rather short, but still a true cult classic nonetheless!
3. Thief (2014)
- System: Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Eidos Montréal
- Release Dates: Feb. 25, 2014
Thief is one of those franchises that must be in everyone’s bucket list. Here we play as Garrett, a thief trying to accomplish several missions without being caught, and players have a lot of freedom to decide how to approach each objective, with stealth always as the encouraged option. Unlike other, more recent stealth games, Thief became famous for its use of the first-person perspective, with the original Thief: The Dark Project as the first game to introduce some mechanics that now may seem common to the stealth genre, such as distracting enemies with sound.
This saga combines Steampunk elements with medieval, religious dark fantasy, although the original games never got to show us too much of it. In Thief, however, we get the opportunity to explore The City in more detail, enjoying Steampunk-based fashion, weapons, and architecture. Sure, it's by no means the best game out there plot-wise, but you will really enjoy the stealth gameplay and Steampunk aesthetics.
- System: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: Arkane Studios
- Release Dates: Oct. 9, 2012
Dishonored is great, and so is how it took the Steampunk concept and twisted it a little to escape the obvious. Even though we play in the fictional British-inspired Empire of the Isles somewhere around the 19th century, this game doesn't use steam but whale oil as the principal source of energy for its machinery, a feature that affects the plot in several ways.
One of the best parts of the game is understanding what really happens in the industrial city of Dunwall, where Dishonored's supernatural action takes place. Besides Corvo's signature mask, inventions like the Tallboys or the beautiful architecture, there are a lot of other Steampunk-ish things to take note in here. The one we like the most has to be the dystopian setting, with a rat plague exterminating people, different levels of political conflict, and a terrifying technological advance.
1. BioShock Infinite
- System: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Irrational Games
- Release Dates: Mar. 26, 2013
The best video game in terms of Steampunk vibes is definitely BioShock Infinite, one where we visit a floating city that travels around the US East Coast. From the moment we start our journey through Columbia, every corner of it reminds us of Steampunk elements, even if there's a more sophisticated concept to it. Columbia's design catches the eye because Steampunk is somewhat recognizable, although so are the colonial and neoclassical influences.
In terms of gameplay and plot, BioShock Infinite has an intriguing story full of mystery and supernatural elements, where technology and politics play a major role. We have a conspiracy, murder, quantum mechanics and physics, fascism, and all of it blends perfectly with the early 1900's setting. And let's not forget about the Songbird! If you want a Steampunk game that's also one of the best games ever created, then you need to play BioShock Infinite as soon as you can.
As you can tell, we definitely need more classic Steampunk video games, but we can't say the ones on this list aren't perfect examples of Steampunk evolution. Additionally, we can't forget about other games using the concept: Assassin's Creed Syndicate has a Steampunk DLC, Syberia has both a superb plot and the best Clockpunk you can find in a game, and there's also Darkwatch, mixing a little bit of Steampunk with vampires (something the most recent Vampyr plays with too).
So, what’s your take on Steampunk video games? Do you think there’s one that really captures the Steampunk genre without sacrificing other areas like gameplay or plot? Let us know in the comments!