Space Station 14 is a modern reimagining of a cultish and richly complex online RPG

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June 9, 2024: This story originally stated that Space Station 14 had just launched into early access. Space Wizards Federation decided it wasn't quite ready for that yet, so in the meantime you can wishlist it on Steam or request access to the playtest there.

Space Station 14 is a follow-up of sorts to the 2003 free-to-play multiplayer RPG Space Station 13. To call that predecessor an "RPG" is underselling it a tad: Its simulation aspects place it closer to the likes of Dwarf Fortress and RimWorld, and perhaps most significantly, its rules and format can change dramatically according to which server you log into. It began its life as an atmospherics simulator developed by a hobbyist, and runs on the mostly antiquated (but still accessible!) Byond games engine.

This new edition isn't a sequel so much as an ambitious engine shift and modernisation that has been in the works for over a decade. It's also on Steam, meaning it'll potentially attract a far greater audience than its predecessor. Space Station 14 is developed by Space Wizards Federation, a community of volunteers, and by dint of its open-source nature the game will be free both in early access and after its eventual 1.0 release.

At its core, Space Station 14 blends PvP and PvE in a space station roleplaying format. Each player spawns as one of dozens of roles—perhaps you'll spawn as a dedicated cleaner or engineer during one game, but later, as a wily traitor. It sounds like a roleplayer's dream, basically, and the trailer shows just how hectic things can get.

Here's an example straight from the Steam page: "Will you patch up the medical bay after an asteroid punches a hole in it, or fight for control when the captain gets murdered by revolutionaries? Do you break out an unjustly imprisoned clown, or sit back at the bar and serve drinks without a care in the world?"

Space Station 14 has actually been in development since 2011, though given the volunteer nature of the project, it has changed hands during that time. People involved in the first iteration of the restoration project gradually moved away, but released the project's code for other enthusiasts to continue work on. Now, 13 years later, Space Station 14 is nearly ready for early access and has an ongoing playtest through Steam.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.