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The 25 Best Simulation Games Ever Made

Never in the field of human conflict...

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25: Farming Simulator 15

Developer: GIANTS Software

Publisher: Various

There are so many predictable pigeons strutting about inside this 25-perch loft, I feel duty-bound to insert one cat. Say hello to a tatty-eared Swiss tom with a deeply suspect attitude towards realism and an activity set as idiosyncratic and intertwined as it is inducive.

No-one with any sense plays Farming Simulator for the verisimilitude of the agricultural kit or the plausibility of the turnip physics. You play and keep playing because Giants evidently understand that sometimes novelty, choice, and a deeply embedded sense of purpose are just as important in a sim as clickable cabs or truthful torque. I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t like to see the devs take a leaf chapter out of MR Software’s or Kunos Simulazioni’s vehicle modelling book and beef-up realism in future instalments, but I also can’t pretend that the money-manured plough-plant-harvest cycle at the heart of the game isn’t one of the most natural and compelling campaign mechanisms I’ve ever encountered.

And though FS2015 won’t befuddle your brain with intricate controls and accurate agronomy, it’s not without challenge. Ploughing a field neatly and efficiently, frontloading bales onto a trailer, justifying your FS2015 addiction to surprised friends… all far from easy.

Notes: GIANTS might have reaped the bumper agri sim harvest, but they weren’t the first to enter the field. Benoit Brabant was busy Sim Tractoring long before the Swiss arrived.

Where can I buy it: Steam, Gamersgate

What else should I be playing if I like this: SimFarm

Read more: An ex-forestry worker inspects FS 15’s chainsaws, harvesters and forwarders

24: Train Simulator 2015

Developer: Dovetail Games

Publisher: Dovetail Games

The Gough & Poole Rankomatic VII used to create this list struggled a bit with the placement of train sims. It couldn’t seem to decide what it valued more – the deep systems realism of ZDSimulator and Run 8, the variety and popularism of Microsoft Train Simulator and TS2015, the structural ambition of Zusi 3 or the ambience and physics of BVE/OpenBVE. It took several resets and a wallop from the office knobkerry to finally coax a decision out of it.

Couple Train Simulator 2015 to high quality routes and rolling stock and the results can be mesmerising. As with the civilian flight sims arrayed at the other end of this list, TS2015 offers those of us with a pre-existing interest in the subject matter the chance to clamber aboard countless old friends, myriad mechanical heroes. If you’ve never stood at the end of a station platform with a notebook or a camera in your hand, or shivered with pleasure on hearing a Class 40 or a GP40X spool up, you may struggle to appreciate the allure.

There are few more relaxing activities in Simulatia than bowling along a sleepy TS2015 branchline at the controls of a well-modelled loco or multiple unit. Assuming the scenario designer hasn’t set any sneaky signalling traps or devised a horribly tight timetable, you’re free to sit back, savouring sights and sounds while the crib-like cab sway rocks you into reverie.

Notes: The Holiday Express and The Game of Gnomes add-ons are perfect winter cockle warmers. Rake them out at Christmas and you’ll be whistling carols and sending urchins on poultry purchasing runs in no time.

Where can I buy it: Steam, Gamersgate, Greenman Gaming

What else should I be playing if I like this: SimSig

Read more: Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal

23: Enemy Engaged: Comanche vs Hokum

Developer: Razorworks

Publisher: Empire Interactive

I toyed with the idea of populating this parade entirely with games ten or more years old. If a sim hits the big one-zero and is still whelping mods, generating forum hubbub, or filling servers, then (and only then?) you can be sure it’s a bona fide classic.

EECH passes the 10-year test with flying colours. Arguably the best equipped, most replayable, and most enjoyable of the late Nineties crop of hoverer homages, its forums still buzz, its add-on artisans still toil. The folks that pay regular visits to FARPS like EECH Central and the SimHQ forum stay faithful because – and I’m projecting like an MLRS here – Razorworks did the campaign thing so bally well, and understood instinctively how much complexity, how much avionic gristle, most of us are prepared to stomach.

Campaigns are Falcon-esque. A supporting artiste rather than a limelight-hogging lead, you hellraise and reconnoitre in war-zones chock-a-block with incidental action and sortie options. Terrain detail is sparse by modern standards, but atmospheric pits and a cracking cast of flyables more than compensate. The only reason DI’s Hind and Jane’s Apache Longbow aren’t lurking behind a hillock somewhere in this Top 25 is the presence of excellent Mi-24s and AH-64s in the evergreen EECH.

Where can I buy it: GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this: DCS World’s Black Shark, Hip, and Huey modules

Read more: Installation guides, manuals, tactical tips

22: Steel Fury: Kharkov 1942

Developer: Graviteam

Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive

Did you turn to your mate, spouse, cat, dog or goldfish at the end of Fury, and start pointing out plot flaws and realism gaffs (Surely, one of those bungling SS goons would have been carrying a Panzershreck?). If you did you’re sure to appreciate the work Graviteam put into this relentlessly gritty armour sim.

SF stars the T-34, Panzer IV, and Matilda II (Many more playable types have been added by modders). It’s an unglamorous, unforgiving game inspired by an unglamorous, unforgiving form of warfare. During advances every hollow, thicket, and treeline radiates malevolence; blunder into the midst of an enemy trench network and, chances are, a flurry of molotovs and AT grenades will ensure you never emerge. Anyone expecting medals, haunting trumpet solos and Band of Brothers camaraderie from this gruelling Ukrainian sweat-coaxer will leave sorely disappointed

SF doesn’t have the ingenious wargame-like strategy layer of its younger sibling Steel Armor (another fine game) but its trio of campaigns usually allow some control of supporting forces. Tank interiors look great and feel appropriately claustrophobic. Fighting on with fellow crewmen slumped bloody and useless at your side, is a regular occurrence. Superb ballistics and skull scouring, sanity shredding audio cement a bleak, beguiling illusion.

Notes: The collapse of Lighthouse Interactive meant Graviteam made little from Steel Fury sales in the West.

Where can I buy it: Gamersgate

What else should I be playing if I like this: Panzer Elite: Special Edition, Panzer Front Ausf.B

Read more: Know your friend/enemy

21: War Thunder

Developer: Gaijin Entertainment

Publisher: Gaijin Entertainment

IL-2: Sturmovik’s DNA can be found in at least four of the titles in this line-up. War Thunder fluttered from the nest of IL-2 Sturmovik: Wings of Prey (2009), an inspired fusion of Maddoxian flight models, modern visuals, and sleek interface. Essentially Wings of Prey crossed with World of Tanks, it quickly gained air superiority by providing choice, spectacle, convenience and accessibility not offered by traditional solo-centred sims or the old guard of online dogfight diversions.

As in WoT, the motivational carrot isn’t patriotism or a sense of duty, it’s the promise of imminent drama, the challenge of sentient opposition, and the thought of that next unlock or upgrade. War Thunder’s airframe array makes Duxford’s look paltry. Put in the stick/mouse time (or cut corners by shelling out for premium content) and eventually you can fly everything from inter-war biplanes to first generation jets. Painfully familiar icons, unsung stalwarts, evolutionary dead-ends… you’ll encounter/eviscerate them all.

Handling, damage, and engine simulations lack the scholarly flourishes available elsewhere, but opt for the historical servers and WT can do a passable impersonation of its weightier, more intimidating peers. Whichever realism level you end up gravitating towards, parsimony is no obstacle to success. In WT, the pilot is always far more important than the plane.

Notes: Online dogfight sims go back a long way. To play Air Warrior, a sim launched in 1988, players had to stump up an eye-watering $10 per hour.

Where can I buy it: Developer’s siteSteam

What else should I be playing if I like this: Wings of Prey

Read more: War Thunder wiki

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