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The 25 Best Simulation Games Ever Made

Never in the field of human conflict...

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20: B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty Eighth

Developer: Wayward Design

Publisher: MicroProse/Hasbro

Take off. Spend an hour climbing to operational altitude and forming up, and several more droning towards objective. In the event of fighter attack do not attempt to evade, but rely on escorts, gunners, and other bombers for protection. On arriving at destination, fly straight and level ignoring flak until bombs gone, then commence long trek home… It’s hardly surprising the vast majority of WW2 flight sims focus on nimble horizon-twirling fighters rather than dogged dawdlers like Lancs and B-17s. Done badly, a WW2 heavy bomber sim could be an excruciatingly tedious affair. Fortunately, Wayward understood this and chose to flesh out the flying in B-17 Flying Fortress’s modernised and enriched sequel, with plenty of absorbing crew management decisions and auxiliary tasks. More than any other sim in this list B17II is a compendium. You flit from yoke wrestling to bomb aiming, from crew shuffling to Browning brandishing, from chart scrutinising to fire extinguishing. It’s even possible to switch cockpits and pilot your silvery chaperones for a spell.

Atmospheric, fraught, and, thanks to the personalised panic-prone crews, unusually affecting for a flight sim, the game came with a pretty special campaign system too. Players that plump for the Squadron Commander option get to manage multiple Flying Forts and their crews, selecting targets, setting waypoints, and organising photo-reconnaisance jaunts for a full 25-sortie tour of duty.

Notes: For a spell in the mid noughties Shockwave, the studio that refurbished Rowan’s Battle of Britain, were talking about doing the same for B17II. Sadly, the overhaul never happened though the devs – by then renamed A2A Simulations – did go on to cheer B-17 lovers by crafting a fantastic Flying Fort for MSFS.

Where can I buy it: GOGSteam

What else should I be playing if I like this: Night Gunner

Read more: Combat Crew by John Comer

19: IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover

Developer: 1C Maddox Games

Publisher: Ubisoft

Both of the Battle of Britain sims in this feature were sickly babies; both are now strapping infants thanks to the talent and industry of amateur modders. A group called Team Fusion have helped turn CloD around. Their updates have transformed a sim that on release had more rough edges than Norway.

Over the last two years framerates have been boosted, FMs and DMs tweaked, AI routines reworked, broken instruments fixed, maps amended, and new aircraft variants added. With each unofficial patch more untapped potential comes to light. What has emerged is a sim with an incomparable knack for mimicking the mechanical, visual, and aural aspects of the Battle of Britain; the sim 1C: Maddox were attempting to finish when the long-suffering money men ran out of patience.

TF plan to take the engine to the Med next and expand the selection of exceptionally fine flyables with crates like the Wellington. Until a little soul and consequence is breathed into the solo campaign (CloD shipped with a disappointingly primitive sequential campaign system and, as yet, little has been done to develop it) BoB 2 will remain my Spitfire Summer sim of choice. For multiplayer action however, or brief no-strings burst of action over the Channel and Garden of England, it’s impossible to deny that CloD is the superior sim.

Notes: One of CloD’s most notorious missions involves sharing a cramped Spitfire cockpit with a female companion. It sounds preposterous but similar illicit taxi runs are mentioned in BoB memoirs.

Where can I buy it: Steam, Gamersgate

What else should I be playing if I like this: BoB2

Read more: The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary

18: Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition

Developer: eSim Games

Publisher: eSim Games

The militaries of Finland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain, Chile, Australia and New Zealand think very highly of Steel Beasts Pro. While a military pedigree isn’t always an indication of a quality in the recreational sphere, in this instance the accomplished trainer is also an accomplished entertainer.

It turns out that the same spacious virtual battlefields, fastidiously modelled targeting systems, solid AI and complex combined arms scenarios that help keep real tankers sharp and competitive, do a very good job of persuading desktop cavalrymen like you and me that we’re trundling about real war-zones in authentic contemporary MBTs. Steel Beast’s steel bestiary has grown steadily over the years and now includes dozens of contemporary crewable IFVs, APCs and utility vehicles, but the main attractions remain incomparable recreations of familiar angry houses like the Leopard and M1A2.

If SBPPE has a shot trap it’s the absence of a campaign mode. Happily, most of the generous selection of single player scenarios are laced with randomness, a powerful mission editor is included, and there’s a wonderfully warm and creative multiplayer scene ever ready to welcome new blood. Complaints about this seemingly steep $115 asking price all tend to come from prospective buyers rather than those already enjoying the sim’s singular delights. Telling? I think so.

Notes: In the unlikely event you ever get tired of first-person tanking, you can always treat SBPPE as a 2D turnless wargame. Orchestrating battles from the map view is child’s play.

Where can I buy it: eSim Games

What else should I be playing if I like this: Armored Brigade, MechWarrior 4,

Read more: Swot up or brew up

17: Richards Burns Rally

Developer: Warthog Games

Publisher: SCi

After the wonderful Richard Burns Haystacks (2000) and Richard Burns Old Love Letters (2001) the RB series seemed to lose its way. Richard Burns Garden Rubbish (2002) and Richards Burns Roof of Mouth (2003) are probably best forgotten. Most critics were on the point of writing off the franchise when, out-of-the-blue, the magnificent Richard Burns Rally arrived in 2004.

An uncompromising recreation of modern rallying (for the vintage variety, try Rally Trophy or the recent DiRT Rally) RBR’s secret weapons were its exquisite physics, great Force Feedback implementation, substantial stages, detailed pace notes, and genuinely educational rally school mode. For a generation of throttle featherers raised on Codies’ Colin McCrae efforts, RBR’s fidgety yet communicative conveyances were a revelation. Tunable and damageable in a remarkable number of ways, and blessed with a sense of mass and momentum that no subsequent rally game has managed to match, the eight steeds (Subaru Imprezza 2000/2003, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Peugeot 206, Citroen Xsara, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Corolla, MG ZR) were always ready to bite the hands of the cackhanded and inattentive. Guiding them round the Finnish, English, Japanese and French stages required the finesse of a sign writer and the courage of a myopic matador.

A mod and multiplayer scene still bustling with activity today, testifies to the sim’s incomparably strong fundamentals.

Notes: Flat left, flat right, easy left, easy right, hairpin left, hairpin right, narrows, tightens, twisty, over crest, jump, bump, don’t cut, cut, go straight, keep right, keep left, keep middle, caution etc.

Where can I buy it: Gamesplanet.com

What else should I be playing if I like this: DiRT Rally

Read more: Installation tips

16: Rise of Flight

Developer: 777 Studios

Publisher: Various

Minutes after this Top 25 is posted I’m going to get an email from one of the chaps behind this fine simulation of Great War aerial combat, complaining that I’ve failed to place RoF highly enough or give it the credit it deserves. I will dash off a reply politely disagreeing and pointing out that I still find the sim’s campaign element somewhat dessicated, the obligation to log on before career sorties a trifle irksome. I will draw attention to the fact that I’ve heaped praise on the deliciously lively flight models, the handsome visuals, the bone-crunching damage depictions, and the uncommonly resonant and exacting multiplayer.

777 have numerous reasons to be proud of Rise of Flight and weaknesses in the career game diminish with every new release of Pat Wilson’s Campaign Generator, yet I still can’t quite bring myself to place it higher than rival Wings Over Flanders Fields. If you value kinetic naturalism and human competition over atmosphere and campaign immersion, you may well disagree with my stance. Sadly, comparing and contrasting both of these Fokker furnishers without spending cash is currently impossible. Though RoF’s demo arrangements are exemplary – it’s possible to fly three aircraft in multiple modes over Western or Eastern Fronts for no fee – Old Brown Dog still haven’t got round to trialling WOFF.

Notes: Even if you can’t fly for toffee, RoF’s trial is worth installing. As well as offering that trio of flyable fighters, it permits MP jaunts in the gunner stations of awesome colossi like the Gotha G.V and the Handley Page O/400.

Where can I buy it: Developer’s siteSteam, GamersGate etc.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Wings Over Flanders Fields, IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad

Read more: The tale of a coward in a Camel

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