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The 25 Best Simulation Games Ever Made

Never in the field of human conflict...

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15: X-Plane 10

Developer: Laminar Research

Publisher: Laminar Research

Feel free to cut out this entry and tape it over the one on page (spoiler removed) if you’re one of the folk who feel that Laminar Research approximate aviation better than MS does. A lot of the hyperbole I lavish on FSX would apply equally well to this sim (and Prepar3d for that matter).

X-Plane ‘languishes’ down here primarily because its default scenery lacks the detail and regional/seasonal sensitivity of its rival’s (FSX has the wider range of scenery add-ons too). Plane choice is more restrictive too (though a surge of third-party developer interest in recent years is helping to close that gap). Factor in the weaker ATC, AI traffic and flight planning facilities and FSX favouritism is the result.

Of course, there are areas where X-Plane comprehensively outsims all the opposition. The night lighting effects are fab, the weather and fault seeding system excellent. Does Austin Meyer’s continued faith in a blade element theory-based flight modelling approach lead to more realistic FMs? I’m not totally convinced it does, but there’s a distinctive liveliness and sensitivity to X-Plane FMs that many adore. That liveliness seems to mesh particularly well with rotary wing aviation.

Where can I buy it: Developer’s siteSteam

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

Read more: Stick and Rudder by Wolfgang Langewiesche

14: Grand Prix Legends

Developer: Papyrus Design Group

Publisher: Sierra Entertainment

Most sim manuals begin with a bit of historical background or a proud boast or two. GPL’s began with a chilling warning. “You will spin and crash the first time out. And the second time out. And the third.” David Kaemmer and chums knew they’d created a ballbreaker and weren’t afraid of admitting it. GPL had to be insanely demanding because the activity it strained every algorithm to simulate was insanely demanding.

When the advanced modelling techniques developed by Papy for their NASCAR and IndyCar games met the hard, narrow tyres, light cars, powerful engines, and lethal circuits of the 1967 Formula 1 season, the results were always going to be spectacular. By turning their backs on contemporary motor racing, and focusing on an era before wings, slicks, and run-off zones, the devs reintroduced romance and drama to an increasingly stale and clinical genre. The swashbuckling simplicity of late Sixties motorpsort was emphasised by a minimal GUI and a set of eleven tracks that included notorious driver slayers like Spa-Francorchamps and the 14-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife.

GPL’s true greatness took years to emerge. Smoothed by advances in PC tech and swollen by the efforts of an army of talented modders, the sim was still springing surprises and winning converts a decade after its launch. While a new generation of titles – Assetto Corsa, rFactor2, iRacing – now offer superior physics, none of the newcomers rival its flavour.

Notes: GPL mods don’t come more ambitious than Jim Pearson’s painstaking recreation of the 38-mile Isle of Man TT course. Years in the making and incorporating hundreds of bespoke structures and textures (the object count currently stands at 37,000) there’s still no hint of an ETA. Going by the latest preview vid (Jan 2015) it won’t disappoint when it finally arrives.

Where can I buy it: The demo is all you need nowadays

What else should I be playing if I like this: rFactor 2, Assetto Corsa, iRacing

Read more: GPL links

13: Wings Over Flanders Fields

Developer: Old Brown Dog Software

Publisher: Old Brown Dog Software

There are four different manuals available for this unusually immersive WW1 pilot sim. The first is Old Brown Dog’s own instructional pdf, the second, third, and fourth are called Flying Fury, Sagittarius Rising, and Winged Victory.

What started out as a free Combat Flight Simulator 3 mod will now set you back $30 ($88 if you purchase both expansion packs). Expensive? If you hanker for a sim that treats the solitary campaigner as a king rather than someone too slow or stupid for multiplayer, then probably not. WOFF is all about the long-term solo experience. You arrive at the Front at a date and place of your own choosing and fly dynamically generated sorties (sorties that abut and overlap with countless others) in a wide selection of plane types until a moment of inattention or a misjudged manoeuvre leaves your mess armchair vacant and your pet spaniel masterless.

Flying and fighting beside you in this mesmerising maelstrom are delicately sketched comrades whose proximity in a dogfight often makes the difference between a rejected kill claim and an officially acknowledged one. The range of sorties is substantial, the opportunities to freelance and blunder into trouble, numerous. Rival RoF has the flight modelling edge and the draw of MP, but WOFF comes out on top in most other respects.

Notes: WOFF is built on rock-solid foundations. CFS3 was one of the last flight sims to ship with a proper dynamic campaign. Sortie choices, moving frontlines, meaningful targets… it had it all.

Where can I buy it: Developer’s site

What else should I be playing if I like this: Rise of Flight

Read more: Winged Victory by V.M. Yeates

Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis

Flying Fury by James McCudden

12: Rising Storm

Developer: Tripwire Interactive, Anti Matter Games

Publisher: Tripwire Intercative

Beneath the blood-spattered bandoleer of this multiplayer Pacific/Eastern Front FPS (RS comes with Red Orchestra 2’s MP content and vice versa) beats the heart of a true simulation. No-one works harder to communicate the physical nuances of WW2 infantry combat than Tripwire and Anti Matter Games. The bolt fumbling, the breath regulating, the desperate cover seeking, the panicky snapshots, the blind terror of melee and fumbled grenades… it’s all here.

Newcomers will perish frequently early on (and a fair bit later on too) but as the pleasure of Rising Storm/Red Orchestra 2 comes as much from imbibing exquisitely evoked history as engineering team victories, deaths don’t rankle nearly as much as they do in other more frenetic manshoots.

Though RS at release managed to outshine its parent in several important departments (The default maps were roomier and more interesting, the reality-rooted differences between the US and Japanese weapon sets made side choices seem more significant that they were in Stalingrad) recent free RO2 updates have helped close the gap. The combi-sim now offers the most convincing portrayal of period tank combat outside of specialist titles like Steel Fury. True, bot AI isn’t up to much, but the game’s sizeable online following means that seldom impinges on the fun.

Notes: The scarcity of Pacific theatre WW2 titles is one of the great mysteries of military gaming. Even obscure hex merchants don’t seem that interested in letting us island hop.

Where can I buy it: Steam, Gamersgate

What else should I be playing if I like this: Order of Battle: Pacific

Read more: The Thin Red Line by James Jones

11. iRacing

Developer: iRacing.com

Publisher: iRacing.com

iRacing is the sim you reach for when you’re tired of being rear-ended at Mirabeau by inebriated imbeciles, the sim you seek out when you’re sick of sharing straights with cars that jink, blink, and teleport. £7-a-month subscription fees, a recklessness-penalising progression system, and top-notch netcode help keep the regular-as-clockwork online sessions exceptionally clean, crisp and civilized.

Post-Papyrus David Kaemmer’s appetite for sophisticated physics and accurate tracks has only intensified. Before Assetto Corsa arrived, iRacing was the undisputed pacesetter when it came to mimicking in extremis race cars (I suspect many subscribers would claim it still is). That verisimilitude and the high standard of competition still draws professional race drivers to events and leagues.

All of the 60+ circuits (most of which are North American and, like the rides, offered as separate DLC purchases) are laser-scanned affairs. The dev’s dislike of silicon stand-ins means every driver in every race is relying on the same fleshy hardware to graze apexes and shut doors. Anyone wondering if they’ve got what it takes to make it in real-life motorsport – be it karting, single marque circuit racing or whatever – should know for sure after a year or two of iRacing.

Where can I buy it: Developer’s siteSteam

What else should I be playing if I like this: Assetto Corsa

Read more: A beginner’s guide from forumite hariseldon

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