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The 25 Best Simulation Games Ever Made

Never in the field of human conflict...

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10: ARMA 3

Developer: Bohemia Interactive

Publisher: Bohemia Interactive

Like Antarctica, Borduria, and Restoration London, The Digital Battlefield is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve glimpsed the borderlands on Cornered Rat and Eagle Dynamics organised trips, but only Bohemia Interactive’s tour bus (a battered red and white Karosa) has brought me anywhere near the interior.

Back in 2001 while their combat sim-crafting contemporaries were busy fleshing-out and fine-tuning sub-genres, BIS were amalgamating them. The visionary Czechs took bolt-cutters to the invisible shackles that kept tank simmers tethered to tanks. They snipped the strings that linked ripcords with Mission Over messages. They gave grunts compasses, hiking boots, and FPS-mocking tactical freedom. Most importantly, they changed forever the way we thought about tractors.

Later the gorgeous ARMAs came along, confirming the glaringly obvious – a well-executed mod and MP friendly soldier sim stuffed with crewable vehicles could be a wondrous thing. Whether your poison is slithering through shrubberies clutching a silenced SMG, surprising far-away insurgents with a .50 cal sniper rifle, ferrying mates to firefight in treetop-tousling helos, or carving up convoys with torrents of depleted uranium, the gloriously seamless ARMA is your man. Yes, you can find far more detailed AFV and aircraft recreations elsewhere, but choosing a more specialised sim means foregoing all that freedom and depriving yourself of some of the prettiest vistas in Simulatia.

Notes: Discovered ARMA’s amusing ‘attach to’ command yet? If you ever need to bond a couple of tanks together in a hurry or glue a goat to the wing of a jet, it’s just the thing.

Where can I buy it: Developer’s siteSteam, and others

What else should I be playing if I like this: Rising Storm

Read more: RPS coverage

The story of Ivan Buchta’s and Martin Pezlar’s incarceration in Greece

9: Euro Truck Simulator 2

Developer: SCS Software

Publisher: Various

Proof sims don’t need to be achingly accurate or swimming in detail to shine, ETS2 has an innate momentum that has to be experienced to be believed. The build-your-own-trucking-business concept at the hub of the long game is quicksand of the deadliest type. Seconds after completing one delivery, you’re mulling over the next. Once on the road, however, thoughts of expansion and new rigs take a back seat to more immediate concerns. Which is the prettiest way to Bratislava? When should I pull in for fuel and a nap? Do I have the acceleration necessary to overtake that dawdling HGV on the next straight? Do I want to listen to Japan, Joanna Newsom or George Benson for the next 45 minutes?

There are just enough landmarks and scenic differences to sell the illusion of trans-European travel. The fact that the Czech devs have zapped Europe’s road network with Duke Nukem’s shrink ray will seem unimportant after your first hour or two at the wheel. A game of mesmeric long-distance motoring, gratifying wealth generation, frivolous truck pimping and tricky parking manoeuvres, ETS2 is far friendlier than most of the sims in this list. For those times in your play schedule when you can’t face a five minute cold start procedure, for those moments in your week when blotting out Reality with a little war-free motion and monotony seems like a good idea, it’s awfully hard to beat.

Notes: The first stage of American Truck Simulator should be arriving some time this year. SCS are also working on an intriguing coach operations add-on for ETS 2 that will encourage smooth, considerate driving and punctuality.

Where can I buy it: Steam, Gamersgate, Excalibur Publishing

What else should I be playing if I like this: Farming Simulator 15

Read more: Adam night drives

8: Battle of Britain 2: Wings of Victory

Developer: Rowan Software/Shockwave Productions

Publisher: TRI Synergy/GMX Media

Nowadays sim smiths seem more interested in simulating machines than milieus. BoB2 is a relic of a more enlightened era. While Rowan Software worked hard to model the technical factors that made the Bf 109 and Supermarine Spitfire such well-matched adversaries during the momentous summer of 1940, they also strove to communicate context. They wanted us to look up from our reflector sights, altimeters and boost gauges occasionally and take in the bigger contrail-grafittied picture.

This is the only sim I know of that explains, without recourse to glib cutscenes or dense manual text why Britain’s Finest Hour was Britain’s Finest Hour. To participate in one of BoB2’s brilliant dynamic campaigns is to understand why Allied pilots sometimes fell asleep in their aircraft seconds after touching down, why Goering was so confident shows of strength like Adler Tag would finish the RAF. To participate in one of BOB2’s brilliant dynamic campaigns is to plunder a hundred memoirs, to glimpse the pluck and indignation that drove the young pilots of Biggin Hill, Tangmere, and Manston. I’m increasingly reluctant to use the phrase ‘time machine’ in the context of a computer simulation (it loses potency every time it’s used) but BoB2 deserves the accolade.

Notes: BoB2’s AI is cleverer than a sack of weasels. Computer-controlled Spits, Hurris, Bf-109s and Bf-110s pick dogfight tactics from a playbook containing 80+ different manoeuvres .

Where can I buy it: Developer’s site, Amazon, etc.

What else should I be playing if I like this: IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover, RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940

Read more: First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

7: OMSI

Developer: MR-Software

Publisher: MR-Software

This Deutsch delight is the reason I now have editions of Classic Bus Annual on my bookshelf and slow down when I see shapely vintage doubledeckers approaching. When a sim singlehandedly kindles an interest in something as prosaic as omnibuses you know you’re in the presence of greatness.

That greatness is rooted in beautifully observed physics and sumptuous sound, but it also owes something to structure and setting. Creators Marcel Kuhnt und Rüdiger Hülsmann have painstakingly recreated a small portion of the Berlin of their youth. Beetling around the streets of 1980s Spandau in vehicles as talkative and tangible as any in Simland, their nostalgia may end up feeling like your nostalgia.

Simming at its purest, OMSI isn’t particularly interested in artificial rewards or punishments. While keeping to time and avoiding prangs is quietly encouraged, the reason you return time after time is not to level-up or unlock; you keep coming back because you enjoy the challenge of navigating complex traffic flows in a charismatic yellow behemoth, you relish the atmosphere and rhythms of the city, and, most of all, because you’ve discovered a game in which mundane acts like pulling into a kerb, changing lanes, or halting at traffic-lights are profoundly pleasurable.

The sequel would be occupying this prestigious parking spot if it wasn’t for a few stubborn bugs that, more than a year after release, remain unsquashed.

Notes: OMSI has generated a handful of commercial add-ons, the best of which is probably the lyrically titled Vienna High-Floor Bus LU 200

Where can I buy it: Aerosoft, Amazon etc

What else should I be playing if I like this: City Car Driving

Read more: The musings of a 13N driver

Assorted tutorials

6: IL-2: Sturmovik

Developer: 1c Maddox Games

Publisher: Ubisoft

Like the Panzer pulveriser in its title, IL-2 Sturmovik proved robust, adaptable, and extremely good at its job. Today, it’s easy to forget just how refreshing the Eastern Front setting was back in 2001 – just how visceral those flight and damage models seemed. To those of us raised on sims dominated by nimble Spits, Mustangs, and Wildcats, the rocket-spitting dacha skimmer at the centre of Oleg’s creation felt deliciously thuggish… agreeably alien. Actually, come to think of it, the entire sim gave off an intriguing odour of otherness.

I can still remember how shocked I was the first time I was hit by flak. The bowel-loosening sound of shrapnel rending metal, the anguished whine of a mortally wounded engine, the surreal experience of watching, through a jagged hole in my wing, snow and birches flash past. There was a brutal, unembroidered honesty to IL-2 that myself, and many others found instantly endearing.

I recall too, being deeply impressed by 1C: Maddox’s approach to after-sales. The original plane set grew steadily after release thanks to a series of then-highly-unusual free updates. Now, of course the Ost Front warbirds represent a tiny portion of the sim’s sizeable solo and MP appeal. Several sequels and a decade of community-crafted crates and maps have turned IL-2 into by far the most cosmopolitan and complete WW2 air combat sim in existence. If you’ve never Sturmoviked, you really should.

Where can I buy it: GOG, Gamersgate, Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this: IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad

Read more: Red Sky, Black Death by A. A. Timofeeva-Egorova

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