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The 25 Best Simulation Games Ever Made

Never in the field of human conflict...

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5: Assetto Corsa

Developer: Kunos Simulazioni

Publisher: Kunos Simulazioni

It’s late and I’m flagging. I wonder if I can get away with summing up this masterpiece of the automobile imitator’s art with a whistle of stunned amazement or a muttered but heartfelt ‘YES!’

Kunos have nailed it. They’ve synthesized the alchemical substance that makes cars behave like cars and put it on sale for a very reasonable £35 a vial. Structurally AC does nothing that hasn’t been done a hundred times before. The solo career mode and multiplayer options are as conservative as Cheltenham Spa. The track folder contains fewer surprises than an episode of Escape to the Country. A small but choice sheaf of official licences (Ferrari, Pagani, BMW, Mercedes, McLaren, Lotus, KTM …) translates into a small but choice mix of supercars, GT, GTR, production and track day steeds.

What elevates AC, what transforms it from an also-ran into the essential race sim, is the combination of strong visuals, intense audio, and handling models that feel stolen rather than simulated. Car game connoisseur and friend of Flare Path Jon Denton summed it up beautifully in one of his Ravsim previews: “AC does such a wonderful job that you feel it is just you and the car. It doesn’t feel like a filter. It isn’t “Game X’s version of car Y”; it is that car.”

Where can I buy it: Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this: rFactor 2

Read more: Jon Denton visits The Green Hell

4: DCS World

Developer: Eagle Dynamics

Publisher: The Fighter Collection

The history of combat flight simulation is littered with the rivet-studded hulks of studios that perished pursuing the hyper-realism dream. Jane’s Combat Simulations, Spectrum HoloByte, 1C: Maddox… delivering breathtakingly detailed warbird facsimiles might guarantee high-brow approbation but it doesn’t guarantee success or survival. It would be tempting to think of armed aerial study sims as splendidly byzantine suicide notes if Eagle Dynamics hadn’t proved time and time again that they were actually perfectly viable commercial propositions.

What DCS World users get from forensically faithful payware modules like A-10C, Black Shark, and MiG-21Bis is not dissimilar to what MSFS users get from from forensically faithful payware add-ons like the PMDG’s 747 and A2A’s Accu-Sim C172 – unabashed realism, priceless insights, bond-forging intimacy. What FSX can’t offer at present (though it has aspirations in that direction) is the chance to fly high fidelity aircraft in complex threat-stuffed combat environments. To understand what it means to be a front-line pilot in a contemporary warzone, you need this sim (and the one two slots south of it) in your life.

Over the last few years ED have overseen a burgeoning third-party development scene. At times there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the mix of incoming aircraft (Bf-109s, Sabres, Hips, Hawks…) but the diversity does mean everyone’s sure to find a winged or rotored soulmate amongst the modules. If DCS World has weaknesses at present, they are campaign structure and cartographic variety. Until WIP Nevada and Strait of Hormuz theatres arrive and the devs rethink their campaign approach, fliers must content themselves with Caucasian skies and sequential scripted sorties.

Notes: The trial includes an adorable Su-25T Frogfoot (think modern-ish incarnation of the IL-2 or Slavic A-10) and a deeply simmed Mustang.

Where can I buy it: Developer’s site, Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this: SAM Simulator

Read more: How not to treat a TF-51D

3: Silent Hunter 3

Developer: Ubisoft Romania

Publisher: Ubisoft

Ubisoft Romania’s first Topp tribute could have surfaced just about anywhere in this list and not looked out of place. Modded up to the nines, it offers everything a good great naval simulation should: realism, plausibility, challenge, tension, atmosphere, dolphins, stylish knitwear, an infinitely replayable campaign that swallows weekends like a whale shark swallows plankton…

U-boat sims need a pinch of tedium in their make-up to work, and SH3’s freelance-friendly Atlantic patrols deliver the requisite bouts of boredom/anticipation nigh perfectly. The slow drift from early war ‘Happy Times’ to late war ‘I-wish-I-was-back-in-Kiel-supping-a-pilsener-not-sat-here-on-the-seabed-listening-to-depth-charge-detonations’ is deftly captured and helps give SH3 one of the most naturalistic difficulty curves imaginable.

Embrace optional intricacies like manual chart plotting and targeting and successful hunts feel infinitely sweeter. Go full full real and forswear time acceleration, and a bizarre world of interrupted sleep and priceless insights awaits.

If you think you’d prefer prowling the Pacific in a Gato to prowling the Atlantic in a Type VII, then SH4 is well worth considering. Once appropriately augmented it arguably has just as much right to occupy this slot as its forerunner.

Notes: Top-down tactics treat Door Kickers was made by a small team of ex-Silent Hunter devs.

Where can I buy it: Gamersgate, Steam etc

What else should I be playing if I like this: Command Aces of the Deep, The Hunter

Read more: Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days by Karl Doenitz

2: Falcon 4.0

Developer: MicroProse

Publisher: MicroProse

Falcon 4.0 is what happens when a flight sim developer buries themselves in blueprints and thinks Galaxy-big. The quintessential study sim, its combination of deep avionic realism, high-calibre flight modelling, and ambitious dynamic campaign engine, remain unsurpassed to this day. The original 1998 release offered a staggeringly thorough recreation of the Block 50/52 F-16, an infinitely replayable Korean conflict, together with impressive multiplayer facilities amazing documentation, and myriad bugs. Subsequent semi-sequels and community-engineered updates have broadened theatre and ride choice, and vastly improved visuals and stability.

Today, most discerning Falconeers opt to fly the seventeen-year-old stalwart in its ‘BMS’ form. Benchmark Simulations’ free marvel adds DirectX 9 graphics, a fully clickable 3D cockpit, and new avionic gizmos like the Lockheed Martin ‘Sniper’ advanced targeting pod. Terrain textures and particle effects have been overhauled, flight models reworked, training improved; flyable F/A-18s, F-15s and F-14s grace hangars; there are new ways of playing the campaign… in short everything possible has been done to ensure Falcon 4.0 remains what it was in the late Nineties, the most rounded and rigorous jet sim available. If you fancy flying a scrupulously simulated contemporary warbird in a gloriously unpredictable battlespace abuzz with incidental activity, and have the patience to master its complexities, F4 is the sim for you.

Notes: Falcon 4.0’s history is almost as complicated as its avionics

Where can I buy it: Heatseek and ye shall find

What else should I be playing if I like this: DCS World, Flight Commander 2

Read more: Various BMS articles

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