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Community Picks: Best Sims
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Despite what some of the world’s leading philosophers, scientists, and entrepreneurs would have you think, odds are good that our universe doesn’t exist within a simulation. Maybe some other ones do, though, depending on whether or not you count video game worlds as their own universes. Countless simulation games (or “sims” for short) turn real-world activities into digital pastimes. There are social sims, vehicle sims, construction sims, management sims… if there’s something you can do on planet Earth, there’s a better than even chance someone has made a game about it.our Steam group, and discover the hottest new games via our Curator feed.
25. ‘Steel Beasts’
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Steel Beasts is a suite of games and professional simulators devoted to “armored fighting vehicles.” That’s right: it’s a game about piloting, firing, and waging war with various tanks. The game is developed by eSim Games, which offers a Steel Beasts Pro version that provides an “elevated level of fidelity is modeled in direct fire exterior and terminal ballistics, fire control systems, and related crew procedures as well as the relationship between complementary elements of combatants in the tactical spectrum.” This isn’t a light-hearted game; it’s a full-blown combat simulator.
24. ‘Mad TV’
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Mad TV is a business sim that puts its players in charge of a TV station. You have to fill seven hours of programming each day, and each hour must be given its own advertising block, the success of which determines whether or not your business will thrive. The game forces you to bid on the programming, decide if you want to run classics or take a risk on something new, and eventually win the love of Betty, a reporter who works in the same building. Rainbow Arts released Mad TV in 1991, and an in-browser remake is still being updated as of May 2018.
23. ‘PC Building Simulator’
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Here’s something a little more fresh and relatable for Tom’s Hardware readers: PC Building Simulator. The game does exactly what you’d expect–it lets you order parts and build a system without having to break the bank. There’s also a business sim aspect wherein you have to bring home the bacon by removing viruses from customers’ systems, diagnose and fix hardware problems, and otherwise run a computer repair shop. We didn’t want to play PC Building Simulator for extended periods, and its use as an instructive tool is questionable, but damned if it isn’t satisfying.
22. ‘DCS World’
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Digital Combat Simulator World, or DCS World to its friends, is a free-to-play combat flight sim. The game is billed as a “deep, authentic, and realistic simulation designed also to offer a more relaxed gameplay to suit the user and his particular level of experience and training.” You’ll pilot iconic aircraft through simulations that cover multiple regions (Caucasus, the Black Sea, and others) and time periods (World War II, the Gulf War, and more) where you can engage in combat or simply hover above the action as your heart deems fit. You start with limited vehicles, regions, and time periods, all of which are purchased separately. The free-to-play portion of DCS World might still be enough for you to decide if you want to commit to the flight sim lifestyle, though, which can get expensive pretty quick as you buy more and more detailed peripherals.
21. ‘IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs Of Dover’
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Another combat flight sim, IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs Of Dover, is much narrower in its focus than DCS World. The latter prides itself on the sheer variety of vehicles, regions, and time periods available to its players; the latter is devoted entirely to putting you in the cockpit of a Royal Air Force member during World War II. That isn’t to say IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs Of Dover slumps in terms of options–you can fly more than 25 aircrafts through England, France, and other countries, and numerous multiplayer modes let you fight it out with up to 128 other people at a time.
20. ‘Euro Truck Simulator 2’
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Trucking isn’t easy. Drivers have to work long hours, finesse large vehicles through tight spaces, and stay away from home for long periods of time. Euro Truck Simulator 2 cuts out all of those drawbacks and lets you focus on efficiently driving big rigs along lushly rendered highways to your destination. The game spans 16 countries, lets you customize your vehicle as you see fit, and features a management sim aspect that puts you in charge of your own shipping company. Mods and expansions also help make sure driving the open roads never gets stale.
19. ‘Theme Hospital’
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Speaking of difficult things: Theme Hospital tasks you with building and managing a hospital where everything seems hell-bent on going wrong. You have to design the facility, keep the Grim Reaper at bay, and do your level best to stop the doctors and nurses from making your hospital seem even more tawdry than the Grey-Sloan Memorial hospital found in “Grey’s Anatomy.” The 1997 game might not be as visually stunning as some of the previous entries on this list, but its unique premise and sense of humor should be enough to keep you interested all the same.
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Just in case managing a hospital didn’t prove to be enough of a challenge, SimTower asks you to build a skyscraper in any way you see fit, as long as it ends up being awarded a five-star rating by a demanding VIP who comes around to visit. You start with a single star and then build your way up the rankings, and as you earn more stars, a greater variety of spaces becomes available to build. Do you want to build more apartments? Offices? How about stores, restaurants, and gaming areas? You’ll have to decide which is the most likely to keep your tenants–and the VIP–happy.
17. ‘War Thunder’
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War Thunder wants to convince you of one thing, which is that when it comes to military sims, more is always better. Other entries on this list focused on specific types of vehicles; War Thunder lets you control warships, aircraft, tanks, and others. Others focused on dozens of vehicles; War Thunder has more than 1,000. You’ll commandeer these war machines through player-versus-player and player-versus-environment missions that take place across 80 maps, and player-created mods will expand your options even further. If you’re looking for spectacle, War Thunder has it.
16. ‘Assetto Corsa’
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Assetto Corsa is a racing simulator that lets you compete in real-world circuits in officially licensed vehicles from Porsche, Lamborghini, and other automakers. The game’s developers promise to offer an immersive experience that includes features “never seen on any other racing simulator,” from tire flat spots to aerodynamics parts controlled in real-time via telemetry input channels, among other things. Naturally, the game offers a career mode, various single-player and multiplayer game types, and multi-part races that make you feel like a real world-class driver.
15. ‘Transport Tycoon’
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Now we’re kicking it old school. Transport Tycoon was released in 1994, and it tasked players with guiding a transportation company from 1950 to 2050 by shipping countless items via increasingly complex air, land, and sea networks. Transport Tycoon Deluxe came out a year later with new landscapes, weather conditions, and vehicles, along with a shift to the 1950-2050 time period. After that creator Chris Sawyer moved on to the popular Rollercoaster Tycoon series, making Transport Tycoon and Transport Tycoon Deluxe the beginning of an era. The game was remade for Android and iOS devices at the tail-end of 2013 to celebrate its not-quite-20th anniversary.
14. ‘Plague Inc: Evolved’
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Theme Hospital saw you try to profitably treat diseases; Plague Inc: Evolved is all about helping a deadly pathogen spread throughout the world. Plague Inc. was originally made for mobile devices, but in February 2016, it was ported to PC with brand new features as Plague Inc: Evolved. Both games ask you to “bring about the end of human history” by taking a pathogen from Patient Zero to, well, everyone else using various diseases in numerous scenarios. The PC version includes competitive multiplayer and co-op play as well as support for user-generated content.
13. ‘Jane’s F-15’
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Released by Electronic Arts in 1998, Jane’s F-15 was one of the first games to put you in a realistic plane with a cockpit modeled after its real-world counterpart. You command this plane through various combat scenarios that are set during the Gulf War and during a fictional conflict against Iran taking place in 2001. Before combat flight sims were able to offer dozens (or hundreds) of vehicles rendered with realistic graphics, Jane’s F-15 offered the relatively simple pleasure of piloting a then-stunning replica of the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle.
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We’re expanding the already broad sim genre with Subnautica, an adventure game in which you explore an alien ocean that (you guessed it) is “full of wonder and peril.” The game would most loosely fit into the survival sim genre–you have to find potable water and food to survive while you collect resources to craft diving gear, knives, and other supplies. There’s also a building aspect through which you choose the layout and components of bases where you can park vehicles, stash resources, and refill your oxygen tank so you can go back to exploring the aquatic depths.
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Tropicois a series of construction and management sims in which you assume the role of El Presidente for a fictional Caribbean island. Your job is to either keep the locals happy or rule them with in an iron fist so they wouldn’t dare try to remove you from power. Either way, it’s up to you to manage the country’s development, make political and economic decisions, and command your military however you see fit. If that sounds appealing to you, Tropico, the Tropico: Paradise Island expansion, and Tropico 2: Pirate Cove were all bundled as Tropico Reloaded in 2009.
10. ‘Dirt 2’
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Dirt 2 is all about racing in the dirt instead of on the fancy circuits featured in other racing sims. Races will take place in stadiums, mind, but they feature a variety of surface types rather than the carefully managed surfaces found in other tracks. The game offers five different racing disciplines, all of which can be modified by three special modes that introduce new mechanics and goals. Like other racing games, Dirt 2 features a career mode that gives you a reason to do all this racing beyond it being fun and looking cool. (As if anyone needed more reasons to race.)
9. ‘Flight Simulator X’
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It turns out that many gamers, much like Sugar Ray, just want to fly. Adding to the number of flight sims on this list is Flight Simulator X, the most recent entry in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator franchise. This version was released in 2006 and then brought to Steam–along with several expansions–in 2014. As you might expect from its name, Flight Simulator X is all about making you feel like you’re piloting an aircraft. The most recent version offered better graphics, new aircraft, and expanded multiplayer gameplay, all of which made this game the most feature-packed entry in its series.
8. ‘Railroad Tycoon 2’
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A quick disclaimer: the Railroad Tycoon series was created by Sid Meier, not Chris Sawyer, who started the Transportation Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon franchises. Not that many of you needed to be told that–Meier is a legend among PC game developers for this series, the Civilization series, and Sid Meier’s Pirates! Railroad Tycoon 2 tasks you with building a successful railroad network by building tracks, stations, and trains; carefully weighing supply and demand for a given area; and contending with random hindrances such as meddling rivals and train robbers.
7. ‘Project Cars 2’
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Project Cars 2 attempts to stand out from other racing sims through sheer technical prowess. The game offers full 12K and VR support, uses modern systems’ performance capabilities to enable dynamic surface and weather physics, and of course tries to make all of its vehicles look as pretty as possible. Wrapped up in all that shiny goodness is a game that offers a various motorsports, boasts a career mode, and has support for online championships and other “esports capabilities.” Just try not to spend too long finally driving that Ferrari in VR, alright?
6. ‘Elite Dangerous’
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We’ve established that many gamers play sims because they want to fly. So far every title has been limited to terrestrial aircraft, however, and Elite Dangerous wants you to soar a bit higher. That’s right–you’re going to space. Elite Dangerous is a multiplayer space flight sim that claims to have “the entirety of the Milky Way re-created at its full galactic proportions.” (And here we thought some of the flight sims were thinking big when they added support for entire countries.) You’ll have to manage your ship, explore new areas, and of course engage in some spaceship battles.
5. ‘Kerbal Space Program’
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Elite Dangerous puts you in charge of a spaceship; Kerbal Space Program puts you in charge of the alien equivalent to NASA. You have to design your own vehicles, oversee the construction of space stations, and manage your employees in this game, wherein you have to help the alien Kerbals explore space. The game offers three games modes that cater to people who want to discover new technologies, those who want to manage the entire program, and anyone who simply wants to build a spacecraft without having to worry about the finer details of its construction.
4. ‘Cities Skylines’
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We’ll come crashing back to Earth with Cities Skylines. This city management sim puts you in charge of a fictional city, and it’s up to you to expand and improve it while also keeping its citizens happy. Cities Skylines offers full local traffic simulation, divides the city into districts with their own politics, and includes a day-and-night cycle that changes how the city’s fictional denizens live their simulated lives. You’ll have to master a barrage of systems to ensure your city’s success, so if you want all the stress of being a local politician with none of the real-world reward, this is for you.
3. ‘The Sims 3’
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Who’d have thought it would take so long for a series literally named The Sims to show up on a list of the best sim games of all time? Well, anyone familiar with the series will know that it was bound to appear at the top of this list. Where other games focus on the macro–managing entire businesses, cities, and galaxy-wide space programs–The Sims 3 is about the micro. You create your Sim, design their house, and then help lead them through life in pretty much any way you see fit. Think of it as another shot at life, but without any of the real-world consequences.
2. ‘RollerCoaster Tycoon 2’
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Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 (along with the rest of its series) is what you get when someone as interested in simulations as Transportation Tycoon developer Chris Sawyer is allowed to get a little whimsical. The game focuses on building increasingly complex and terrifying rollercoasters to attract more and more people to your theme park. You can work to keep your guests happy, or you can build a theme park that many enter and few leave. This is a sim–you can do pretty much anything you like. Just let us know if any of your designs are ever commissioned, OK?
1. ‘SimCity 2000’
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SimCity 2000 will conclude our list. Unlike its counterparts in the broader Sims franchise, SimCity 2000 lets you manage a city from top to bottom. You’ll have to manage transportation networks, construct important buildings like schools and prisons, figure out how your city will be powered, and handle all the other details that keep a city functioning. Oh, and you’ll have to do all that while you also contend with natural disasters. Keep things running long enough, though, and eventually some of your citizens will leave Earth to establish civilizations on other worlds.
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