Sometimes, it’s nice to get away from it all when the stresses of life get to be too much for you to handle. Maybe you like to escape to the beach or head to the mountains to decompress. While in theory, this is a great idea, it’s not always a feasible option when faced with life’s responsibilities. So, when you can’t take a tropical vacation or jump in your car for a relaxing cruise around the lake, sometimes the next best thing is to enter another kind of world; a virtual one.
That’s where simulation games come in. While it’s not the same as feeling the sand between your toes, PC simulation games can provide you with a fulfilling sense of satisfaction that gratifies a desire to create. Sim games allow you to design your own city-systems, run a dynamic business, or take flight in a plane - all without the weight of real-life consequences.
This genre of games can also encompass other types of more serious, education-forward games where the purpose of gameplay is to encourage the player to learn in a hands-on manner.
PC sim games can be anything from slow-paced walking simulators to fast-paced combat or strategy play. Below, we’ll dive into the world of simulation games and explore the differences between them as well as some of the most highly recommended ones you may want to try out for yourself.
What are simulation games?
Simulation games, at the simplest level, are games involving the imitation of life. Some simulation games may mimic situations you’d encounter just living your regular life. Other games may recreate history and different historical events. There are also sim games that act as formal training guides for high-stakes industries like the aeronautics industry.
Of course, like most PC game genres, the borders of simulation genres bleed into each other and can be much more exploratory and experimental. We’ll explore a few of the sub-genres below.
In business simulation games, you are usually tasked with running your own company or some type of business - as the name suggests. These types of games are also called economic simulations or tycoon games. Business sim games typically have some overlap with the city building simulation game genre as well, since it’s likely you’ll need to balance a city budget with your citizens’ needs and infrastructure requirements. Both types of games involve number-based decisions where you’ll have to practice your management skills as changing supply and demand patterns warrant constant vigilance and in-game reactions.
These types of games help you learn entrepreneurial finesse through different kinds of business challenges. Because the game involves a virtual company, players can also test out their business knowledge without any fear of real consequences. The question of, “What happens if…?” can be fleshed out so players can simulate different experiences that may relate to real-world situations.
While they may seem like a fairly new concept, business sim games have a very long history. In fact, by the early 1960s, there were already 89 business games
created by industrial firms, business associations, government bodies, and academic institutions.
There are even serious-minded business simulation games built for business and economics students who can experience and test different hypotheses. There’s evidence some students may learn more through this hands-on approach
rather than relying on traditional, more passive forms of learning like lectures and PowerPoints.
City building simulations
Have you always wanted to be a mayor of a town or gain control over an entire empire? Now’s your chance. Build a city, help your citizens, and fight off threats. A city-building game presents you with god-like power so you can control almost every aspect of the world you create. But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. The larger your world, the more resources you’ll need to manage unless you want a failed state - where your city or world is destroyed.
The first city building game, The Sumer Game
, also known as Hamurabi
, was released in 1969
. The purpose of the game was to grow your economy and create a thriving city. As a result of this game, empire-building games exploded.
In 1989, the most famous of all city-building games, SimCity, was created. It gave players the chance to embody Sims within the game, take the role of city planner, and choose the events that affect the virtual environment. You could spend time creating a bustling metropolis and then end everything with a few clicks of your mouse.
City building simulation games also give players who may not consider themselves artistically-inclined the chance to create from the ground up. Most of these types of games start with a blank canvas of sorts, usually a big plot of land that the player will use as the foundation to construct an entire city.
Some games allow you to simply zone areas and buildings like housing developments will spring up organically based on demand, adding an element of surprise to your gameplay. It makes the building experience a little more dynamic than some city builders where you must meticulously place buildings one by one to develop the land.
In general, there has been a trend of declining difficulty with city-building games
so that your city usually won’t ever “die” even if you create an inefficient system. Examples of inefficient city models might include creating a huge city with only a single two-lane road going in and out of it, bottlenecking the supplies that need to reach commercial enterprises and other infrastructure-based catastrophes.
Another aspect of city building that makes it an attractive choice for gamers is the progression of complexity. As players’ cities begin to expand, there are more citizens, policing needs, health considerations, natural disaster risks, and other citywide considerations to think about.
Balancing residential, commercial, and industrial land use, infrastructure requirements, tax collection, and managing the citizens is a big job, and for many, what makes city building so satisfying
. These complexities add on additional problem-solving tasks for players to take on far more advanced, dynamic gameplay.
Both World Wars helped accelerate the development of flight simulators as the need increased for well-trained pilots who could enter the fray ready for action
. Many game historians argue that the military helped precipitate the rise of video games in general and that they still serve as recruitment and training tools today.
With that in mind, it makes sense that as military planes became more advanced during the Second World War so, too, did flight simulators. The addition of retractable landing gear and higher speeds in planes, for example, meant that there was a growing need for better simulations to train pilots to use new technologies more efficiently.
Instruments and control systems were improved with better electronics. Eventually, computers were integrated to calculate aerodynamics which made the airplane-flying experience more realistic.
Bruce Artwick created the first flight simulator operated on microcomputers
in 1975. Artwick designed a very simple (by today’s standards) flight simulator for his graduate thesis project. While it was basic, it served as the foundation in the evolution of flight simulators that helped inspire future, more advanced iterations for commercial gameplay.
The next major step in the sophistication of flight simulators was adding computer-generated graphics to enhance the overall realism. In the beginning, the “scenery” pilots would see were simply points of light in a black, featureless landscape.
In later decades, 3D landscapes were developed to give trainee pilots a better idea of what it would be like to navigate in the air over land. Today, with the advances made in graphics processing, the simulated environment is hard to tell from the real world.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular simulation games available on the market today below.
What are the best flight simulation games?
1. Flight Simulator X by Microsoft
Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X
has seen tons of iterations over the years but it’s one of the staples of the flight simulation genre. It’s the longest-running video gaming series
according to Guinness World Records. In this game, you can design your own routes, explore the globe, and even create your own planes.
One of the best aspects of this game is that the gameplay can be enhanced with the addition of third-party add-ons like plane skins. You can also embark on different missions to accomplish a particular objective and up the ante.
The Flight Simulator X application hasn’t been updated since 2006 although there are plans for a new version to be released in 2020 which will feature mapping imagery from the Azure cloud.
2. X-Plane 11 by Laminar Research
Laminar Research developed the X-Plane
franchise for both commercial and professional use. This FAA certifiable game offers players the chance to explore the world via hyper-realistic planes. It’s one of the most realistic and powerful flight simulators available.
It can be used to predict the flying qualities of fixed and rotary wing aircraft with total accuracy. There are 19 types of aircraft you can choose from which range from retro models from the early days of aviation all the way to the advanced models you see in the skies today.
If you opt for the full scenery package, you’ll enjoy incredible resolution over a range of landscapes and virtual access to more than 34,000 airports.
What are the best business simulation games?
3. RollerCoaster Tycoon by RTCO Productions
In RollerCoaster Tycoon
, players must build a profitable amusement park and work toward goals like increasing the park’s profits, enticing more guests to visit, and creating fun, but not too scary, rides. You’ll be responsible for details like designing footpaths, the construction of restroom facilities, building food vendor booths, and of course, creating rides. Rides are ranked based on excitement, intensity, and nausea levels which influence park guest behavior.
You even have the option of following guests around to check their basic needs like hunger and thirst levels. On the other side of the spectrum, you also can create nonsensical roller coasters with dangerous G-forces if you want a more chaotic, destructive approach.
4. Farming Simulator by Giants Software
Heralded as one of the most accurate farming simulations around, Farming Simulator
allows you to step into the shoes of a modern farmer on either American and European landscapes. You’ll manage crops, farm animals, and have the option to drive over 300 unique vehicles. Tend to your cows, horses, pigs, chickens, and sheep and watch your sunflower, sugar beet, and wheat crops flourish.
What are the best truck simulation games?
5. Euro Truck Simulator 2 by SCS Software
If you love allowing the open road to unwind before you, you’ll enjoy Euro Truck Simulator 2
. Your job in this game is to drive a cargo truck to a given destination across the European continent. As the driver, you can customize your truck and run a business by adding on garages, drivers, and additional trucks. If you scratch or damage your truck along the way, you’ll get less money so don’t let virtual highway hypnosis result in losing out on money.
6. American Truck Simulator by SCS Software
In American Truck Simulator
, you can drive big brand American semi trucks and deliver a variety of different cargo across the U.S. You’ll be blown away by the realistic American landmarks and iconic locations. As the truck driver, you can complete jobs for local companies and eventually start your very own trucking company.
The best simulation games
Rating the best simulation games on PC depends largely on what experience you’re looking for as a gamer. But there are plenty of different ways to explore many types of gameplay from stepping into a fighter jet’s cockpit to learning how to farm the land to managing an enterprise.