In a sea of visceral first-person shooters and RPGs, it’s easy to forget about slower games. Simulation games are all about taking things slow, allowing you to take the role of someone else, fit with all the trials and tribulations that come with that position. Here, we’ve compiled a list of the most immersive and impressive simulation titles available.
Before diving in, it should be noted that all of the titles below are on PC. Even the ones that have been ported to consoles were developed for PC first, with Xbox controller support coming later. Although disappointing for those without a high-powered gaming PC, our picks are best suited for a keyboard and mouse, as you need access to a lot of information very quickly. Additionally, we avoided duplicate entries for any particular style of simulation. For instance, there are a ton of theme park simulators, but we’re only including our favorite. And if you’re looking for flight simulators, we’ve found those, too.
Cities: Skylines released at an interesting time, making its way onto virtual shelves mere months after EA’s disastrous reboot of SimCity. One of the key features of Cities was that you didn’t need an active internet connection, which SimCity required. Although that was enough for city simulation fans to jump ship, it turns out Cities: Skylines is just a better game.
The core of the game is the same, though. You start with a two-by-two-kilometer area where you can start building roads, zoning areas, and constructing buildings. As your city grows, you can buy nearby plots of land, expanding your metropolis. The base of Cities: Skylines has a ton of content, but Paradox, the developer, has supported it with a load of DLC since launch. With everything, you can build casinos, football stadiums, concert venues, and more.
For those uninitiated, Football Manager 2021 looks like a slightly different take on sports games, and as such, is quickly written off. However, it’s extremely popular among core gamers, with players often pouring hundreds of hours into each of the annual releases. In the game, you run a football club (that being soccer in the U.S.).
In addition to seeing games play out, you’ll acquire new players for your team, retire old ones, create complex plays for your team to perform, and negotiate transfers. In short, Football Manager 2021 puts you in the less-realistic shoes of Brad Pitt in Moneyball, though with the European definition of football.
PC Building Simulator has no right to be as fun as it is. In the main story mode, you play as a repair person for pre-built computers. Each morning, you’ll receive emails with client requests to upgrade their storage, add more powerful hardware, and more. You order the parts, wait for the computer to arrive, make the necessary changes, and collect some cash to build your shop.
Career mode is fun, but PC Building Simulator comes into its own with Free Build. In this mode, you can build the PC you want, with licensed components from AMD, Cooler Master, EVGA, MSI, Gigabyte, and more. Although the game doesn’t fully capture what it’s like to build a PC, it gets close, allowing novices to understand the basics of what needs to be connected where.
Two Point Hospital is a spiritual successor to 1997’s Theme Hospital. Although the original game was simply a follow-up to a roller coaster simulator titled Theme Park, it quickly became a cult classic with its unique art style and over-the-top scenarios.
Two Point Hospital continues that lineage, just with updated visuals and more mechanics. Your hospital starts with nothing more than a welcome desk. From there, you’re tasked with building bathrooms, intensive care units, offices, and more. As your hospital grows in popularity — which is a strange concept, really — you can hire more respected staff and build more advanced rooms to better serve your patients.
Not For Broadcast provides a different spin on the often stale simulation genre. Rather than running a hospital, city, or theme park, you take the role of an operator for National Nightly News. Fresh off of cleaning duties, you’re swept into the control room, where a powerful, controlling government attempts to dictate your every move.
The game is currently in Steam Early Access, featuring three full chapters of gameplay (the game should have 10 upon launch). Choices matter in Not For Broadcast, and the stakes are high. That said, developer NotGames balances the pressure with over-the-top satire and ridiculous FMV clips.
Kerbal Space Program is one of the best PC games of all time and should be a staple in any Steam library. You control the space program for an alien race known as Kerbals in the game. For the most part, you’ll be building spaceships, figuring out which components can reach the stars and which can barely get you off the ground.
Once you reach space, you can explore new planets, set up space stations, and use satellites to scan nearby planets. Despite its cutesy aesthetic, Kerbal Space Program may be the densest space simulator available, balancing humor and science to create a game that can transition between mentally compelling and mindlessly fun with ease.
Planet Coaster is a re-imagining of the Roller Coaster Tycoon series, developed and published by Frontier Developments, who also created some expansions for Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 and the Thrillville series. If you’re looking for a modern spin on the Roller Coaster Tycoon games, Planet Coaster is for you.
Like the games that preceded it, you can staff your park with janitors, security, and more, as well as build concessions and gift shops for your patrons to browse. The game comes into its own when you start building coasters, however. You’re free to add effects, music, and more, either from the game’s library of assets or from your computer. The community around Planet Coaster is great, too, with some players using the flexibility of the building tools to create jaw-dropping parks and rides.
We can’t make a list of the best simulator games without talking about The Sims. Rather than putting you in some powerful position as the controller of a city or theme park, The Sims puts you in the role of a person. With your Sim, you can build your home, friends, career, and life in any way you see fit.
The Sims 4 is a casual game through and through, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s the perfect game to relax and experiment with what could be rather than what is. Fit with a bustling community and plenty of vanilla content, The Sims 4 is a massive game that players can pour hundreds of hours into.
Prison Architect puts you in control of a maximum-security prison. Inspired by games like Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper, this game tasks you with managing every aspect of your prison. Of course, you’ll need to create cells and hold areas for prisoners and worry about plumbing, food, and the free-roam regions.
As you progress through the story mode in Prison Architect, you’ll meet five people you need to oversee. They’re all criminals with intricate, fascinating histories that you’ll hear about as you roam the bare concrete halls. All this security has its reasons—you’ll need to guard many different criminals, such as vicious mob bosses and serial killers. After you’ve bulked up your security, you can swap sides and play as a prisoner attempting to escape the walls you yourself created.
With an exceptional 97% rating on Steam, Euro Truck Simulator 2 is one of the most popular games on the market. With a rating that high, you might expect this to become your next favorite simulator game.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 is a slow burn at the beginning. You might find it a little bare, but if you give it time, you’ll suddenly find yourself invested. Along the way, you get to personalize your truck’s performance and appearance, and construct garages, employ drivers, and even run an entire business.
Somehow, this series of games where you manage a farm has managed to become one of the most popular and bestselling simulator games on the market. Somewhat like a Harvest Moon title, you are in charge of managing a farm where you can grow crops, farm, breed livestock, and sell your products. You are given a simple career mode where your goal is simply to expand and update the basic farm you begin with, with missions added that need to be completed within set time limits.
Starting with Farming Simulator 14, each game has also included a multiplayer mode, allowing teams of farmers to work together to maximize their crops and profits. While not quite as accessible as something like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, those who get invested in this title really go all in.
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