In a sea of visceral first-person shooters and grand-scale 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. In this guide, we’re going to count down our best simulator games.
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 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 game. For instance, there are a ton of theme park simulators, but we’re only including our favorite.
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 game 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.
Football Manager 2020
For those uninitiated, Football Manager 2020 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 for 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 2020 puts you in the less-realistic shoes of Brad Pitt in Moneyball, though with the European definition of football.
PC Building Simulator
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
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
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
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.
The Sims 4
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, Prison Architect tasks you with managing every aspect of your prison. Of course, you’ll need to create cells and holding areas for prisoners, but also worry about things like plumbing, food, and free-roam areas.
In Story Mode, you watch as five notorious criminals make their way through your concrete halls, each with an interesting backstory. You’ll need to build top-notch security to contain mob bosses and murderers. Once you’re done, though, you can take the role of a prisoner attempting to escape the confines you’ve created.
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Euro Truck Simulator 2 has an “overwhelmingly positive” rating on Steam, which is not a feat to be taken lightly. Receiving 97% positive reviews from the community, Euro Truck Simulator 2 is easily one of the best simulation games around. You play as a truck driver traveling across Europe to deliver goods to more than 60 European cities.
Although it seems, frankly, boring, Euro Truck Simulator 2 is surprisingly addicting. As you continue in the game, you’ll unlock new ways to outfit your truck, either for aesthetic or performance purposes. You can also hire new drivers, build a garage, and manage a fleet of trucks as your business grows.
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