Rating simulations is hard to do. Not only are there huge numbers of titles to choose from but how good a simulation is is largely dependent on the person playing it. For instance, a personal favourite in the flight sim genre is a little title called F/A-18 Hornet 3.0, which was released by a studio called Graphic Simulations Corp. This game was the first to be released on PC by the company, which is now called Graphism Entertainment. They also make the X-Plane series, just for a point of reference. The point is, nailing down what is a good simulator is a difficult task. We’ve given it our best shot with this PC-centric list.
10. The Sims (Series) – (PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Mac, Gamecube, Xbox, etc)
Most of you were probably expecting The Sims to make the top spot in some way. Sales don’t always equal quality though and there are far better simulations out there than the life-simulator with the many, MANY expansions. The Sims is nothing if not prolific though and the series has gone through three actual sequels, several spinoff titles and a whole chunk of extra content. We just want to know: who keeps playing these games?
9. Black & White –(PC, Mac)
Ah, promises, promises. This deity simulator or ‘god game’ was the start of massive promises from Peter Molyneux and Lionhead. While we didn’t get what was advertised, Black & White gave players a creature that refused to take to training (with the Wolf taking joy in eating villagers) and worshippers that didn’t listen and kept whining about their lot in life. In that way, it was technically an accurate representation of what a budding member of a pantheon must endure. The choice to play good, evil or neutral-ish was a drawcard as well.
8. MechWarrior 3 – (PC)
Microprose’s MechWarrior 3 is perhaps the pinnacle of the MW series. Players are tasked with taking out Clan Smoke Jaguar forces on a planet but they are left on their own to do it. This is achieved through skilled piloting of a customisable mech, salvaging bits of fallen enemy troops and protecting the Mobile Field Bases, which allow players to upgrade mech bodies and weapons as well as repair and rearm in the field. These MFBs could be destroyed, meaning that players would be unable to continue. As a futuristic combat sim, MechWarrior 3 succeeded in that how you destroyed enemies would dictate your salvage at the end of the level. Also: multiplayer.
7. Sim City 4 –(PC, Mac)
SimCity is a force to be reckoned with and SimCity 4 is even more so. The title is almost a decade old and is widely considered to be the best in the series (so far, we’ll see what EA have up their sleeves soon). Players are able to create the terrain they are interested in (along with adding in stuff like earthquakes and other fun times) before establishing and attempting to create a functioning city. The release of mod tools for SimCity 4 meant that there is/was a huge amount of player-created content that could be introduced for almost infinite replay value in this city-building simulator.
6. RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 – (PC, Mac)
There was some debate as to whether this spot should go to RollerCoaster Tycoon or RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 but 3 won in the end because of its sandbox mode. The Tycoon games are all variations on a theme – think SimCity on a smaller scale – but creating, administering and maintaining an amusement park is a time-consuming and wholly enjoyable experience, even if you think it won’t be. Setting up a park for maximum enjoyment and profit is a challenge and a half, especially since you need to make sure the rides don’t collapse. RC T 3 even let you ride the rides, that has to be worth something.
5. Theme Hospital – (PC, PS1, PSN)
Theme Park was Bullfrog’s major entry in the Theme series but we already have an amusement park so Theme Hospital it is. From the makers of Dungeon Keeper came a hospital simulator where your poor decisions translate into dead patients. There is none of the pressure medical staff feel but there is a nasty sense of humour present that appeals to a certain type of gamer. There isn’t much realism in this particular title but it holds a special place in the hearts of those around to play it when it was released in 1998. This medical time-cruncher is all about micro-management and patience, without which you’d have no er… patients.
4. Flight Simulator X – (PC)
Now we’re heading into the big leagues. Flight Simulator X is the most recent in the retail releases of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series and allows player to fly a wide range of commercial aircraft. It isn’t a combat sim, if that’s what you’re after then IL-2 Sturmovik is where you should be looking for a combat-based equivalent. Flight Simulator X is a serious game however, for serious players who have purchased controllers that make their desk look like the cockpit of a 747. Accurate, detailed and not really for n00bs.
3. Silent Hunter III – (PC)
If we’re being totally honest, there are far better submarine simulators out there. The problem with them is that almost nobody outside the Navy and hardcore fans of sub sims have heard of them. Silent Hunter III is the highest rated of the series from Ubisoft and was the first to address complaints about the game in any major way. Ubi added in a dynamic campaign because they would have been torpedoed if they’d left it out again and there were several other notable improvements. By comparison the DRM-filled Silent Hunter 5 may have looked prettier but it didn’t have the appeal of this 2005 release.
2. GTR Evolution – (PC)
You have not played a racing simulator until you have played one of SimBin’s titles with GTR Evolution being one of the toughest challenges you’ll ever face. It features numerous ‘dream’ vehicles from the likes of Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette and Dodge (the Viper, naturally) among others. Part of the officially licensed World Touring Car Championship series, GTR Evolution is as close as you’ll get to being behind the driver’s seat without actually being in the driver’s seat. Gran Turismo V might be better looking on the track but it doesn’t handle like this one does.
1 EVE Online – (PC)
This last entry is a little left-field but MMO EVE Online is the best simulation we can think of. Other games attempt to simulate relatively small scenarios and systems, EVE Online manages to simulate an entire functioning economy (and social structure). It does this so well that economists have studied the in-game economy for clues as to how the real one we interact with every day might function under certain circumstances.
Supply and demand dictates market forces within the game and there are actual banks set up by players. EVE Online‘s economist Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson (yes, they have one) has said about the game:
We can learn from watching the market behavior within a confined world like EVE Online and learn about how price bubbles, for instance, are formed, and what triggers them. I think if someone were to mine through our data, they would be able to find some interesting cases and examples of that.
We can also see in terms of social interaction…how people form groups, and what it is that makes people work together. EVE is a harsh world of hard competition, but still people come together to work for a common cause. What is it that lets those people come together?”
So the next time you’re impressed about gaming the system in World of Warcraft or Diablo III‘s auction house, just remember that EVE has got an entire economy at their disposal and that some of the players control the major functions of it.