Video games are essentially an escape from reality. They allow the player to become immersed in another world, whether it’s through captivating storytelling, incredible graphics and scenery or the intriguing game mechanics themselves. The point is that games have so much to offer, and therefore come in all figurative shapes and sizes, otherwise known as genres and sub-genres. Simulation games being one of them.
In this article, we will take a deeper dive into simulation games and the genre’s history, as well as looking at what the best simulation games are.
Simulation games, a genre within video games as a whole, generally have the player simulate real-world projects and activities. They are obviously designed for fun, but the realism in most of them, whether that be in terms of graphics and visible accuracy or just the fundamentals and ideas, can be seen as educational or training of sorts.
Some simulation games can just be about the experience itself. This means they may not have a particular story or objectives, but many other simulation games will usually be paired with another genre to give it more of a complete game feeling.
As with most genres within video gaming, simulation games can accredit part of their history and origin to the era of arcade games. However, during the mid-1980s is when lots of games with ‘Simulator’ in the title started to filter through into circulation. BMX Simulator, Pro Boxing Simulator, and even Advanced Lawnmower Simulator for example. This properly starting to cement it as its own entity and eventually genre.
This was merely a sub-genre of what simulation games could represent. SimCity brought with it in 1989 a whole new look at the simulation concept, with its objectives of city-building and management. SimCity games would pave the way for other games to join in this popular concept.
It is important to note that there are different sub-genres to the simulation category, with some of them even overlapping.
These sub-genres can be rather loose with their technical names but the overriding concepts largely remain the same. Let’s take a deeper look.
Construction and management simulation is a rather self-explanatory sub-genre within the simulation category, where the player can build or manage fictional communities.
Managing anything from maintaining resources to implementing laws or simply initiating builds that fulfill particular objectives.
Similar to the construction and management games, there are also games that look at the concept of running a business. Perhaps even with the same or similar options to maintaining and running the aforementioned fictional communities.
Some sports management simulation games can also fall into this category. However, they also have a foot in the sports simulation category, with Football Manager being a prime example of that.
However, in games like Fifa, the player is actively controlling the characters.
Opposed to the games that focus on the concept of business management, considered to be simulation games in their own right.
While construction and management sims can look at managing a community as a whole, life simulation games are when the player is actively controlling the life or lives of one or more artificial lifeforms.
If a player can be controlled while also being able to build, contrast and influence, then the game arguably has a foot in both of these sub-genres. These can also be known as social simulation games. The Sims is one of the most successful examples of this.
Vehicle simulation games can cover anything from dynamic racing games to flight, train, or truck simulators. While these all differ in what is required from the player in terms of controls, these often vary at the pace at which a player can play.
This means that they aren’t necessarily all as fast and chaotic as racing games.
General simulation is a way of grouping any additional simulation games that don’t wholly fit into another category. Simulation games that focus on active aspects of occupation such as medical practise with Surgeon Simulator.
There are plenty of games out there that can combine this concept with other unofficial sub-genres such as a vehicle, life, or business simulation.
So, what are some good simulation games? Here we will present you with 8 prominent choices.
In 2020, Microsoft Flight Simulator was released and got incredible praise, especially from IGN with them giving it a 10/10. There are over 37,000 airports to visit. However, understandably only 40 of these are referred to as being hand-crafted to look as realistic as possible. With over 300 cities having similar accuracy and realism added to them, and 20 planes available with the standard edition of the game, there is so much on offer with Microsoft Flight Simulator. This is without focussing on the flight controls themselves, which are also realistic.
As incredible and impressive as the newest edition is, you can track Flight Simulator and its history way back to 1982. Over the years, several iterations of the game have been available on multiple different platforms and consoles. Each with varying levels of accessibility and realism. With all of that in mind, there can be no arguments regarding Flight Simulator being one of the all-time greats when it comes to simulation games.
Arguably one of if not the most popular simulation game franchises of all time, The Sims has been the go-to for life simulation. With further releases in The Sims 2 in 2004, The Sims 3 in 2009, and The Sims 4 in 2014, players have been able to create characters with increasing realism and likeness as the years have passed. The Sims 4 has reached an impressive stage of realism that players can relate to. Like having to focus on trivial things like hygiene while remembering to go to pay bills. The Sims manages to make this fun, perhaps because it isn’t the player itself doing these mundane things.
Various expansion packs and additions such as University life have been included. Each adding season-specific activities, holidays and pets, that have added to The Sims, justifying its overall popularity.
Football has had some iconic franchises and games over the years. From Pro Evolution Soccer to Fifa and Fifa Street, but the simulation game Football Manager has been immensely successful in its own right over the years. While the concept of Football Manager was formed in 1982, it wasn’t until 2003 when Sports Interactive split from Eidos. They made the move to Football Manager, and the games started to get better with proper traction.
Sports Interactive had retained the source code from their Championship Manager games. Eidos, however, kept the rights to that name, so Football Manager was used giving it a new lease of life.
Releasing a version for every season since 2005, Football Manager is an alternative way to play football. The player focuses on everything that goes into a club while forgoing control of the actual players. This gives the player control over everything from tactics, formations to securing new contracts for players. It can be a case of spinning plates, making it difficult to keep everyone happy, but that is the life of a football manager. Due to the realism now available, it’s no surprise that these football management simulation games are still popular.
The wording of this game’s bio on Steam says it perfectly. “Release the Pressure” and “Wash away your worries with the soothing sounds of high-pressure water”. PowerWash Simulator may not sound enticing, but once you give it a chance you will not regret it. Countless YouTubers and streamers are on record saying how satisfying and relaxing this game is, from IGN to Markiplier.
PowerWash Simulator is a prime example of something that is essentially a chore to do in real life. Still, seeing the results go from dirty and messy rooms, vehicles or general environments to satisfyingly spotless brings a rewarding sense of accomplishment. This can often be missed with the more stressful of games.
In 2001, Tropico took what SimCity had done for the construction and management subgenre within simulation games, and put its own tropical twist on proceedings. With them further exploring politics and factions. In 2019, the franchise saw the release of its sixth installment with Tropico 6.
The fact that there have been six editions, shows that it has a sense of survivability and longevity about it. Players are still buying and playing their games to this day.
Stardew Valley is a simulation role-playing game with humble beginnings, developed by one guy, called Eric Barone. It was released in 2016 but it seems like it has been around for longer. This is because it is one of the pioneers and among the cream of the crop when it comes to farming simulation games, on par with Harvest Moon. The player can choose where to set up their farm and then they must climb the ladder. Starting with just a house and next-to-no money, they progress to a fully functional and profitable farm. You also need to pay attention to the weather conditions and the dynamic time, that cycles through each day with considerable pace.
Stardew Valley can be played at any pace that the player desires. Whether they just want to spend the day watering and gathering crops, interacting with the townsfolk or navigating dangerous caves and fighting monsters. Stardew Valley really does have it all. While there are certainly fantasy and unrealistic features to it, maintaining a farm, forging relationships, crafting items and recipes from discovered resources, can make it somewhat relatable yet also fun and easy to get lost in.
Nintendo’s Animal Crossing has been a popular franchise for a number of years now. But the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020 was perhaps the best timing for a release ever. New Horizons is a life simulation game, with you as the player, firstly exploring your own island. You will have to fix it up, turning it into a thriving community. Once completed, you can journey around to visit other islands looking for resources, fish, insects and so much more.
If players just want to decorate their own house or make their own pixel art, they can do just that. Daily log-ins are ultimately rewarded. This helps the player in saving up for those expensive upgrades. But at the end of the day, the game can be played at any pace.
No words can truly do justice to how incredible and chaotic Surgeon Simulator is. It was developed, published and released by Bossa Studios in 2013. This game asks the player to perform specific surgeries or general medical and surgical practices. This may sound like a simple enough concept, but it doesn’t account for the player controlling each hand separately. This is when things can get chaotic.
With it getting a sequel in Surgeon Simulator 2 in 2020, players can perform this questionable surgery with friends in co-op mode. Plenty of high-profile YouTubers and streamers popularized the game, so is no wonder that it has done well. While surgery in real life is nothing to laugh at and requires utmost composure and precision, Surgeon Simulator is the opposite with its own dark humour and hilarity.
There you have it. You should now be more clued up on what simulation games are, the genre’s history and some of the best simulation games out there. All of the games included in this article come highly recommended and can be accessed in multiple places, including Steam and the Nintendo Store among others. If you do go and pick these up, happy gaming!
Whilst you’re here, why not read up on some of our other interesting game industry articles? Our guides on the Best Nintendo Switch Games, Our Top 10 Best Selling Game Franchises and The Top 10 Best Game Soundtracks Of All Time are all great places to start!
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