Best Simulation Games of All Time
When it comes to gaming, nothing promises true realism like a simulation. The entire idea of a simulation game is to recreate some aspect of real life while putting the player in the position of having total control. Whether creating a zoo in a classic like Zoo Tycoon or stepping into construction boots for an app like House Flipper, sims truly run the gamut.
Simulations were also one of the earliest forms of video gaming. In the late 1920s, some of the first mechanized contraptions were designed to educate through simulations, including rudimentary piloting sims built from scrap metal. Later on, projects like 1984’s ColecoVision set the prototype for the incoming SimCity, which revolutionized simulation titles.
Adjacent gaming industries have also taken a few notes from the popularity of simulations. For example, innovations in online casinos now enable platforms to host live dealer games. Live dealer games, offered alongside dozens of other titles, connect gamers to a real-life dealer. The dealer live-streams table games like roulette or blackjack straight onto a player’s screen and facilitates the game just like at a brick-and-mortar establishment.
While live dealer games aren’t considered simulations, they very closely replicate the feeling and excitement of being in a real casino. This is the goal of any quality gaming sim—to flawlessly recreate a live experience using a digital format. So, which simulation games go above and beyond? Keep reading for our ranking of the top games, broken down by category.
Top Classic: The Sims Franchise
Above, we mentioned the original Sims video game: SimCity. This rudimentary 1989 release helped set the stage for future Sims games, which have since sold over 200 million copies worldwide. The franchise also marked one of the first ‘sandbox’ games; rather than creating a definite goal, developers instead let players explore and manage their own open-world experience.
What started with a basic domestic setup in The Sims (2000) has since expanded into an incredibly diverse set of spinoffs… with plenty of weird moments thrown in. For example, the PS2 port for The Urbz included a virtual depiction of musician Will.I.Am., who happily hands off a bulldog to players as they start the game.
Looking to jump into the madness head-first? Check out The Sims Medieval for a chance to design your castle or The Sims Bustin’ Out for a plot-led storyline. However, keep in mind that fan favorites include Sims 2 and Sims 3, both released in the early 2000s.
Best Sports Simulation: iRacing
As PC games hit the ground running in the early 2000s, some of the biggest projects were simulations. In 2008, iRacing launched its platform online. The goal was to create a single location for leading motorsport simulations. Using a unique server, the iRacing platform connects remote racers around the world.
Just like a big-rig driver or an F1 racer would focus on their vehicle, the iRacing platform is all about the hardware. Players can build out their racing setup that includes a steering wheel, pedals, multiple monitors for greater visuals, and much more to emulate the actual driving experience.
Today, the iRacing platform has partnerships with groups like NASCAR, Porsche, and FOX Sports. In 2022, the iRacing Off-Road Championship Series (one of the dozens of annual competitions) included a $25,000 prize pool.
Leading Educational Program: Pilot Pro 4 Flight Simulator
If you’re looking to earn your pilot’s license, hit the virtual skies, or launch an educational program for piloting amateurs, you’re going to need a robust simulator. Similar to the iRacing setup, the Pilot Pro 4 Flight Simulator is a large piece of equipment that resembles an arcade game
Designed for education, the simulator comes with a book and worksheets, along with preloaded simulations designed to cater to beginners. Users can also adjust all settings of the piloting program to create new lessons and target new skill sets. The setup includes a throttle, pedals, and yoke just like a real plane.
However, the program also goes above and beyond to teach about the concepts behind piloting. This includes mathematical concepts like algebra and trig, along with more complex topics like physics, topography, and meteorology.
Weirdest Sim: Granny Simulator
Not all simulations are designed to educate or, in the case of iRacing, catapult someone to the top of the global leaderboard. Some of the most popular new simulations have no concrete purpose—and there’s no better example of this than Granny Simulator, available for download on Android and PC.
The indie game was released in 2019. Since then, it’s become a cult hit with a 9/10 rating on Steam. In the game, players must navigate a day as a grandmother and a grandson. Granny wants to complete tasks as she goes about a normal day, but her grandson must find increasingly unique (and often gory) ways to stop her progress.
Pointless, intense, and with incredibly basic gameplay mechanics, the game’s ongoing success can be chalked up to the game’s originality… and possibly the ongoing allure of simulation games.
The Sim Spa Day: Stardew Valley
What goes into creating a ‘great’ simulation game? So far, we’ve highlighted just how diverse (and odd) simulations can get. One aspect that many players like about sims is that they’re casual and relaxing. This is especially true for farming sims like Stardew Valley.
Released in 2016, Stardew Valley lets players build their homestead while also undertaking new adventures at their leisure. Players can work together to create a cozy home, then venture out to explore caves, collect treasure, and confront monsters beyond their white picket fence. The game also includes social features, similar to an MMO game, which let players socialize with others to create families and team up.
One of the most popular features of Stardew Valley is its multiplayer mode. This lets up to four players join online to play together and co-create peaceful worlds. This has made the game a top choice for family and friends that live far apart from one another and want a casual and fun way to connect.