The 17 Best Simulation Games for PC

17 best simulation games for PC
Bundle up, it's time to get building and planning.

Stimulate your gaming life with one of these simulators!

Simulation games are those that aim to recreate real-world activities, meaning you can have the job of your dreams or overcome a test of survival without even leaving your desk chair. They typically fall into one of three main categories – construction and management, life, and sports – but there exist plenty of other types. Here is a list of 17 of the most popular simulation games for PC for you to check out if life is proving to be just a little too much like work and you want to do some virtual living instead.

17. War Thunder

War Thunder Tips and Gameplay

Not to be confused with Tropic Thunder, War Thunder is a military simulator that pits you against the world in tanks, aircraft, and ships from the mid 20th century. You can play on one of 80 different maps that are based on real locations from major battles in World War II. The graphics are incredibly realistic, which is even more impressive considering the game is cross-platform and players on PC/Mac, Linux, and the PS4 all play on one server. You would expect Gaijin to sacrifice visual quality for server stability, but it seems that framerate issues have only become a problem for some due to a bug in the latest patch. That’s pretty impressive!

War Thunder offers players a solo campaign mode as well as online multiplayer modes. The coolest mode has to be Simulator Battles. Not for the faint of heart, this game mode refuses to hold your hand by limiting your view to a realistic first-person perspective inside of your chosen vehicle, removes gamer ID tags, and only displays enemy AI tags within a certain range. Its hyper realistic controls and restrictions mean you have to really know your stuff to make sure you don’t shoot down your allies by mistake.

Nothing can keep this pilot down!

16. Pro Evolution Soccer 2018

PES 2018 Gameplay

Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is the newest entry into the popular PES franchise and was met with pretty favourable reviews. While the graphics may not be as nice as in FIFA 18, there are plenty of places where PES surpasses FIFA depending on what you’re looking for in your football simulator. For example, fans tend to praise the detail put into the stadium recreation as well as the depth of the soundscape during games and intros.

Every team’s roster is full of actual players who have their stats tuned to match their real-life counterparts. When you start a game, you can edit the lineup and player position to create plays and strategies that will lead you to victory. While there isn’t much in it for those of us who aren’t soccer fans, it’s definitely good at what it does. It’s only fair to include at least one big sports simulator on this list because we don’t discriminate!

Customize your team’s lineup and positions to get the leg up on your opponent.

15. The Long Dark

The Long Dark Sandbox Mode Gameplay

Now, I should be upfront about my bias here, as I am in love with The Long Dark. This Canadian-made indie survival simulator drops you into a frozen northern landscape after a mysterious electromagnetic phenomenon has killed all electricity and triggered what seems to be a permanent winter. It’s up to you to try and survive for as long as you can using only your wits and whatever supplies to can loot, hunt, or harvest. You can either play through the in-progress story mode and have a more RPG-like experience or jump straight into a sandbox game and test your mettle against the wilderness.

Players have to manage their caloric intake and output, pay attention to temperature, wind chill, wetness, and encumbrance, and treat any wounds they get after a steep fall or wild animal attack. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but the UI and HUD are well-designed, blending a strong visual aesthetic with intuitive menu navigation. The maps are all unique but connected as one larger world, meaning you have plenty of terrain to explore and don’t get stuck with one base set up. The Long Dark is a definite must-try for fans of survival sims.

Welcome to the world. The wildlife will bite, so be careful!

14. Banished

Banished Gameplay

This is another one of my personal favourites. Banished is a town building simulator in which you must try to set up a sustainable village for your virtual exiles. Good resource and population management are essential if you are going to accomplish this, so you can’t just start building willy-nilly. Luckily, the game is meant to be played over and over, as each map is procedurally generated and you can change your starting parameters to make it as easy or hard as you like.

A lot of strategy has to go into how you expand your town, as it’s up to you to manage which jobs each of your villagers has, the acquisition of building materials like stone and logs, the production or harvesting of food, population growth, and making sure everyone is kept clothed and warm (especially during the winter). Random events like disease outbreaks could decimate your town, either by killing villagers or food sources like livestock and fields. Sometimes you will even be offered the chance to take in a group of nomads or have to stop and watch as a tornado or fire tears across your map. Also, the music is just super relaxing.

It’s coming along quite nicely.

13. This War of Mine

This War of Mine Gameplay

We are used to war games that throw us behind the gun or the tank controls. But This War of Mine blurs the lines between the allies and the enemies and puts you in control of a group of civilians trying to survive during a siege. You have to manage and repair your shelter during the day, and search for supplies like food and medicine at night.

There are 12 characters in total, and each has unique traits and stats that will affect how effective they are at activities like cooking, gardening, or crafting tools. The player has to make important decisions in how to allocate their time and skills to help the group of civilians successfully survive until a ceasefire is reached. However, make a bad decision and there is a good chance one, or more, of your civilians won’t make it to the end game. Their survival rests in your hands.

Going out is only safe at night when the snipers can’t target you. That’s the time to scavenge.

12. Oxygen Not Included

Oxygen Not Included Gameplay

Oxygen Not Included is an early access space colony simulator from Klei Entertainment, the creators Don’t Starve. You have to set your colonists up with a subterranean city that will allow them to farm food, research the local flora and fauna, and most importantly, make oxygen so they can breathe. As you may have guessed from the title, this asteroid does not come with its own atmosphere. Players have to manage everything from resource collection, to plumbing, to ambient temperature inside the underground dwelling, to oxygen and energy production, to colonist sanity.

Since the game is in early access more content is being added regularly, but don’t think that means it’s easy. Oxygen Not Included is the simulator equivalent to Shovel Knight or VVVVVV as it seemingly wants you to tear your hair out while you try desperately to master something, anything, about it.

Very nice base you have there, it would be a shame if something were to… steal the oxygen from it.

11. The Forest

The Forest Gameplay

This next game isn’t for the faint of heart. If cannibalism, blood, and night terrors running out of the dark at you is something you can’t handle, then The Forest is not the survival sim for you. For the rest of you, let’s do this! Your plane has crashed and you are the only survivor. Except for you son that is, but he is promptly captured by cannibalistic mutants. It’s up to you to build a shelter, craft tools, and gather food. Then, you have to last the night and search for clues as to your son’s whereabouts.

Part mystery horror RPG and part survival sim, The Forest is a unique entry into the genre. There are no missions, no quests, and no need to even pursue an end game. You could theoretically just keep surviving and offing mutants. Exploring the environment also offers its own reward, which game animator Michael Mellor calls “passive goals,” as you build up enough skills points to reach interesting landmarks and formations. The forest is your oyster in this horror survival sim.

Rumour has it they’re afraid of fire, so make sure you have sources of the hot stuff on you at all times.

10. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley Gameplay

Farming simulators are among the most common in the genre having experienced a huge boost in fame thanks to the popularity of games like Harvest Moon. Stardew Valley uses the same tried and true formula; farming, crafting, gathering, and schmoozing with the locals. But by no means is it stale or outdated. The citizens of Stardew Valley are a lively bunch, each with their own stories that you can choose to discover or ignore at your leisure.

While the game’s “main story” can be finished within a year and a bit if you hustle, that would be the wrong way to go about it. Stardew Valley is paced to encourage conscious crafting and farming decisions and taking your time with getting to know everyone in town. There is no end to the game, just goals like reaching the deepest level in the mines or shipping one of every shippable item. Raise animals, grow crops, get married, become a master fisherman, opportunities abound in Stardew Valley.

I married the prettiest girl in the village, no doubt about that!

9. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord

Mount & Blade II Captain Mode Gameplay

Announced in 2012, we have been waiting patiently for this highly anticipated prequel to Mount & Blade: Warband. The successful medieval warfare simulator is being expanded upon with advanced graphics and new game modes, all set 200 years ago in the same fictional land of Calradia. It even runs on a brand-new engine made specifically for this series, which is pretty impressive.

One neat game mode I found teased is called Cavalry Sergeant where you play, well, a cavalry sergeant, and give orders to your troops real-time from atop your noble steed, right in the thick of things. While you are giving orders to your troops, you still have to steer your avatar and participate in the battle, which adds a new and interesting kind of complexity. Sadly, we still don’t know when to expect it, but estimates say that last quarter 2018 may finally bring it to us. Until then, at least we have Warband!

There is also a siege mode where you have to manage siege weapons or rampart defense infantry to either take or defend a castle.

8. Rust

Rust Gameplay for Beginners

Rust is an online multiplayer survival sim. You wake up naked on a beach and just have to go for it. The thing is, everyone else also wakes up naked on the beach, and a big part of Rust is the shameless PvP (player vs. player) so there is a good chance you will be murdered with a watermelon or rock before you even get your bearings. No worries though, there are bot servers you can practice on before you get into live gameplay with other players.

As you may expect, you have to manage hunger, thirst, and temperature while you gather supplies to craft tools and build a shelter. There are also ruined buildings and cities around the environment to explore and loot. The only thing to be aware of is that the servers are always live. This means if you build your base and then leave the game, there is a good chance someone will come and raid it. So, if you don’t mind the whole lather, rinse, and repeat, then Rust could be for you.

Make sure you keep stocked on building materials. There is a pun about getting wood in here somewhere.

7. Prison Architect

Prison Architect Sandbox Mode Gameplay

This is one of those games that sits in that nebulous zone between tycoon and simulator. On the one hand, the business side of the game makes it a tycoon, but on the other hand you have to manage so many aspects of your prisoners’ daily lives that it is definitely a simulator. Prison Architect puts you in the Warden’s chair of your very own publicly funded slammer. You can play through the campaign or jump right into sandbox mode and build your facility from the ground up.

Once you have a basic establishment, you get to decide on the kinds of prisoners you want to accept (minimum, medium, high security, and death row), and how you’re going to treat them. It’s up to you to create their daily regime, planning time for eating, sleeping, work and education, and free time. Will you be an authoritarian who deters criminality through extreme punishments, or will you focus on education and rehabilitation to discourage reoffenders? The choice is yours.

Those guards look ready for anything.

6. Elite Dangerous

Elite Dangerous Gameplay

It’s the year 3301 and you’ve just been assigned to your own personal starship. Take the controls and set off to explore the 400 billion star systems that Elite Dangerous has to offer. In this MMO, you are free to shape your own story as you work at improving your skills and earing credits. Player decisions result in a dynamic game world where things are constantly changing and evolving in real time.

Elite Dangerous also supports VR controls, which makes hanging out in the cockpit of your ship that much cooler, especially since roleplay is such an important aspect to the game. Each of the star systems is either a replica of a real system or generated using scientifically accurate models, meaning the game is to scale and features realistic day/night cycles. It’s great for the player who wants to really immerse themselves into a futuristic sci-fi persona.

Check out those futuristic holo-controls!

5. Don't Starve Together

Don't Starve Together Multiplayer Gameplay

You’ve been magically transported to a strange realm where everything is out to get you and your goal is to not starve. Or get murdered by the walking trees. Or the one-eyed tall birds. Or the bees. As the name suggests, Don’t Starve Together is the multiplayer edition of the highly successful Don’t Starve. Known for its quirky art style and addictive gameplay, DST is a survival simulator which you can play alone or with friends and try to last as many days as you can.

The game cycles through day and night and through the seasons, which makes you have to adapt your base and strategy for each environment. There are a ton of crafting and cooking options so you can choose whether you focus on hunting or farming and whether you set up a main base or a series of smaller camps. The maps are procedurally generated and you can customize them so they are the right level of difficulty for you. All in all, Don’t Starve Together is a solid survival experience.

A hard day’s work means an easy night.

4. Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid Gameplay 

This Early Access survival simulator drops you into a zombie infested world and you have to scavenge supplies, craft weapons, and build shelters to last as long as you can against the undead hordes. Like most survival games you have the usual hunger and thirst mechanics, but Project Zomboid also adds boredom, illness, and depression counters that need to be managed in order to make it through.

The game is online and has persistent servers that, if left too long, will slowly be claimed by nature, the seasons, and zombies. The combat is real-time and the zombies have advanced swarm mechanics and finely tuned sight and hearing capabilities, meaning you have to keep your wits about you and make use of corners, sneaking, and shadows if you don’t want to get caught. Definitely one to keep an eye on as it develops further.

Interestingly, Project Zomboid also has local multiplayer capabilities, which supports up to 4 players playing split-screen. Super retro!

3. State of Decay 2

State of Decay 2 Gameplay

State of Decay 2 is the newly released sequel to the popular zombie survival game State of Decay. The gameplay focuses on your abilities as a leader, when in single-player mode, and how well you cooperate with others, when playing the 4-person multiplayer. The goal is to build up outposts to stop the zombies from spawning and to take in survivors. To do this, you (and your three friends) have to manage resources and kill zombies and even fend off human NPCs set on looting your outposts.  

In the single-player campaign, you pick a pair of characters from a set of couples to play as. Individual skills matter as some characters are better than others at things like fighting, shooting, running, gardening, and crafting. The main zombies are your traditional walkers, slow and easily avoided, but there are also mutations like the Ferals and Juggernauts. Every decision you make affects the world and the game, like letting a survivor who snores into your camp. This could lower morale, which could result in in-fighting and chaos among your group. Then where will you be? 

The usual zomb-pocalypse décor.

2. Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines Sandbox Gameplay

Cities: Skylines came just after the whole SimCity online-only debacle. It was praised as the city sim SimCity was supposed to be. It has excellent graphics and a solid soundtrack, a great UI, a well-balanced economy, and a ton of in-depth options for fans of micromanagement. The coolest of which being the neighbourhood and policy customization systems which allow you to define neighbourhoods within your city and set tax and service policies for each that will maximize your profit.

The zone demand gauges can be a little tricky to manage when you first jump into the game, as the ideal position for them all is actually not zero, but somewhere in the middle, so finding that balance for growth takes practice. The gameplay never feels stale or repetitive so it’s not a painful grind to get better. There is also a ton of reasonably priced DLC for Cities: Skylines which is just another incentive for giving it a try.

Mixed density neighbourhoods are as important in Cities: Skylines as they are in real life.

1. Battlefield V

Battlefield V Trailer

Now, don’t get upset that this is another game that isn’t out yet, but it deserves to be talked about. It’s set to be released in October 2018 on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC, so let’s jump into it. As with every Battlefield game, the reveal trailer is stunning. This one is particularly frenetic and its focus on sound effects rather than using an epic background track really serve it well.

What’s probably most exciting is Battlefield V was consciously designed with new stories in mind by including 5 playable female characters for the single player campaign stories as well as within the multiplayer. They’ve received some backlash, but DICE general Manager Oskar Gabrielson is sticking to his guns and fighting the good fight against the naysayers. I’ve never really gotten into the Battlefield games, but I’m going to keep my eye on this one as it keeps looking cooler with things like its new physics focused destruction mechanics and 4-player co-op mode.

They look like they’re ready to combine arms. You know, like the new game mode? Get it, Combined Arms?

The simulation genre offers plenty of choice for gamers of all kinds. Whether you're into military strategy or city building or surivival, there is undoubtedly a simulation game for you to sink your teeth into when you feel like getting away from reality for a little while.

You might also be interested in:

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Elite Dangerous: Review and Gameplay

Cities: Skylines: 10 Interesting Facts About This Awesome City-Building Game

Saviour of the Milk Way Galaxy, Defeater of the World Eater, and certified Simlish translator; I have a geekdom resume 100 lightyears long. I live to escape to other realities. Won't you join me?
Gamer Since: 1996
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Breath of the Wild
Top 3 Favorite Games:Mass Effect 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dragonborn, The Stanley Parable
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