20 best simulators you can play right now | GamesRadar+


The world of the best simulator games is a weird and wonderful place where games to experience ranges from experiencing the European trucking industry to messing around with practically spineless goats with longer than is natural tongues. The variety available in the genre is astounding, which makes narrowing down a list to just 20 quite challenging. So, for this list, we've stuck to a stricter interpretation of the term.

That means you won’t find any immersive sims (sorry, Bioshock) or ‘joke’ titles (you too, Goat Simulator) featured below. Instead, the following selections are those rare games which manage to act as both an authentic simulation of their chosen experience and a generous slice of accessible entertainment all at once, making them perfect for those looking to dip their toes into this particularly uncanny pool of video games.

20. The Sims 4

The brainchild of Will Wright was bound to show up on here at some point, and as the most updated iteration in the decades old franchise, it’s The Sims 4 that currently remains the game to beat when it comes to suburban simulation.

Dressed up with rich colour and brilliant animation, The Sims 4 provides an exceptional wealth of options for self-expression, customization and, yes, simulation, and the extent of this variety only continues to grow with the regular rollout of bespoke expansion packs. The Sims 4 turns the American dream into a virtual reality, and proves that the franchise’s niche USP still has legs in an increasingly crowded market.

Play it on: PC, Mac, Xbox One, and PS4

19. Farming Simulator 17

The core of Farming Simulator’s experience remains the same: buy more fields, upgrade equipment and enjoy your day-to-day routine among the green hills. The range of machines and equipment available to you is exceptionally broad, with the kind of brands that are familiar household names (if you are a farmer). As one of the most authentic farming experiences that you can get without getting your wellies dirty, the game is only enhanced by its updated visuals, customisable farms and rideable horses.

If you’re looking to get away from the more high-octane gameplay of other titles and try something more tranquil, Farming Simulator 19 may be an ideal escape. That’s not to say that there isn’t any mechanical depth to the proceedings- those crops aren’t going to grow themselves after all- but Farming Simulator 2019, if nothing else, works as a therapeutic break from the stress and intensity of its genre contemporaries.

Play it on: PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Google Stadia

18. Mad Tower Tycoon

(Image credit: Eggcode)

Real estate becomes virtual with this engaging tower sim by EggCode. Build a skyscraper that will stand the test of time, and then fill it with luxury apartments, offices, or deluxe entertainment to excite the masses- then it’s your job to make sure your building stays clean, well-powered, and convenient. The game’s primary challenge is managing transport in your new metropolitan monolith, and the game’s limited-capacity elevators make this an interesting challenge.

With charming cartoony graphics and a clearer interface than some of its competitors, Mad Tower Tycoon is an excellent introduction to management sims for those new to the genre. If you’re in the mood for some sky-scraping, then this is the game for you.

Play it on: PC

17. Project Cars 2

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

A slightly more in-depth sim than its series predecessor, Project Cars 2 adds new levels of realism to its racing experience. With improved car handling and a new weather system that takes into account everything from time of day to seasons to the track’s height above sea level, the game’s ultimate intent is being as realistic as conceivably possible.

Yet despite this obsession with technical details, Mad Studios doesn’t lose sight of what’s really important- the pure adrenaline rush of racing around the world’s most famous tracks in over 180 real-life supercars. Whether you’re driving alone, or competing online in the game’s Online Championship mode, Project Cars 2 lets you live your most vivid racing fantasies.

Play it on: PC, Xbox One, and PS4

16. Railway Empire

(Image credit: Kalypso Media)

Set during the American golden age of railway, between 1830 and 1930, you are the proud owner of an ambitious young railway company. Plan your railway lines and run a glorious range of over 40 historically authentic trains along them. But remember- although a direct line might be more profitable in the long term, it might also bankrupt your company to build! In addition to rolling out your great iron roads across the country, the game affords you a large degree of customisation, letting you hire your own employees, each with individual personality types, and even what carriages your engines will pull.

And for those gamers who would rather build their railway closer to home, the game also has a wide range of DLC, giving you the chance to expand your business to parts of Europe, South America and Canada.

Play it on: PC, Xbox One and PS4

15. Cities: Skylines

After the much fêted but flawed SimCity reboot, Cities: Skylines thankfully came along in 2015 to restore the city-sim genre to its former glory. By offering contemporary reworkings of Maxis’ original formula, Skylines feels like a modern city-sim in every sense of the word, and watching your metropolis expand and thrive in real time has never looked so good.

It’s one of the few simulator games that’s also available on console, too, and Cities: Skyline’s sleek user interface turns the comfort of a controller into a totally viable and enjoyable option for those less inclined to the mouse and keyboard.

Play it on: PC, Xbox One, and PS4

14. Thief Simulator

(Image credit: Noble Muffins)

Are you a hardened criminal? Then Thief Simulator by Noble Muffins isn’t the game for you. But if you’re just a regular normie dreaming of a life of villainy, then this open-world burglary simulator may be just what you’re looking for.

Scout out the neighbourhood for houses to hit, and spy on their occupants to work out their daily routines. Then it’s time to go in with your janky black van and your diverse set of thieving tools, and nick everything that’s not nailed down. Pick locks, rejig security systems and cut holes in windows to become the best bad guy on the block. Just make sure you don’t get caught!

Play it on: PC and Nintendo Switch

13. Football Manager 2020

(Image credit: SI Games)

The classic sports managing sim returns to the pitch for another game. With over 200 teams and 116 leagues across 51 nations, Football Manager 2020 offers an in-depth football experience. Splash the cash on big name transfers, or train the stars of the future through the all-new Development Centre. As manager, create new play strategies for upcoming matches and watch the game unfold, and define your vision for the club’s future, moulding its culture, objectives and long-term plan for success. With such wide-ranging possibilities at your fingertips, this really is a Beautiful Game.

Play it on: PC, Nintendo Switch, Mac, iOS and Android

12. Silent Hunter 3

It’s still a relatively unknown piece of trivia that one of the best submarine simulator games out there comes from a Ubisoft studio, but don’t worry, there isn't a watchtower to be found in the open seas of Silent Hunter 3. Instead, the third game in the WWII-set series was praised for its attention to detail and action-oriented battles.

Even if the ins and outs of historical watercraft isn't your thing (understandably), Silent Hunter 3’s meaty campaign is worth playing for its enrapturing atmosphere and open-ended pace. There’s a sombre beauty to the destruction too, with the lavish detail designed to draw you in and keep you there, even when the intensity of the warfare becomes almost overwhelming.

Play it on: PC

11. PC Building Simulator

(Image credit: Irregular Corporation)

Taking its title ultra-seriously is PC Building Simulator by Romanian indie developer Claudiu Kiss. Aiming to create the most realistic experience you can get without having to wield a can of pressurised air, the game benefits from a long list of real life components from hardware producers such as Intel, AMD and Nvidia. Choose between career mode, where you’ll be upgrading, repairing and virus-zapping according to the needs of your clients, or build the gaming PC of your electric dreams in free build mode.

Play it on: PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch

10. X-Plane 11

(Image credit: Laminar Research)

For all you prospective pilots out there, you couldn’t do much better than X-Plane 11. Released by developer Laminar Research in 2017 (contrary to the deceptive title), this flight sim lets you take control of a range of real-world aircraft, from helicopters to gliders to massive jumbo jets. What makes it stand out from the crowd though, is the inclusion of the Plane Maker modding tool, making it easy to design new and exciting aircraft to fly. Complex weather modelling is also a feature, simulating real world weather in-game to give you an authentic flying experience. If you fancy joining the jet set, this game should be your next destination.

Play it on: PC and Mac

9. Euro Truck Simulator 2

Who knew a game about driving a truck could be so addictive? SCS Software did, clearly, as their trucking sim sequel is currently one of the highest rated games on Steam, sat above the likes of Dishonored, Civilization V, and Half-Life 2. The reality is that Euro Truck Simulator 2 offers that devastating blend of being both immensely relaxing and fiercely captivating, with the pleasant journeys along your designated trade routes segmented by junctures of deep strategy, as you consider factors such as fuel, finance, and furbishing your ride with new upgrades. Euro Truck Simulator 2’s greatest achievement is that it isn't just a game made for transport enthusiasts, but the appeal extends to anyone with even the slightest appreciation for the simple pleasures of the open road.

Play it on: PC

8. Two Point Hospital

(Image credit: Sega)

In this light-hearted hospital management sim, it’s your job to make sure that Two Point County’s new infirmary is up to scratch and able to deal with whatever new malady the locals bring through the door with them- whether that’s Floppy Discs, Cubism or the dreaded Night Fever!

Like most management sims, the aim is to balance budget with demand and slowly expand your healthcare empire. A spiritual successor to 1997’s Theme Hospital, Two Point shares much of its beloved forebear’s gameplay, visuals and humour- albeit updated for a modern audience. Despite the game’s emphasis on humour, Two Point Studios’ opus quickly ramps up the pace, requiring you to make careful decisions on the quest for maximum efficiency. If you’re looking for a challenging, warm-hearted business sim to contract, then Two Point Hospital is extremely infectious.

Play it on: PC, Mac. Coming to Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch on 25 February 2020

7. Rising Storm 2: Vietnam

(Image credit: Antimatter Games)

As unforgiving as its predecessor, Rising Storm 2 transports the action from World War II to the Vietnam War. Operating as an unofficial hybrid between popular first-person shooters like Call of Duty and the more hardcore mil-sims such as ARMA, the game incentivises tactics over blind firepower. Tripwire Interactive’s focus is on making you feel like an actual soldier, rather than a superhero who can shrug off everything except scripted nuke detonations. As a result, you’ll find yourself hiding in foxholes, calling in napalm strikes or flanking your enemies with your squadmates, far more often than you’ll be charging at the enemy like a berserker. The result is a truly visceral and tense simulation of battle that puts you right in the heart of the conflict.

Play it on: PC

6. Not for Broadcast

(Image credit: NotGames)

The world of television is a fast-paced, high stress place at the best of time, let alone in a dystopian alternate 1980s where broadcasts are actively censored. Although you’re only the cleaner, you’ve accidentally found yourself behind the mixing desk of the biggest news programme on TV, National Nightly News. Underqualified and at risk of falling foul of the shady powers behind the scenes, it is your job to select camera feeds, bleep out foul language and choose the headlines that will be broadcast to the world. Like its fellow bureaucrat simulator Papers Please, you can choose to play the dutiful pawn, or deliberately cause trouble. Whatever you decide, you only have a few seconds to act, because the news is going out live. The game’s retro flavour, as well as its unusual use of live-action TV footage, creates a very engaging tone that compliments the tricky gameplay and the ethics of your new career as a propagandist.

The free prologue chapter of Not for Broadcast is available now on Steam, with a further three chapters being released on Early Access on 30 January 2020.

Play it on: PC

5. ARMA 3

Most people will recognize the ARMA brand for its wildly popular zombie mod based off of ARMA 2, DayZ, but it is ARMA 3 which deserves some of the spotlight for what it brought to the military-sim table. Bohemia Interactive executes the essential elements of sandbox strategy with aplomb, and ARMA 3 serves as an open-ended arena for organic, dynamic war stories that can be played out with friends and foes.

The depth of simulation is comprehensive, but only to a point, so as to sustain the immediacy of every interaction. Indeed, ARMA 3 can be extremely stressful and even terrifying at times, but that truth nothing less than a testament to its immersive power as an undiluted evocation of modern warfare.

Play it on: PC

4. Cooking Simulator

(Image credit: Big Cheese Studio)

Ever wanted to be a professional chef? Well now is your chance. Cooking Simulator by Big Cheese Studio puts you in charge of a large, realistic kitchen and makes it your task to dice, simmer, blend and season your way to becoming the greatest chef of all time.

If your only experience of chef sims is Cooking Mama, the surprising depths of Cooking Simulator may come as something of a surprise. You’ll have to precisely measure and cook your ingredients- but make sure your hungry diners aren’t kept waiting too long! Or, if you’re more in the mood for mindless destruction of course, that’s also possible, with Big Cheese giving you the ability to start fires, break plates and blow up the microwave. If you’re ready to let your inner Gordon Ramsey out, then this may be the game for you!

Play it on: PC

3. Planet Coaster

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

Fancy running your own theme park? Perhaps you see yourself as some kind of ‘roller coaster tycoon’? In Planet Coaster, you can do just that. Developed by Frontier Developments (the same studio responsible for 2004’s Roller Coaster Tycoon 3), it’s your task to fill your burgeoning new park with the world’s most thrilling rides. Sharing a great deal with its illustrious forebear (including the ability to ride your roller coaster creations), the game is rife with nostalgic fun. But for those new to the theme park genre, navigating Planet Coaster’s highs and lows is nevertheless a fresh and sometimes challenging simulator experience.

Play it on: PC, Xbox One and PS4

2. Kerbal Space Program

If you’re planning to play Kerbal Space Program, try not to get too attached to those eponymous little guys with the green skin. You’re going to be killing a lot of them, after all. Kerbal Space Program operates on an understanding of success as the sum of persistence through failure; in short, it’s going to take quite some time before your uniquely crafted ship is considered space-worthy.

Every minute spent tinkering and toiling away in Kerbal Space Program is worth it, though, as developer Squad has imbued every mechanic and system with such a forensic attention to detail that the hard work of their players is always rewarded. An endlessly gratifying and entirely unique simulator which celebrates creativity and intuition in a way that no other game could, Kerbal Space Program is something of a mini masterpiece.

Play it on: PC, Xbox One, and PS4

1. Flight Sim World

(Image credit: Microsoft)

For hardcore flight simulator fans, Flight Sim World represents the new reigning champ. Built upon the digital foundations of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (the former king of the genre), every aspect and dimension to real world piloting has been accounted for in Flight Sim World, and duly incorporated into its tightly designed systems, all of which work together in harmony to craft an epitomic simulation.

Dovetail Games don’t cater exclusively to would-be pilots or committed flight sim veterans either, but provide an easy introduction to its exhaustive breadth of content with contextual missions and patient tutorials. Even so, taken together, Flight Sim World could easily become a long-lasting semi-occupation if so desired, crafted with such pinpoint precision and expert authority that it has already cemented itself as a definitive go-to for newcomers and enthusiasts alike.

Play it on: PC