Community Picks: The 25 Best Simulators In PC Gaming

Community Picks: Best Sims

Despite what some of the world's leading philosophers, scientists, and entrepreneurs would have you think, odds are good that our universe doesn't exist within a simulation. Maybe some other ones do, though, depending on whether or not you count video game worlds as their own universes. Countless simulation games (or "sims" for short) turn real-world activities into digital pastimes. There are social sims, vehicle sims, construction sims, management sims... if there's something you can do on planet Earth, there's a better than even chance someone has made a game about it.

The Tom's Hardware community voted to find the 25 best sims in PC gaming; that list is what follows. As always, remember that you can meet other members of the Tom's Hardware gaming community by joining our Steam group, and discover the hottest new games via our Curator feed.

25. 'Steel Beasts'

Steel Beasts is a suite of games and professional simulators devoted to "armored fighting vehicles." That's right: it's a game about piloting, firing, and waging war with various tanks. The game is developed by eSim Games, which offers a Steel Beasts Pro version that provides an "elevated level of fidelity is modeled in direct fire exterior and terminal ballistics, fire control systems, and related crew procedures as well as the relationship between complementary elements of combatants in the tactical spectrum." This isn't a light-hearted game; it's a full-blown combat simulator.

24. 'Mad TV'

Mad TV is a business sim that puts its players in charge of a TV station. You have to fill seven hours of programming each day, and each hour must be given its own advertising block, the success of which determines whether or not your business will thrive. The game forces you to bid on the programming, decide if you want to run classics or take a risk on something new, and eventually win the love of Betty, a reporter who works in the same building. Rainbow Arts released Mad TV in 1991, and an in-browser remake is still being updated as of May 2018.

23. 'PC Building Simulator'

Here's something a little more fresh and relatable for Tom's Hardware readers: PC Building Simulator. The game does exactly what you'd expect--it lets you order parts and build a system without having to break the bank. There's also a business sim aspect wherein you have to bring home the bacon by removing viruses from customers' systems, diagnose and fix hardware problems, and otherwise run a computer repair shop. We didn't want to play PC Building Simulator for extended periods, and its use as an instructive tool is questionable, but damned if it isn't satisfying.

22. 'DCS World'

Digital Combat Simulator World, or DCS World to its friends, is a free-to-play combat flight sim. The game is billed as a "deep, authentic, and realistic simulation designed also to offer a more relaxed gameplay to suit the user and his particular level of experience and training." You'll pilot iconic aircraft through simulations that cover multiple regions (Caucasus, the Black Sea, and others) and time periods (World War II, the Gulf War, and more) where you can engage in combat or simply hover above the action as your heart deems fit. You start with limited vehicles, regions, and time periods, all of which are purchased separately. The free-to-play portion of DCS World might still be enough for you to decide if you want to commit to the flight sim lifestyle, though, which can get expensive pretty quick as you buy more and more detailed peripherals.

21. 'IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs Of Dover'

Another combat flight sim, IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs Of Dover, is much narrower in its focus than DCS World. The latter prides itself on the sheer variety of vehicles, regions, and time periods available to its players; the latter is devoted entirely to putting you in the cockpit of a Royal Air Force member during World War II. That isn't to say IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs Of Dover slumps in terms of options--you can fly more than 25 aircrafts through England, France, and other countries, and numerous multiplayer modes let you fight it out with up to 128 other people at a time.

20. 'Euro Truck Simulator 2'

Trucking isn't easy. Drivers have to work long hours, finesse large vehicles through tight spaces, and stay away from home for long periods of time. Euro Truck Simulator 2 cuts out all of those drawbacks and lets you focus on efficiently driving big rigs along lushly rendered highways to your destination. The game spans 16 countries, lets you customize your vehicle as you see fit, and features a management sim aspect that puts you in charge of your own shipping company. Mods and expansions also help make sure driving the open roads never gets stale.

19. 'Theme Hospital'

Speaking of difficult things: Theme Hospital tasks you with building and managing a hospital where everything seems hell-bent on going wrong. You have to design the facility, keep the Grim Reaper at bay, and do your level best to stop the doctors and nurses from making your hospital seem even more tawdry than the Grey-Sloan Memorial hospital found in "Grey's Anatomy." The 1997 game might not be as visually stunning as some of the previous entries on this list, but its unique premise and sense of humor should be enough to keep you interested all the same.

18. 'SimTower'

Just in case managing a hospital didn't prove to be enough of a challenge, SimTower asks you to build a skyscraper in any way you see fit, as long as it ends up being awarded a five-star rating by a demanding VIP who comes around to visit. You start with a single star and then build your way up the rankings, and as you earn more stars, a greater variety of spaces becomes available to build. Do you want to build more apartments? Offices? How about stores, restaurants, and gaming areas? You'll have to decide which is the most likely to keep your tenants--and the VIP--happy.

17. 'War Thunder'

War Thunder wants to convince you of one thing, which is that when it comes to military sims, more is always better. Other entries on this list focused on specific types of vehicles; War Thunder lets you control warships, aircraft, tanks, and others. Others focused on dozens of vehicles; War Thunder has more than 1,000. You'll commandeer these war machines through player-versus-player and player-versus-environment missions that take place across 80 maps, and player-created mods will expand your options even further. If you're looking for spectacle, War Thunder has it.

16. 'Assetto Corsa'

Assetto Corsa is a racing simulator that lets you compete in real-world circuits in officially licensed vehicles from Porsche, Lamborghini, and other automakers. The game's developers promise to offer an immersive experience that includes features "never seen on any other racing simulator," from tire flat spots to aerodynamics parts controlled in real-time via telemetry input channels, among other things. Naturally, the game offers a career mode, various single-player and multiplayer game types, and multi-part races that make you feel like a real world-class driver.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

    The fact that Gunship 2000 and Falcon 4.0 are not on here shows how bad this list is.
  • purposelycryptic
    But the fact that they made a Sugar Ray reference means all is forgiven.
  • jstein6870
    And PUBG is the best running simulator.
  • thrakazog
    The Steam FSX is a separate entity owned by Dovetail Games, that has a rather closed off DLC market, much like their other sim games. The original FSX still eclipse's it in the market, and has a huge community that supports it with both paid and free mods. However, ever since Prepar3d went 64-bit, it is now quickly taking over as the top flight sim (both in terms of users and 3rd party support).
  • JoeMomma
    I am amazed that you included DiRT2.
    I am a long time fan of racing games.
    I think DiRT is the best at nailing 1/2 way between being a challenging sim while still being a fun game. Most of the others in the DiRT Series have been either too hard or too arcade. I have never uninstalled it since 2009.
  • sos_nz
    No Grand Prix Legends?
  • phantom_e
    Note: It should read "fewer details" not "less details". I wouldn't bring it up, but it's becoming so widespread in professional communications - tv ads, printed ads, HERE, etc. that I just had to say something somewhere.
  • TheStig47
    War Thunder is my favorite online game. Vehicles are all actual wartime machines modeled as closely as possible to the real ones. Not mentioned in the description is that War Thunder has three modes of play - Arcade (my mode for fun); Real; and Simulator. Arcade uses relaxed physics but Real is much closer to how they really handled and Simulator is even more exact. For example, in Simulator with aircraft one must use a joystick (Arcade and Real can use either - mouse is best in Arcade) and fly in cockpit mode, and have all the physical aspects that real aircraft have - yaw, pitch, trim, etc.

    Too, War Thunder gets continually updated and I've been playing as a pilot now for over 4 years, daily (I'm retired).
  • hixbot
    #21 there are two latters and no former.
  • icelava
    I liked Jane's F-15, but yea, no Jane's AH-64D Longbow (or 2), no Falcon 4.0 (or even Falcon 3.0 back in the day), no SU-27, etc. So many fabulous simulators back then; a pity the younger generations have few options to play those classics.