Wccftech’s Best Simulation Games of 2016 – Business is Good


Other entries in our 'Best of 2016' series: Strategy, RPG, Shooter, Racing, Action/Adventure, Indie

Simulation as a genre is a strange one. It can encompass so much, spanning everything from racing and sports to piloting a plane and flying around the world and even to something like managing a business or running a city. One problem the genre suffers from is the number of dull, dreary games like Skyscraper Simulator, Digger Simulator and Roadworks Simulator. Another more recent issue is the surge of 'wacky' simulators that attempt to ape the success of Goat Simulator, missing the core aspect; it was a simulator in the same way that I'm Brad Pitt's body double.

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Thankfully, all things considered 2016 has been a great year for the genre. There's a return to form for one of the giants of the genre, new entrants from big names and small teams alike, as well as games that take you to other worlds and challenge you in ways that'd surprise you. Put on your thinking caps and get ready for business, here are 2016's best simulation games.

Football Manager 2017 (8.5/10)

No year is complete without my fix of football management and 2016 brought that back in spades. This year's outing has seen a large improvement to the series and the best outing in at least four years and the most complete simulation of football yet. By far the largest improvement has come with the match engine. The game feels that much more fluid, player interactions more realistic. While it still has its moments of silliness, players making impossible moves and seemingly deciding to stop and have a nap rather than chase a ball, it's drastically improved.

Even off the pitch has come moments of greatness, sadly marred by some negligence. New staff positions have been added with no explanation of the role nor what to look out for, making them fairly useless until you've managed to figure them out through trial and error. Interviews and meetings with your players and boardroom are still boring, offering no real nuance. These are small downsides in what is a drastically improved simulation. Other AI-controlled teams will fall into the lure of big-named youngsters, spending huge money on name value alone. Tactical, financial and strategic errors will be made and you can see them all play out through the new in-game social screen.

It's the new attention to detail, the inclusion of errors that may or may not happen and even Brexit, and the possible outcomes of that and how it affects everything from work permits to the financial status of a team that really makes Football Manager 2017 stand out. Definitely a return to form for the series, Football Manager 2017 is a game that will take hundreds of hours from you. It's one of the best simulation games of 2016, but not the best.

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Planet Coaster (9.5/10)

Planet Coaster is a strange beast. Following the absolutely dreadful Rollercoaster Tycoon World and the fairly average Theme Park Studio was always going to be an easy enough task, but matching up to old RollerCoaster Tycoon games or Theme Park World is a whole different task. Planet Coaster certainly gives it a good go and it's a brilliant game, offering so much with few pitfalls.

What makes Planet Coaster so good is the customisation on offer. The number of buildings, coasters and even dioramas are actually very small. However, you can build everything and this isn't an overstatement. Planet Coaster has some very powerful creation tools, combined with countless base parts, that let you create even the smallest of items to the largest of coasters in whatever design you want.

Build your own death-defying rollercoaster that'll scare the life out of your customers? Check. How about creating a recreation of a shootout using staff and animatronics, letting your customers watch as a story unfolds. Most importantly, you can do what everybody has always wanted to do; create an incredibly beautiful and fancy public toilet. A true successor to the Theme Park and RollerCoaster Tycoon games, Planet Coaster gets it right.

American Truck Simulator

American Truck Simulator (official site) was always destined to be one of my top games of the year. Following on from the surprise hit Euro Truck Simulator 2, American Truck Simulator moves across the pond and into the US. Well received at launch, though with some complaints about scope and scale, what makes American Truck Simulator move from a great to an outstanding game is the recent 1.5 update. Small town America just turned into big city USA.

Scale is a difficult thing to get right. According to SCS Software the old map was a scale of 1:35, offering a brisk but quick drive from state to state. Now, the game has been expanded to a huge 1:20, a staggering difference that has led to the real big-state feel that the game always intended to capture. What's more impressive is the fact that this extra space isn't just dead; A new city, buildings, junctions, roads and landmarks have all been added. It wasn't a quick fix, and this is the attention to detail SCS want to bring as they aim to expand both north and east.

Through this sheer size, the calming nature the game has but also its mastery of what it wants to do - from the simple driving of a truck to managing your own trucking empire, American Truck Simulator was always a worthy successor to Euro Truck Simulator 2, but now it's surpassed the former. Future states will be coming and the huge support of the game, with a fairly avid and active community, will keep it going for a long time to come.

Motorsport Manager (8.5/10)

Based on the incredibly addictive mobile game, Motorsport Manager moving over to the PC was a great move. SEGA supporting developers Playsport, helping them bring it over also shows commitment they have to the platform. The support offered to Playsport, including visiting and picking the brains of such as Sports Interactive has really worked well for them, making Motorsport Manager an absolutely brilliant game.

While not as extensive as Sega's ball-kicking manager, car racing manager is a highly detailed take on the world of motorsports. It features everything this sort of game needs and particularly has you feeling your decisions matter, particularly during the race when an ill-timed pit stop can literally be the difference between you winning the race or not.

Possibly the only area where this actually manages to be more detailed than the football variety is in the characterisation of the people, your drivers in this case. Here they have well-realised personalities. They can gain and lose traits as well as make friends and enemies. Of course, there are considerably less drivers than there are footballers, which makes it easier. Whatever the case, the folks at Playsport are a small team and this was a case of building a huge game from the base of a small mobile one. It was no small feat to make it as good as it is.

Stardew Valley

Nostalgia is an incredibly powerful tool. The proliferation of projects banking in on older games and famous names has been huge over the last half-decade. That makes it all the more strange that Harvest Moon was so neglected in that rush. What's even stranger is the fact that the first real project to get much attention, not including social games like FarmVille, was so good that we don't particularly need to go looking for more.

Certain simulation games are all about escapism. Indeed, gaming in general is about that, but there's a certain type of escapism that's all about relaxing. American Truck Simulator and Stardew Valley are perfect examples of that. The ability to simply relax, to watch the world go by or watch your Strawberries grow is, in of itself, serene. However, and this is the most compelling aspect of Stardew Valley, there's an incredible amount of management found within.

Sewing, watering and harvesting crops. Maintaining friendships and building a relationship with someone. Developing your farmhouse, expanding and growing naturally without overextending. Maybe you want to take up some fishing, pop down to the saloon or go adventuring in some mines? There's so much to do and it all takes place in a game that loves for you to explore, persistently encouraging and rewarding you in one of the most compelling but friendly feedback loops I've ever encountered. Civilization VI has 'one more turn', Stardew Valley has 'one more day' and belongs at the top of any best simulation games list.

Special Mentions

It's only when compiling a list like this that you notice how good or bad a year's actually been. Though not to the same level as strategy games, 2016 has been a high for the sim genre - particularly the management based area of it. Sadly, some games have been left out but are more than worthy of your time and attention:

If there’s anything you think I’ve missed, feel free to yell at me in the comments. While you’re at it, don’t forget to cast your vote in our Reader’s Awards poll!