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Trucker, mayor, space cowboy: Five sim games that let you live out your dreams

Erez Zukerman | June 10, 2013
Whether you enjoy controlling the fates of countless Sims or driving a truck across Europe, you can be sure there's an excellent simulator out there in which to hone your skills.

SimCity's shiny new graphics deserve more than a mention in passing. The game cleverly uses tilt-shift affects to make buildings look like adorable miniatures, both realistic and game-like at the same time. Shadows will move as days go by and night approaches. Nights can be long (depending on the speed you set your game to), and are quite dark indeed. But that only makes daytime all the more impressive.

As you pick up a new police station, school, or other public building from a toolbar and move over the map to pick a spot for it, the building will literally hover above the ground, swinging gently from side to side as you drag your mouse. Once you click its designated spot, it will plop down with a resounding thud.

At $60, SimCity is by far the most expensive game in this roundup. That leaves it in an awkward spot: In terms of content, quality, and gameplay, SimCity has a very wide appeal, even (and maybe especially) if you're not a hard-core gamer. However, its price tag makes it difficult to justify, especially for the casual-gamer crowd. Is it fun? Absolutely. But is it worth the money? I'd be hard-pressed to say.

FreeSpace 2
FreeSpace2
The FreeSpace 2 mission selection screen looks like the set of a Sci-Fi epic.  

The latest title in a franchise established in 1989, SimCity is buoyed by its illustrious past. But not all franchises manage such an impressive lifespan: Even great ones fall prey to mergers, acquisitions, and the vagaries of the game business. Such was the fate of FreeSpace 2 ($10), a space simulator originally released in 1999 to great critical acclaim, as part of the Descent and FreeSpace franchise. It was to be the last in the series, due to business circumstances--but it can still be played today, and its source code, released in 2002, has been adopted by an active community of coders and modders.

First, the original game: It remains commercially available to this day through GOG, a service specializing in old-time games. While the original FreeSpace 2 offered very impressive graphics for its time, it can't hope to match modern space-sim games in the visauls department. Fortunately, it has a lot to offer in terms of gameplay and depth. Cockpit and HUD controls are intricate and well thought out, from subsystem targeting, through automatic speed matching, to smart indicators on your HUD showing a target's distance and bearing even when it's out of your field of view. FreeSpace 2 also makes good use of the keyboard, with an interface that expects you to memorize many keys.

 

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