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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.

Strike Suit Zero is an unforgiving game. While each mission has a number of checkpoints, they are often spaced quite far apart. To make progress, I had to keep going through missions again and again. Dying often means replaying a 10-minute sequence, trying to do better than the last time. It does get frustrating, but it's also fun to see your skill improving from one run to the next.

Strike Suit Zero keeps things simple: There is no multiplayer mode, no radar on your HUD, no complicated key mappings to remember. It is easy to pick up, beautiful to play, and challenging to master.

Microsoft Flight
Microsoft Flight
Microsoft Flight lets you play several missions in Hawaii for free.  

If you like the notion of flying, but don't like to do it in outer space, you might want to try Microsoft Flight. Much like SimCity, Microsoft Flight is the current incarnation of a long and illustrious franchise of games, dating back to 1977. Unlike SimCity, you can start playing Microsoft Flight for free. Simply download the game and embark on a series of missions planned to both teach you the basics of flight, and hook you into buying later missions and additional aircraft. And like FreeSpace 2, Microsoft Flight is the last of its kind: Microsoft permanently stopped work on the game in July 2012, just a few short months after releasing this free game.

Microsoft Flight's graphics are gorgeous, and the scenery feels realistic. Hawaii serves as the backdrop for the first introductory missions, in which you get to fly two aircraft bundled with the free download: A thoroughly modern Icon Deluxe light aircraft and a WWII-era Boeing PT-17 Stearman biplane. These missions run you through the rudiments of taking off, controlling the craft in the air, and landing. You can fly Microsoft Flight with nothing but a game controller: There are realistic touches like preflight checklists, but in the early stages, the game runs through them on its own, checking items off as you look on.

While the introductory missions are interesting and fun to play (especially the landing tutorial) and the graphics were strikingly beautiful, gameplay is marred by having to navigate using landmarks, rather than traditional waypoints.

For example: One of the more frustrating challenges starts out midflight, and you're supposed to land the plane. The trouble is, it's not clear where the airstrip is. No heading is provided, and there's no clear way to figure out which way to go. The careful narration that leads you through many of the other missions is utterly lacking on this one. Manually switching on the aircraft's GPS map does reveal an airstrip, but after navigating all the way to it and executing a landing, I discovered it wasn't the right airfield and failed the challenge after all.

 

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