Sometimes, you want your games to be all about daring action heroes pushing their way through hordes of the slavering undead or legions of bloodthirsty demons. Other times, you want your games to be about managing a city, watching a restaurant grow, or running a chaotic hospital. That’s what simulation games are all about; they give you a taste of control, an idea of what it feels like to be in a position of power and influence. Xbox Game Pass is full of excellent simulation games, so let’s take a look at some of them. Here are the 15 best simulation games on Xbox Game Pass, in no particular order!
1. Cities: Skylines
When 2013’s SimCity reboot proved controversial (to say the least), there was room for a truly well-made, well-meaning city management sim to swoop in and steal people’s hearts. That’s exactly what Paradox’s Cities: Skylines managed to do. It’s everything SimCity isn’t; rich, fully-featured, and respectful of its players’ time and energy. Everything you could possibly want from a city sim is here, from traffic management to civic planning all the way through to dealing with natural disasters. There’s also a whole host of DLC to enjoy!
2. Europa Universalis IV
Europa Universalis IV is perfect for people who like to pull the camera all the way back. Instead of focusing on a single city or group of individuals, you control the fate of an entire nation, and must engage in diplomacy (and sometimes war) with other nations in order to establish a place for yourself on the international stage. Europa Universalis IV can be almost off-puttingly huge and complex; it’s a grand strategy game, after all, and Paradox has earned its reputation as a purveyor without equal in this regard.
We will eventually move away from Paradox, we promise, but it’s impossible to talk about great Xbox Game Pass simulation games and not mention Stellaris. Essentially, it’s a Paradox grand strategy game on an even larger scale; it takes space as its stage, asking you to oversee the fortunes of a spacefaring civilisation as they take their place among the stars. Like other Paradox games, Stellaris offers a dizzying array of stats and sliders to micromanage, so however you like to play your game, you’ll find a way to do so here.
4. Hypnospace Outlaw
This is a simulation game with a difference. Hypnospace Outlaw isn’t a management game; rather, it accurately (and hilariously) simulates the internet of the 1990s, complete with incredibly loud and colourful web pages, guestbooks to sign, and social media profiles full of rad ‘tude. There’s also a mystery lurking at the heart of this online environment; you’re playing as someone whose job it is to sift through the titular Hypnospace, which is accessed while you sleep via some sort of headgear, and find violations of its rules.
If you want to remain happy and positive, it might not be a good idea to play Frostpunk. It’s an unrelentingly bleak evocation of life in a post-apocalyptic permanent winter landscape. You’ll have to make some very tough moral decisions; this is half city-builder and half narrative exploration of the limits people living in a colony like this would reach. Luckily, Frostpunk is also a great city-builder, with plenty of options when it comes to colony construction and customisation. If you like your sims with a bit more moral grit, check this one out.
6. Two Point Hospital
Remember Theme Hospital? Two Point Hospital certainly does. In essence, while this may not be exactly the same game as Theme Hospital, it hits all the same notes. You’re in charge of a hospital, and it’s your duty to ensure that it’s all running smoothly and that nobody is wanting for anything. You’ll need to micromanage everything from your staff to the building itself, but don’t worry; Two Point Hospital’s wacky tone and cartoony aesthetic keep it from hitting too close to home. You won’t find any gritty evocations of recent events here.
7. Prison Architect
We can’t speak to the authenticity of Prison Architect, but we do know that this sim is a grisly, gritty depiction of what life is like in a penal facility. The campaign is unremitting; a prisoner is to be executed on death row, and you learn a little about who they are and how they ended up where they did. There’s also a sandbox mode in which you can construct and run your own prison. In the end, the goal of Prison Architect is seemingly to get you to think a little bit about the “correctional institutions” that are part of any functioning society.
8. Farming Simulator 19
It doesn’t get much more “simulator” than the Farming Simulator games. Obviously, Farming Simulator 19 is a few games ago now, but it’s got everything a budding farming sim fan should need to get into the genre. You can build, maintain, and expand your own farm, growing crops and upgrading vehicles as and when you see fit. This is a strangely relaxing endeavour, even if you don’t consider yourself a sim aficionado. It’s fun just to spend some time with Farming Simulator; you don’t need to be an enthusiast for farming to enjoy its meditative qualities.
9. Train Sim World 2
Train enthusiasts have long been unfairly regarded as anoraks, but with Train Sim World 2, they’re finally getting a game that matches their meticulous expectations. To put it simply, if you love trains, you will almost certainly adore this game. There’s an in-depth campaign mode that lets you micromanage your trains, you can paint them however you like, and pretty much any aspect of train management is covered in the main gameplay modes here. It may not be for non-enthusiasts, but it’s an excellent foray into the gaming world for those who love their trains.
10. Surgeon Simulator 2
Much like the original Surgeon Simulator, the sequel mixes an insane level of precision with a rather wacky, outlandish aesthetic. Once again, you must perform surgery on Bob, and you’ll have to attend to a range of complaints and problems if you want him to walk out of your operating theatre alive. To do so, you’ll have access to a range of implements, all of which can be manipulated using the reactive physics engine. Surgeon Simulator 2 may not be an accurate representation of what being a surgeon is actually like, but it’s great fun nonetheless.
11. Football Manager 2022
If you’ve ever played FIFA and thought “I’d be having so much more fun with this if I was on the sidelines”, then Football Manager is for you. The 2022 edition brings an even more insane level of depth to an already oceanic game, allowing you to micromanage everything from player strategies to management staff meetings. This version adds more features, too, including an overhaul of the data system and new dialogue options in meetings. For the most part, however, it’s the same Football Manager you either already love or will come to love if this kind of game is your cup of tea.
12. Microsoft Flight Simulator
You’re going to need a seriously beefy PC (or an Xbox Series X) if you want to run Microsoft Flight Simulator to its fullest graphical and performance-related potential. With that caveat out of the way, it’s fair to say that Microsoft Flight Simulator is everything an enthusiast could possibly want. The level of detail inside each plane’s cockpit is obsessive to the point of being admirable, and you’ll be expected to exercise a high degree of precision and care if you want to get these beasts to take off and land without any issues.
13. Bassmaster Fishing 2022
Much like Train Sim World 2, Bassmaster Fishing 2022 is a game with a very specific audience in mind. If you’re part of that audience – which is to say, you enjoy a highly realistic simulation of bass fishing, or think you might – then this is the game for you. The fishing is accurate and responsive, and you’ll be able to choose from a range of real-world locations and take on actual bass fishing pros. This game might be just a little too po-faced for those who want something more arcadey, but as a fishing sim, it’s perfect for the enthusiasts.
In many ways, SnowRunner is trying to achieve something similar to Hideo Kojima’s profoundly weird Death Stranding. Both games are about making cargo deliveries, traversing rough terrain and navigating the bumps and hills that could threaten to dislodge your cargo as you do so. Unlike Death Stranding, however, SnowRunner doesn’t have an arcane and bizarre narrative; this time, it’s all about the gameplay. As you’d imagine, the vehicular physics are highly accurate here, so you’ll need your wits about you to traverse SnowRunner’s many and varied levels.
15. The Sims 4
We bring our list home with a game that pretty much has the word “simulation” in its name. The Sims 4 started awkwardly, with lots of features missing and plenty of fans accusing it of a cash-grab mentality. Over time, however, enough free updates and relatively cheap DLC packs have been released that The Sims 4 is starting to feel like the sequel to The Sims 3 that it always should have been. You can watch your Sims grow, take care of their needs, help them find jobs, and kit out your home, all while enjoying some of the weird and wacky settings added in the many DLC packs on offer.