Sooo, I thought I'd dust off an old Stick and Rudder standard wherein we talk about which genre games are worth playing while we're waiting on the "best damn space sim ever."
Wait a minute, this isn't a space sim, is it? No, but it is one of the premier flight sims in the history of well... flight sims. As such, it'll get you in the mood for flying spaceships and it will serve as good practice for all the multitasking necessary to excel at Star Citizen or any other flight sim you might install. The Sturmovik series has been around since 2001, and several entries are available for cheap on Steam. Do yourself a favor, though: Forget Wings of Prey (or Birds of Prey, if you got sucked into buying it on a console). And forget Cliffs of Dover, which is still buggier at three years and counting than SC's buggiest internal pre-alpha build.
Focus on IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946, which is basically a compilation release that includes every possible World War II-era aircraft you'd ever want to pilot. Most of these birds handle quite differently, and when combined with the proper peripherals and max realism settings, 1946 does a pretty fair job of approximating what it's like to fly a real warbird (minus the g-forces and seat-of-the-pants intangibles, naturally).
There's not much negative I can say about this game. It is getting a little long in the tooth, and this is readily apparent in some of the ground, sky, and weather textures as well as the bare-bones buildings and whatnot. The aircraft visuals have weathered the past eight years surprisingly well, though, and Sturmovik is well worth (re)turning to in the absence of SC and other bleeding edge sims.
You might be wondering why IL-2: 1946 and not War Thunder. After all, Gaijin's online arena battler is basically the newest version of the Sturmovik franchise, not counting Battle of Stalingrad, which is scheduled to launch this November. The reason basically boils down to where I'm at as a gamer right now. I'm going through a period of MMO burnout, and War Thunder's unbelievably unfun XP grind disrespects my time and leaves me cold more often than not.
Here's another flight sim that's well worth playing, though when I say "sim" in this case, I really mean it. DCS, which stands for Digital Combat Simulator, models a variety of classic and modern military aircraft with an astonishing degree of accuracy.
The game originally debuted in North America in 2009, and the past five years have seen several new aircraft modules added as well as a good amount of polish. The base game is free-to-play and features a Sukhoi Su-25T and a TF-51D (basically a non-combat trainer version of the venerable Mustang). Buy-to-play modules include the fully functional P-51D, the F/A-18C Hornet, the A-10C Warthog, and many more.
Like Sturmovik, DCS features multiplayer capabilities, a robust mission builder system, and pre-built campaigns to fly. It's also got a nerdy encyclopedia feature and a nifty logbook that brings a smile to my face. The learning curve here can be steep for aviation newbs, as DCS' sim-first-game-second pedigree oozes out of every menu and control option. If you're a meatspace pilot itching to recreate a cockpit in the comfort of your home, DCS is the way to go. I showed it to a buddy of mine who flew actual Warthogs in the Air Force before embarking on an airline career, and to hear him tell it, DCS's A-10 simulation is about as accurate and as detailed as it's possible for PC flight sims to get.
(2002, Guild Software)
Ahh, finally, we're leaving behind terrestrial flight and going into outer space. Vendetta is something of an acquired taste, but if you're in the mood for an involving and constantly evolving space-based MMORPG, Guild Software's long-running title is it.
Vendetta was doing EVE Online gameplay before EVE was a thing. Crucially, Vendetta also boasts Newtonian physics as well as 6DoF controls. While it's definitely the most dated game on this list in terms of visuals, I still find it appealing in a nostalgic days-of-space-sims-yore sort of way. You can't argue with Guild's device-agnostic design, either. Vendetta's single-shard universe is yours to explore regardless of whether you're on a PC, a Mac, a Linux machine, a tablet, or a smartphone.
(2013 alpha, Steam)
I am completely addicted to Space Engineers. I know, it's kind of a stretch to compare it to Star Citizen since it's not exactly a space combat simulator. It's fair to say that it scratches similar sandbox gameplay itches, though, at least for me.
You may have seen it referred to as Minecraft in space, and that's a fair though simplistic observation. The alpha build currently features a creative mode that is highly reminiscent of Mojang's opus, but the real fun to be had in Space Engineers comes when you remove the training wheels and fire up a survival game. You can do this solo, with some multiplayer friends, or with random people who will drop by your server if you decide to make it public.
The physics are a delight, as is the open-ended gameplay that allows you to wile away the hours mining or building everything from tools to components to outposts to huge working spaceships from the stuff you mine. You can even play Space Engineers as a sort of tactical shooter, though thus far I've spent nearly all my time racing against the clock harvesting uranium, pilfering passing ships, and squeeing around the fringes of the solar system on my jetpack and whatever crazy space contraptions I manage to build.
And that's about all I've got for you this week. Hopefully next time we'll be able to talk about all the slick stuff introduced with Arena Commander's 0.9 patch. Until then.