I admit that despite confessing a loathing (while drunk) for the massive swathe of top-ten lists that infest this time of year I have something of a soft spot for them. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to stay up at night when nobody can catch me out, reading various critics’ best and worst lists of the year.
Hell, we even did our most recent podcast on just that, regardless of just how cliched a subject it is. I guess it’s an organisation thing. People like making lists – be they shopping lists, lists of girls you’d secretly like to bed or lists of what booze you need to get from the bottle-o next time you sober up enough to drive up there.
So, I decided I’d make up a list to ring in the new year. The real trick was just what to make a list of. For ages, I was playing with the idea of listing something like, say, “The top five video resolutions used in video games on the iPhone platform between January 2010 and December 2010″, but then I realised it was the most boring idea in the whole world.
This idea came about when I was browsing the recent new year steam sales. So many bizarre, cheaply-made simulation titles were on the list! Simulations of things that make submarine simulators or flight simulators look as mainstream as shooter-garbage like Halo.
Thusly, I bring you the second most boring list of 2011 so far:
SIMFAILURE: The Top Five Most Bizarre or Obscure Simulation Titles of 2010
Number Five: FARMING SIMULATOR 2011
I suppose it makes some kind of sense that a farming simulator would happen. I mean, lots of people I know – even those who these days prefer hugely mainstream titles – hold a soft spot in their heart for Maxis’ underrated and addictive farming game, SimFarm.
Add to that the way FarmVille and other examples of awful ‘social games’ have taken the inherent joy of tending to crops and turned it into a hugely success market despite jettisoning anything which could resemble actual gameplay… and something like this is kind of inevitable. It may have been years since SimFarm, but somebody had to give it another whack.
What’s surprising about Farming Simulator 2011 is manyfold: firstly, that the game has almost no management or financial aspects to speak of beyond the very rudimentary… secondly, that it’s actually a sequel to something… and finally… that there’s DLC for it.
Yes, that’s right – enough people wanted to simulate such “classic” pieces of farm equipment as the Deutz-Fahr AgroPlus 77 tractor and the Krone Comprima V180 automatic round-baler that you can actually download an expansion pack, containing such exciting hardware as the Pöttinger Eurohit 130A 10-rotor rake and (if that’s not enough for you) the Pöttinger Top 1252C 4-rotor rake. Are you excited yet?
I know I am.
Number Four: WORLD OF SUBWAYS VOLUME 2 – BERLIN
We now enter the realm of the train simulator. Not a popular genre to develop for until recently, it was probably the emergence of both Microsoft Train Simulator and Auran Trainz in 2001 that brought the genre to public attention in English-speaking countries. Before this, most train simulators were Japanese, and never released here.
Despite neither simulation doing particularly well (Microsoft canned plans for a sequel and Auran went under in almost every definition of the term after half a decade of development on Trainz and its sequels) both have kept a strong fanbase, eagerly paying money for addons of all sorts – new routes, engines, rolling stock and even physical controllers simulating the layout of a Dash-9 locomotive. *cough* Iownthis *cough*
To me, this makes some sense. A huge number of young children have memories of watching big trains rattle by, hoping their waving would attract the attention of the driver so he’d deafen them with the horn on the lead engine – and who doesn’t love at least the idea of playing with train sets?
Few of us have the space, time and devotion to actually build an expensive to build and maintain train layout, which meant that games like Trainz were inevitable. But there’s a huge difference between carefully modelling steam trains dramatically puffing through the English countryside… and dank little subways trains screeching from underground platform to underground platform, with nothing to stare at but pipes, walls and rats.
The game isn’t bad. It’s actually quite enjoyable for a train simmer like myself, despite its bugs. You even spend some of your time above ground, staring at the rather card-board cut-out graphics, and you spend the rest of the time trying to imagine where you are.
But still – what a niche concept! A game for the fraction of the train sim community who think electric trains covered with graffiti going through tight tunnels and stopping every 2 minutes is pretty cool.
Number Three: RIG ‘N ROLL
In a lot of ways, Rig ‘n Roll is probably the most conventional title on this list, in that it’s effectively a racing sim merged with a business sim. Rig ‘n Roll is yet another example of a sequel to a sequel to a sequel in a franchise nobody’s ever heard of. It probably doesn’t help that it doesn’t have the same title as its predecessors – the earlier ones were titled Hard Truck.
So yes, this is a trucking sim. On a scale sample of the roads throughout California (a VERY small scale version of them – this is no World War 2 Online) you get to drive your beat-up rig from city to city, taking loads for money to pay for fuel, decals and eventual replacements to your truck itself.
The challenge in the sim is certainly quite different to most racing games, especially with some of the arbitrary time constraints that sometime get added. Cars are one thing in a simulator – but a semi-trailer which takes forever to slow down and has a turning circle the size of Western Australia certainly makes those tight corners as you descend into a valley or climb a mountain extra-tricky.
Add the finance end of this sim, and really, it’s probably the one on this list with the widest appeal.
Number Two: DIVE TO THE TITANIC
Ah, submarine simulations. Stalking the depths of the Atlantic during World War 2, trying to line up the perfect shot on an Allied convoy without giving away your position. That’s where it’s at. Or perhaps, the cold war? Sneaking up behind ballistic missile submarines, plotting a solution without letting the old clunker and her attack submarine escort realise just how outclassed they really are.
That’s a submarine simulation, right? Well sure, the military kind. But watch out! Now we have the sub sim equivalent of games like Virtual Skipper 5 and Ship Simulator: Extremes.
In Dive To The Titanic, you get to pilot small submersibles down to the ocean floor, to inspect the rusty hulking remains of one of the greatest acts of hubris of the 20th century – the RMS Lusitania. No, wait… Titanic. I got confused. Sorry.
(Side-note: did you know that the RMS in RMS Titanic stands for Royal Mail Ship? True story. It happened to a friend of a friend of mine)
The game does boast one thing quite unique to the titles on this list, I’ll admit – a surprisingly epic trailer that almost makes you want to give it a whirl.
Which brings us, finally, to…
Number One: CITY BUS SIMULATOR 2010
Now, the more astute of you will have noticed that these seem to largely be German-made games, as given away by the broken English at the web sites and the prevalence of German words in the screen-shots. Some of you may have even made the second observation to be made here: that three of these are made by the same studio – a mob called TML.
Now, I’d love to have given a wider cross-section of developers a look-in on this list, but the simple fact is that TML studios have managed to produce such a huge cross-section of “sure to fail” simulation ideas that I couldn’t, in good conscience knock stuff off the list just because of its developer – especially when they’re such beautiful works of art.
And so, the third TML game on our list wins the grand prise – and the title of the single most obscure & bizarre simulation title of the last little while. CITY BUS SIMULATOR 2010.
Just think of the excitement you feel as a passenger on a bus trip across town. No, really. From stop to stop, bump to bump – and then, it happens! A red light! You stop.
Then the green light starts and you’re off again, trundling like a granny with a zimmer-frame through packed traffic until you finally get to the next stop, where the bus will open its doors to let on and off a grab-bag of the city’s great unwashed masses.
Does this excite you? Then perhaps you will enjoy CITY BUS SIMULATOR 2010, which simulates not zero, but ONE bus route – the M42 route along the famous 42nd Street of New York City! You can slip into the shoes of CARLOS, PROFESSIONAL BUS DRIVER and DRIVE A BUS, PROFESSIONALLY.
“But wait!” I hear you say, “Can’t I do that in Grand Theft Auto IV? Or Saints Row 2?”
“Sure,” I reply. “But that’s not very realistic. Don’t you want buses that can only travel at or slightly under the speed limit? And without the many side-streets that are accessible to real bus drivers?”
Okay, so fine, it’s a bit dry. And you may be able to fall through the floor in random places due to horrific engine bugs. I managed to enjoy myself in the game by making a mini-game of finding differen
t ways to make Carlos vanish through the floor – yes, you can walk around outside your bus (or inside it) in CITY BUS SIMULATOR 2010 – the game that has it all.
When you’re done driving the M42 route, you may – just may – get a little tired. So what then? Sure, you could invent little mini-games, like trying to clip through objects as bizarrely as possible or counting the number of texture errors as you race (well, hobble) through New York City, but even is only so entertaining. So what next?
Fear not! Available now, from the web site of the game itself, is a ROUTE EDITOR, so you can drive the same bus along many different routes of your own devising. Perhaps you could add another stop to the 42nd Street route! Or maybe take one away!
The choice is yours… in CITY BUS SIMULATOR 2010.
But who cares about bugs or extra features? You get to slip into the shoes of CARLOS, PROFESSIONAL BUS DRIVER… and that’s enough for me.