Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
If you commute in a car everyday, driving probably feels pretty mundane to you by now. You navigate the neighborhoods, highways, and cities around you from memory. You get around safely without actively thinking about traffic laws. Odds are, you think of driving as a means to an end, rather than some amazing thrill.
Driving simulation games let you do all kinds of things you could never do in a real car. You can travel the countryside, race the famous tracks of the world, or even crash your ride just for the thrill of it, all from the comfort of your own home. If you’re ready to set aside kart racing games, each of these four great sims scratches a different driving itch. Read about all of them, and see which one puts your pedal to the metal.
For the off-roader and the team player.
Spintires is a game about taking vehicles where no vehicle was meant to go. It’s you and your cargo versus miles of uncharted Russian wilderness in this game of traversal and exploration. You’ll plow down saplings, ford rivers, and churn up sloppy divots in the mud as you try to make deliveries to remote locations. Spintires’ claim to fame is its complex terrain deformation simulation. Drive a heavy load onto soft churned earth and watch your tires chew their way into the ground, paralyzing your vehicle. To reach your destination, you’ll have to judge the safest path through the muck, and even then, you’ll need to use your winch, differential lock, and all wheel drive settings intelligently to escape the sucking, sinking swamps.
Feeling cooperative? Spintires supports online multiplayer to give you a critical edge in your all-terrain adventure. Bring a friend in a lighter vehicle to test the ground ahead of you, or tow each other out of your worst jams when one winch just isn’t cutting it.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 $24.99
For the empire builder and the road-tripper.
MakeUseOf’s own Dave LeClair claimed you would never play Euro Truck Simulator 2. Don’t let him push you around! ETS2 is an extremely well supported driving sim that’s equal parts relaxing and rewarding. Start your journey as a brand new for-hire driver, and earn your way up to buying your first rig. After that, every city you visit opens new loads to haul, trucks to buy, and even drivers to hire into your own trucking company. You’ll level up as you build your empire, gaining more paint jobs and accessories, improving your gas mileage, and opening access to longer routes and fragile or hazardous cargo.
ETS2 is as casual or hardcore as you make it. Play the game with a fully automatic transmission for a mellow drive, or break out your racing wheel and control every gear shift yourself. Even with many of the more simulation oriented features turned on, the moment to moment play isn’t frustrating or complicated. The challenge comes from keeping your focus and driving precisely over long stretches of beautiful scenery, with some later game routes taking over an hour of driving to deliver. Expenses from crashes and tickets can add up quickly, and a major accident can eat through every Euro you’re paid for delivering your load. This combination of easy game play and expensive mistakes make ETS2 a game that will hold your attention without stressing you out.
Next Car Game $29.99
For the adrenaline junkie and the demolition fan.
This Steam Early Access racer may have an odd name, but it’s already making waves with fans for its satisfying and believable soft-body damage modeling. Cars twist, crumple, and crunch on impact, which really enhances the game’s full on demolition derby events alongside more standard off road and circuit racing. Car damage isn’t the end of the story, though. Thousands of objects, from your car’s debris to the stacked tire barricades and ambient signage, can remain on the track throughout the entire event, enhancing the spirit of destructive mayhem.
Reluctant to buy during early access? Developer Bugbear understands, and they’re rewarding fans who take the leap of faith with a Garry’s Mod style physics sandbox where you can stack, throw, shoot, and crash through tons of objects ’til your heart’s content. The game is seeing resoundingly positive reviews on Steam from early buyers, so if it sounds like your kind of game, pick it up soon!
Assetto Corsa $39.99
For the circuit racer and the wheel wielder.
None of the above are doing it for you? I get it. You’re a discerning customer with a racing wheel at your desk and asphalt in your veins. You need to get your hands on Assetto Corsa. This Italian developed Early Access racing simulator is home to laser-scanned real world tracks, jaw-droppingly beautiful licensed cars, and force feedback racing wheel support implemented in consultation with actual racing drivers. It’s an incredible feat for a tiny, passionate team, but it’s seeing regular updates, and racing sim connoisseurs are showing it lots of love in their reviews. Developer Kunos may still be ironing out the kinks in controller support at the moment, but if you’ve got the passion and the racing wheel, AC is worth your attention.
Hit The Road!
As you can see, the driving sim isn’t some narrow, stuffy genre that only caters to the hardcore. Varied and surprising games come about when developers focus on a particular aspect of the simulation. If you’ve never tried a driving sim, see which one of these most closely matches your taste in other games, and give it a go. You may surprise yourself!
Can you recommend another driving sim for this list? Or did you just try one of these? Tell us what you think in the comments!