Best immersive sims

Best immersive sims DEFAULT

The 10 groundbreaking immersive sims that paved the way for Deathloop

The immersive sim might be the most ambitious concept a room of developers has ever drawn out, nodded at, and subsequently convinced a room of publishers to bankroll. It’s a maximalist genre of multiple pathways, multiple combat approaches, multiple puzzle solutions, and in accordance with a bizarre tradition, keypads whose codes are almost certainly 0451. If an immersive sim is upholding the genre tenets properly, you play through it without seeing the vast majority of what’s on offer. 

That makes Deathloopa particularly clever spin. Since you’re repeating the titular timeloop, you’re exploring the world over and over, learning every neck-breaking nook and creepy cranny. But in order to appreciate just how cute Arkane has been about its latest immersive sim’s design, we must journey back. Back, through the mists of time. In the paragraph just below this one. Are you ready?

Good, because we just took you back to the dawn of the 1990s. Computers are still big scary grey boxes, 4kb is considered a big file, and absolutely no one in the world has heard of Adam Jensen. However, a producer named Warren Spector is dreaming about a first-person game that plays like the D&D games he used to enjoy, and a designer called Paul Neurath thinks he can make that game.

The birth of immersive sims starts here: a first-person RPG for DOS systems that blew our little undercut-topped minds with its 3D world, nonlinear progression, and simulation gameplay style. You could use a flaming torch on corn to make popcorn, for goodness’ sake!

Spector, Neurath, and the rest of the team — some of whom would go on to staff Looking Glass Studios — had arrived at the prototypical immersive sim. It didn’t set the store shelves on fire, and that would be typical of the genre for decades to come. But those who did know Underworld knew it was different. And a bit special.

Thief is a deeply engrossing and atmospheric stealth game today. Back in ‘98, it was downright transportative. With Underworld alumni on its books, Looking Glass dared to imagine a gothic steampunk-medieval world that didn’t fit the traditional fantasy mold and was all the more fascinating for its eccentricities — street lamps in an otherwise middle ages environment, a fanatical cult-like society called the Hammerites, and those infamous supernatural left-turns.

As the title implies, the big showstopper mechanic was a real-time light detection system that allowed players to hide protagonist Garrett in the shadows or risk being spotted near light sources. Like Underworld, there was a freeform feel to levels and a wide toolkit that guided your hand away from all-out assault. Dousing a torch with a water arrow then slinking by undetected by using a moss arrow to hide your footsteps across a metal floor is way more satisfying, anyway.

Thief writer Ken Levine headed Looking Glass’s System Shock sequel and used techniques that had such impact on gamers in ‘99 that they’re considered a bit old hat now. As you tiptoe around the Von Braun trying to understand why it’s deserted, you’re met not by crewmates but by scrawls of blood on the walls, voice logs, and grim discoveries. It’s isolating, unnerving, and keeps you an active participant in the mystery aboard. Spoilers: SHODAN’s involved.

Moody streets at midnight. Sewer systems hiding the headquarters of secret organizations. An inventory full of multitools, EMP grenades and taser ammo, and a story covering more shady cabals than a Joe Rogan podcast. Warren Spector, now at Ion Storm, was allowed to make his dream project in 2000, and it remains the benchmark for immersive sims today.

Before Deus Ex we had flashes of player freedom set in wonderfully atmospheric, open environments. This was the game to deliver immersive sims’ promise writ large: wherever there was a challenge to be faced, be that a throng of guards, a locked door, or a group of super-rich jerks making the world awful, there were numerous solutions. And all of them felt — feel — great.

Arkane’s debut game was originally imagined as a direct sequel to Ultima Underworld, and although it ended up releasing without the license its lineage is very clear. Also set in a vast, freeform fortress and also brimming with downright weird touches at every juncture, Arx Fatalis is every bit the Spector-pleasing dungeon crawler. Its innovative magic system stands out — it’s all about runes, swirly patterns, and manipulating the scenery in surprisingly advanced ways for 2002.

Troika’s opportunity to release a Source Engine game before Valve proved a poisoned chalice: Bloodlines is remembered as well for its bugginess as it is for Vampire barbeques on Santa Monica beach and strip clubs run by warring twin sisters.

It says a lot that the community continued to patch it for well over a decade after release, and it truly deserved that restoration project. Though more linear than some on this list, the striking depiction of bloodsucker society in modern LA and class-based play carries the torch for Deus Ex as well as any.

Ken Levine’s third mention in this article, and the shootiest immersive sim of all. Maybe it was the advent of new hardware from Sony and Microsoft that tempted Irrational towards a more streamlined approach. Maybe Levine was just sick of inventory screens. We’ll never know. Anyway, BioShock was great.

Plasmids added a macabre twist to the usual gunplay, and the fact that the most valuable resource in the game was guarded by the most powerful enemy — oh, and also involved killing a child — certainly engaged the brain. It’s Rapture itself we remember, and the mad Ayn Rand types we met along the way, blithering away to themselves about liberty and progress while the rivets slowly gave way in their ocean floor home.

If Arx Fatalis and Arkane’s next game, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, left a bit to be desired when it came to polish and letting the player in on all the depth, Dishonored certainly learned from those mistakes. Corvo the supernatural assassin is lithe and precise about the way he exacts revenge on the corrupt officials of Dunwall, almost overpowered but so accomplished in his wide toolset that you hardly care.

Deathloop players will definitely recognize the rhythms of combat and the painterly vistas, but the Steampunk Victorian London that art director Viktor Antonov envisioned isn’t like anywhere else the genre has taken us.

Some would call it sacrilege to let Io Interactive’s jamboree of rat poisonings and blunt force suitcase traumas onto this list, but in the cold light of day there’s no denying that Hitman’s an immersive sim. Vast and improbable toolbox of combat options? Consider that box ticked by the beak of an explosive rubber duckie. Freeform levels with multiple pathways? We’re still lost in Sapienza even now. Just because it doesn’t have 0451 keypads, that doesn’t mean it’s out of the gang.

Hitman’s success on its own terms, as an episodic series that sold immersive simming to a big crowd without Warren Spector’s seal of approval paved the way for the similarly adventurous Deathloop.

As you might have clocked, we’ve omitted sequels from this list for fear of the Deus Ex and Thief franchises taking it over. Not to mention all the reboots. None have been so strange as Arkane’s Prey, though.

For starters, the original Prey wasn’t even an immersive sim. It was basically Doom 3 with a Native American flavor, and nary a Ken Levine voice note or a moss arrow in sight.

But screw it, said Arkane, presumably, at some point. It’s as good a franchise name as any to house our weird cheese dream about a spaceship full of rogue DNA that can shapeshift into cups then attack you.

No, but it really is very good. You should play it, if only for the GLOO cannon.

Written by Phil Iwaniuk on behalf of GLHF.

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Deathloop, Deus Ex, Dishonored, evergreen, GLHF, Hitman, Thief, Vampire: The Masquerade, Video Games, Video Games


The 10 Best Immersive Sims Ever

'Immersive sim' is a terrible name for a collection of some the most critically acclaimed PC games. Beginning with 1992’s Ultima Underworld, immersive sims started out as a particular branch of RPG that focus on creative problem solving through taking advantage of dynamic systems rather than, say, character stats. The concept was largely pioneered by Looking Glass Studios through games like System Shock and Thief, reaching its early zenith with Ion Storm’s Deus Ex.

Many of my favourite games are immersive sims, but compiling this list was an interesting challenge, as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to define what “counts” as an immersive sim. Over the last 10 to 15 years, games from all manner of other genres have adopted the ideas spearheaded by Looking Glass and Ion Storm, bringing elements like skill-trees, stealth dynamic AI, choice-based play, and life simulation into first-person shooters and open-world games. You could probably make the case that Skyrim is an immersive sim, as well as games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and even Breath of the Wild.

For this list, I’ve decided to keep the definitions relatively strict, so you’ll see plenty of classics on here. But I have added a couple of more debatable examples that are simply too excellent to ignore.

10. Thief II: The Metal Age

Combined, the Thief trilogy is probably my favourite series of games. Twenty years on, they remain some of the most well-written, atmospheric and terrifying games in existence, while their 3D level blows me away every time I return. I considered leaving them off list, however. Since they’re strictly stealth games, the Thief series doesn’t offer the same breadth of play options compared to most of the other games on this list.

Nonetheless, they are designed with the systems-driven focus that define immersive sims. Thief’s light and audio propagation systems, as well as its definitive AI work, were hugely influential on both stealth games and other immersive sims, most notably Deus Ex and Dishonored. Of the three original Thief games, Thief II offers the most comprehensive burglary experience, with the best collection of levels and the most refined sneaking. In particular, it’s Life of the Party level has become a legendary example of immersive-sim mission design, although other highlights include Framed! Eavesdropping, and First City Bank and Trust.

9. BioShock

It’s a shame that so much of the discussion over BioShock focussed overwhelmingly on its second-act twist, and how the third act couldn’t quite figure where to take the game afterwards, but look beyond the grandiose speeches and the Would You Kindlys and BioShock is still a stonkingly good game.

Twelve years on, Irrational’s incredible environment designs still hold up. Rapture may look a little grimier and more rubbery than we once remember it, but it’s still an incredible place to behold, an art-deco utopia that has been gutted on the inside by revolution, while slowly being crushed by the full weight of the ocean.

During play, BioShock is more action-oriented that most immersive sims, which is partly why it’s lower down on this list. But it does offer plenty of ways to get the edge on an opponent. Freeze them in place and smash them with a wrench, or distract them with a swarm of bees while you hack a nearby gun turret. One of my favourite approaches to combat was to temporarily posses a Big Daddy, and watch them wreak havoc on the local splicers.

BioShock is also largely responsible for propagating the ideas behind immersive sims into more mainstream experiences, the idea that your game doesn’t need to be an RPG to offer a more creative palette of skills and abilities. For that alone it deserves to be recognised on this list.

8. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

It’s weird to think I was once sceptical of Square Enix’ attempt to revitalise Deus Ex. A prequel? That isn’t going to work. A third-person cover system? Sacrilege! QTE-based kills and knockouts? Burn the heretic!

But not only did Square Enix succeed in holding its own, it made a game that, from a play perspective, was as good as the original Deus Ex, and in some ways even better. It provided a broader range of tactical options, larger and more interconnected hubs (including the stunning double-decker city of Hengsha) and a world that, despite being a prequel, somehow built upon the story of the original brilliantly.

Moreover, a lot of the new elements that seemed controversial at the time worked superbly. The third-person cover system made a lot of sense as did the quick-tap knockouts and executions. The only big mistakes the game really made were the entirely out-of-place boss battles, and the "choose-your-own-ending” finale.

The sequel, Mankind Divided, is pretty good as well, although it lacks the same scope of Human Revolution. We may not have asked for a prequel to Deus Ex, but I for one am glad we got one.

7. Prey

2017’s Prey didn’t quite get the reception it deserved, I think largely because Bethesda didn’t really know how to market the game until very late, which meant a lot of people weren’t entirely sure what to expect. As it turned out, Prey was a spiritual successor to System Shock, and a darned impressive one at that.

What I like most about Prey is how it embraces the Holy Quaternity of shoot, sneak, hack, and talk, but it tries to put its own distinctive spin on all these mechanics. You don’t just sneak by crouching, for example, you can turn yourself into an inanimate object to avoid detection. You can shoot enemies with a shotgun if you want, but you can also immobilise them with a giant glue launcher. Perhaps my favourite little gadget is the recycling grenade, which kills enemies by reducing them to their component atoms so that you can then use to craft new items. Brilliant!

There’s so much else going on in this game too. It has a superb sci-fi story that explores themes of memory and personal identity. Meanwhile, the setting of the Talos 1 space-station is a massive and complex environment with wonderful art-deco styling, alongside some superb spatial puzzling that often involves venturing outside the station to access new areas. It even lets you create your own side-missions by tagging every NPC (alive or dead) with a location device that let you track them down throughout the station.

Prey is a hugely clever and atmospheric game, let down only by the fact that its combat is a bit lumpy, and a steep learning curve that makes the early game quite daunting. Nonetheless, its a rich and satisfying sci-fi adventure that’s well worth your time.

6. Deus Ex

I’ve seen several people over the last few years say that Deus Ex has not aged particularly well, which I think is a little bit unfair. Whereas most immersive sims up to that point had used sci-fi or fantasy settings, Deus Ex was the first game of its type to use a real-world, almost-contemporary scenario. As such, it was bound up in a lot of the technological and political anxieties of the time. Spector’s own brief for the story was, 'What if every conspiracy theory in existence was true?'

Looking back now, yes, it does look a bit like a mashup of The X-Files and The Matrix. But the game itself remains extremely playable. It sports a truly enormous player toolkit, from cybernetic augmentations to player skills, to an inventory with upgradeable weapons and equipment. You can turn yourself into a human tank, a cybernetically enhanced ninja, or a computer hacking machine.

And while the story may seem distinctly nineties in tone, that doesn’t stop it from being a huge and thrilling spy adventure that takes you from the dark streets of Hell’s Kitchen to the night market of Hong Kong and beyond. There are security complexes, secret research facilities, and even an underwater laboratory to explore. There are narrative choices that can dramatically alter how your story progresses, and let you solve problems through non-violent means. Deus Ex may no longer be the high-watermark for immersive sims, but it is and always will be the game that set the template for what an immersive sim is.

5. Alien: Isolation

Feel free to debate this one, but Alien: Isolation is one of the most immersive simulations I’ve ever played. I’m not particularly scared of the Xenomorph, because it’s a 40-year-old rubber monster, an icon of terror that has become a toy for children. I love the films (well, two of them), and I watch Alien at least once a year, but I do so because I love the atmosphere and the set design and the characters, not because I find it scary.

Alien: Isolation made me fear the Xenomorph in a way that the films never managed, because it puts you in a room with that monster and then gives it a brain. The dynamic systems that make up the Xenomorph’s AI is 100 percent in the immersive-sim mould. In fact, you could almost argue that Isolation is reverse-immersive sim, where the Xenomorph is the Garrett/JC Denton-style infiltrator and you’re just one of the dumb guards in its way.

Even if you don’t accept my pretentious ponderings, there’s plenty of immersive-sim DNA in here, from the exquisitely detailed, semi-open levels and the powerful sense of place, to the weapons and equipment you can use to solve the game’s environmental problems.

4. Hitman

Simulations don’t come much more immersive than Hitman’s incredible assassination sandboxes. Each of Hitman’s missions is a meticulously crafted little puzzle box that has countless different ways of solving it.

Indeed, Hitman actively encourages players to experiment with its levels more than any other games on this list. Each mission is treated as a separate entity with around a half-dozen different storylines that take multiple attempts to explore. On top of that, it provides a constant drip-feed of new equipment that encourage you to play with the simulation in different ways, alongside environmental opportunities to create your own murderous solution.

HITMAN doesn’t have the same narrative or aesthetic aspirations of other immersive sims. It is neither as stylish as Dishonored nor as meditative as Prey (although its environments are phenomenally intricate), while its storytelling swerves between being inconsequential and downright bamboozling. But as a coldly cerebral murder-sim brimming with detail, it’s one of the best examples out there.

3. System Shock 2

If it wasn’t for the huge success of Deus Ex, I think more people would look back at System Shock 2 as the standard-setter for immersive sims. This game has a truly huge number of systems running beneath its belt, from thee distinct skill-trees framed around firearms, technological affinity, and psionic powers, to a neophyte crafting system that lets you combine certain chemical elements to create new items.

But what makes System Shock 2 so special is how weird it is. Made partly by the same designers as Thief, its setting of the spaceship Von Braun bears a similarly eerie atmosphere, where a parasitic alien hivemind is at war with the evil queen of Cyberspace, the almighty SHODAN.

In many ways System Shock 2 is an anti-immersive sim. Most games of its ilk emphasise how much control you have over situations. But System Shock 2’s main theme is how little control you have over things. This is perhaps unsurprising considering it was written by Ken Levine, the lead designer of BioShock. Yet whereas BioShock packs all of its narrative heft into one moment, System Shock 2 layers its message through the entirety of its experience. The abundance of choice it offers in approach also means there are myriad ways to screw yourself over (and System Shock 2 will find the gap in your armour), while all of your upgrade points are given to you by SHODAN herself, who forces you into an uneasy alliance as you try to defeat the hivemind of the Many.

It’s deviously clever both thematically and mechanically, while its terrifying atmosphere will worm its way into your brain like one of the Many’s parasites.

2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It still frustrates me that so much of the conversation around MGS V on launch revolved around grumbles about its story. Metal Gear Solid 4 was basically an entire game dedicated to ending the Metal Gear story. The Phantom Pain, by comparison, wasn’t so much about filling in the gaps as it was creating your own Metal Gear stories.

To that end, it has one of the richest mechanical toolkits available in one of the most reactive worlds ever designed. The whole game is built around planning and executing your own tactical espionage missions, letting you choose your infiltration method, your initial drop-point, your in-mission companion, your starting vehicle (if you want one), your weapons, and your gadgets, which include things like an inflatable decoy of yourself. You can even call in several types of artillery support. It’s absolutely crammed with stuff.

What makes The Phantom Pain truly special is not so much the options that are available to you, but how your enemies react to your play-style. If you play as a sniper who likes to pop heads, it won’t be long until your enemies start wearing helmets. If you like to ambush a patrol with tear-gas and then run in to knock them all out, they’ll start wearing gasmasks. If you use the decoy a lot to distract your opponents, they will start planting decoys in their own bases.

The Phantom Pain is genuinely one of the most impressively dynamic games I’ve ever played, an amazingly complex story machine that is capable of surprising you across dozens of hours of play. The way it brings all of this different systems together and makes them work is nothing short of remarkable.

1. Dishonored/Dishonored 2

I simply couldn’t choose between my two favourite children, and frankly I don’t think I have to. Both Dishonored games are equally excellent, and you need to play both to get the full story experience.

It’s hard to quantify what makes the Dishonored games so good, mainly because the answer is “everything”. Dishonored boasts a unique and wonderfully distinctive art-style, top-tier writing and voice acting, and some of the best world-building of any game (the developers spent two years just mapping out the world). It’s just incredibly well made in almost every single aspect.

Despite this, there are two areas where Dishonored’s brilliance shines particularly brightly. The first is the creative toolset the game offers you, particularly your magical Outsider powers. The ability to slow down time, possess your enemies, and link their fates together using Domino enables countless ways to deal with your opponents, while Blink and Far Reach are positively revolutionary in terms of how they alter your ability to traverse the world. What’s more, all of Dishonored's systems have an astonishing amount of granularity built into them. I’ve played Dishonored II three times, for example, and on my third playthrough I discovered a whole new way to knock enemies out by slide-tackling them.

The other area where Dishonored stands out are its 3D environments. Dishonored’s level design is heavily inspired by Thief, but it uses modern tech to take those design ideas to whole new heights. Some of these, such as Clockwork Mansion and Lady Boyle’s Manor, dazzle with their spectacle and inventiveness. But almost every mission in the Dishonored games, be it the first game’s Golden Cat or the second’s Royal Conservatory, would be considered the highlight of any other game. That’s not to mention the exquisite city sections, which allow you to get a slice of urban life as you make your way to the mission proper.

Everything about these games is great. Even the DLC is superb, particularly the two Daud instalments for the original. If you haven’t played them yet, you should definitely consider investing in both, as they’re two of the most stylish, distinctive, and detailed games ever made.

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You don't have to play every immersive sim as a stealth game

You there, in the shadows—you can come out now. I know why you're hiding, clutching a stun prod the way Indiana Jones clings to a torch. You're nostalgic for Thief, or conditioned by the disapproval of Deus Ex characters who advocated for non-lethality. You’ve been shamed by every post-level screen in Dishonored, implying you messed up by killing your enemies.

But it's OK. I free you from your obligation to skirt around the edge of the pool, instead of bombing in and making enormous, satisfying ripples in these reactive worlds. You owe it to yourself to embrace the chaotic, surprising action that immersive sims are built to support. And with Arkane finally embracing all-out shooter mechanics in Deathloop, your time is now.

Besides: you’re going to do your back in, hunching like that.

Don’t get me wrong, stealth has done wonders for the immersive sim. The development of Thief pushed Looking Glass away from space stations and dungeons, and towards the kind of lived-in domestic spaces the genre is now known for. Without those mansions, teeming with tiny, gleaming objects for Garrett to plunder, there’d be no Prague in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and no Greenbrier Manor in Gone Home. A whole discipline of level design, that goes deep rather than wide, would likely not exist.

Moreover, an early focus on stealth forced developers to get to grips with complex AI behaviour. A stealth game can’t begin until an enemy has an ‘idle’ state; it can’t produce tension until that enemy can search without ‘seeing’ you. Once that’s sorted, you’re halfway to the sort of half-hostile, half-safe environments that games like Dishonored and Fallout thrive on—worlds in which friendly NPCs might turn on you if your own behaviour is sufficiently alarming.

Those rudimentary guard responses laid the groundwork for games which hold up a mirror to the player—showing, in ugly close-up, the image a person wandering the land with a finger resting none-too-carefully on the ‘murder’ key. Immersive sims have trudged further into that moral morass ever since, reflecting back your dodgiest actions with dark endings and disapproving dialogue.

Deus Ex gives you an older brother—oh boy, an older brother! Wonder what albums he’ll let me borrow!—only to have him tell you off when you kill too many terrorists. Dishonored 2, meanwhile, hands you the sentient heart of your own mother—or partner, depending on who you’re playing—and has her make clear she’s not angry, just disappointed.

Dishonored’s combat is some of the best in the business

Many of us love immersive sims specifically for their sense of accountability. But at its worst, that sense can stop you from engaging with another tenet of the genre: freedom of approach and creative expression.

When killing is discouraged, stealth becomes the default. That’s borne out in the Steam stats for Dishonored 2: roughly 56% of players who completed the game did so in low chaos, avoiding killing wherever possible. And to do that, they made a conscious choice to circumvent combat.

Here’s the thing: Dishonored’s combat is some of the best in the business. Leaning on the action chops it honed during Dark Messiah, Arkane developed a fantastic, high stakes swordplay system that pushes you to create gaps in your enemy’s defence—staggering them with a block, or a blast from the pistol in your offhand. The moment you get an opening, you can lean in for an instakill—delivered in gory, gratifying slo-mo that recalls the work of Kojima Productions.

On top of that, Arkane layers its powers, most of which have dual stealth and combat functions. The Far Reach that lets you stride onto ledges 200 feet away? Works just as well when flipping enemies into the air, ready to land on an exposed blade. Bend Time and Possession? Can be used to walk enemies in front of their own, mid-flight bullets. Even the most mundane parts of your moveset can turn the fight; the same lean that allows you to peek around corners is better exploited to dodge bullets, Matrix-style.

If you’re looking for inspiration, search ‘Dishonored skill video’ on YouTube and watch in awe. Masters like the ironically named StealthGamerBR make the case for Dishonored as the greatest improvisational shooter of all time—combining high-speed parkour with an ultra-precise throwing arm that turns household objects into heavy ordnance. Thanks to a set of upgrades that can punctuate your battles with bullet time, this kind of high level play isn’t necessarily beyond the reach of the average player, either—not after a couple of rehearsal runs, at least.

What’s most satisfying about StealthGamerBR’s videos is that they’re not some perversion of the immersive sim format. If anything, they’re a noisy celebration of the tactile environments being built by the developers working in Thief’s lineage. During the slaughter embedded above, the YouTuber makes a repeating comic riff of one poor guard’s severed head—dropping it first onto a table laid for dinner, then later in the soup still boiling in the kitchens. It’s a work of sick, artful comedy that makes full use of the highly interactive levels Arkane specialise in.

Even outside that particular series, you’ll find that immersive sims become joyfully daft vehicles for—yes—high chaos, just as soon as you bin off the dream of that perfect ghost playthrough. In my recent run through the early Deus Ex games, I’ve skipped leg day to invest in super-strength arms, in order to weaponise the many physics-enabled chairs, barrels and trash cans that litter Earth in the 2050s. I’ve upgraded my Invisible War machine gun to set off the spiderbombs on the belts of my enemies, freeing tiny metal arachnids into the world to fight on my side.

One of my proudest gaming memories is now of murdering Maggie Chow, the global conspirator and gang war instigator, by hurling a couch from the mezzanine of her penthouse flat. Last weekend, I smashed the glass roof of a Karnaca train station to drop straight onto the neck of a guard way below, like Mario bouncing off a Goomba. I’m happy. I hope the same for you, too.

Just try it. Quiet the voices of Paul Denton and Jessamine Kaldwin, screaming in your ear to do better. Step out from behind the armoire and stride into the centre of the room, sword held high like a Nazgûl. Yeah, you’ll get the bad ending—but as the Empire falls into ruin, you’ll be smiling.


True to our name we recommend Immersive Sims. Past, present and future.

Recommended 31 August, 2020
“It's like a cross between a walking sim and System Shock. While it might occasionally feel like a prototype it does enough good things with its atmosphere and writing to make it interesting to play.”
Recommended 29 November, 2017
“At first it might feel like Deus Ex HR in System Shock clothes but in the end it stands out on its own merits, enough to make it one of the best immersive sim in recent years.”
Recommended 26 February, 2016
“Better than its reputation, the Thief reboot has a lot to offer even if various issues, a forgettable story and poor sound prevent it from being great.”
Recommended 23 September, 2014
“It's the closest we've gotten to the one city block RPG. A narrative built around choices and relationships. Feels like a good Star Trek TNG Episode.”
Recommended 23 September, 2014
“Another competitor for the "best ever" crown, Bloodlines rembles a more expansive and mature Deus Ex but with vampires in place of cheesy conspiracies.”
Recommended 23 September, 2014
“Highly divise, Bioshock Infinite is a game from a timeline where Immersive Sims have gone horribly wrong. Bombastic but hollow.”
Recommended 23 September, 2014
“Although some call it unnecessary it is a worthy sequel and improves greatly on its predecessor both mechanically and narratively. Check out the DLC.”
Recommended 23 September, 2014
“The spiritual sequel to System Shock is geared towards action but still impresses with grandiose vistas and a unique story.”
Recommended 23 September, 2014
“EYE borrows from just about every sci-fi franchise in existence and crafts a bizzare melange that somehow resembles an Immersive Sim. Acquired taste.”
Recommended 23 September, 2014
“A welcome improvement of most of the core systems make it the mechanically best Stalker game although not quite as gripping as the original.”

Sims best immersive

10 Immersive Sims To Play If You Loved The Original BioShock

Ken Levine is a name that most people are slowly forgetting in the gaming community, which is quite a shame. After all, this brilliant director used to be one of the biggest names in gaming less than a decade back, but his inactivity has somewhat quietened the buzz around him over time. That being said, there's no denying the fact that Levine is responsible for some of the biggest games in the gaming industry, with his most notable work being on the BioShock franchise.

RELATED: 10 Hidden Details Everyone Missed In The Original BioShock

The first BioShock was stellar for a whole host of reasons, but the one thing that stuck with players throughout their experience was the story, which was easily one of the greatest tales in gaming at that point and took bold strides when it came to defining the power of a gripping narrative in gaming.

Any person who played this game for the first time has definitely relished this experience, and would obviously want to play more games that capture this immersive sim that BioShock went for. Here are ten such games that can scratch this itch.

10 Deus Ex

One of the greatest immersive sims of all time was bound to make an appearance on this list at some point or the other, so it's only fitting that Deus Ex should start off this list in a resounding fashion.

There's endless rhetoric that one can spout about the first Deus Ex title... but instead, players are better off just experiencing this masterpiece on their own to either light up or rekindle their love for immersive sims.

9 Thief II: The Metal Age

The Thief series is an easy recommendation for anyone who got a taste of what immersive sims can provide in BioShock and wants to enjoy a deeper dive into this genre.

The original Thief is definitely a great title, but even its strongest defenders will agree with the fact that the first game flounders quite a bit before reaching the finishing line. The same can't be said about the second game, which is a tightly woven experience from start to end and showcases exactly what a stealth-driven immersive sim is capable of.

8 Thief: Deadly Shadows

Most people tend to discredit the third Thief game as an inferior counterpart to the first two games, but people who manage to see past these comparisons will realize that Thief: Deadly Shadows is a solid title in its own right.

RELATED: 10 Action RPGs To Play If You Like The Thief Series

After all, there's barely any other games that have a Wikipedia entry solely devoted to just one level in their title! If Thief: Deadly Shadows managed to achieve that, then there's a ton of other special things that could be lying in there as well.

7 Dishonored

Of course, it would be impossible to talk about immersive sims without mentioning one of the biggest names in gaming that has continually strived to turn this genre into a thing of beauty. Arkane Studios have definitely make a ton of other titles in the genre, but it's the Dishonored series that truly put them on the map as one of the best video game developers around.

The tight stealth-driven gameplay of Dishonored is a joy to behold, and all the brilliant mechanics in the first game were somehow cranked up to the max in the second title, which is easily one of the greatest immersive sims ever made.

6 Prey

Of course, it's not like Arkane Studios would just ride the coattails of the Dishonored series. They also took over another dying IP and reinvigorated it in the best way possible — Prey.

Roaming around the desolate Talos-I space station is not for the faint of heart, but players who manage to power through the initial fear and worry will soon find themselves experiencing a truly excellent title that shows just how much Arkane Studios has matured over time.

5 Pathologic

Most people had never even heard of the game Pathologic before its remake (which is oddly named like a sequel) was announced. In fact, one might argue that most people still don't know — or just don't care — about this unique experimental game that is unlike any other title ever played before.

Any gamer who might find themselves stuck in a rut when it comes to accessing an experience that is completely different from the norm should definitely check out Pathologic — words simply can't do justice to just how hauntingly mesmerizing each and every second of this game really is.

4 Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Warhorse Studios is the perfect example of a studio that genuinely put in all the love and care they could possibly muster and put it all into Kingdom Come: Deliverance — the studio's first title.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance might feel like a rather uninspired video game at multiple points throughout one's run, but powering through all these minor annoyances will definitely help the player enjoy what is easily one of the biggest achievements and success stories in modern gaming history.

3 Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

While Kingdom Come: Deliverance got the recognition it deserved, the same can't be said for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, which was easily one of the greatest games of 2004 yet never received the praise it truly deserved.

Thankfully, with the release of Bloodlines 2, more and more people can finally get acquainted with one of the most sublime and unique role-playing experiences of all time.

2 System Shock 2

One of the first major projects that Ken Levine worked on was System Shock 2 — a title that eventually inspired him to create the amazing world of BioShock.

So, it's only a given that players should try out the immersive sim masterpiece that gave birth to one of the greatest gaming franchises of all time.

Speaking of which...

1 BioShock Infinite

It was only a given that there was truly just one title that could capture the magic of the original BioShock experience, if not augment it to a whole new level.

BioShock Infinite is easily one of the greatest video games ever made, and an absolute must-play for anyone who's played the original BioShock but has yet to experience the amazing story of Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth in the city of Rapture.

NEXT: 5 Reasons Why BioShock Infinite Is Better Than BioShock (And 5 Ways It's Worse)


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Ritwik Mitra (483 Articles Published)

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Top 10 Immersive First Person Games
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#1  Edited By Jonnythan12

I had heard of the term Immersive Sim before, but never really knew what it was. With the release of Cruelty Squad, I finally looked it up. An immersive sim is a game that has a focus on different systems that allow the player to interact with the game in a more open and creative way. Of course the big examples are games like Deus Ex or Thief.

I had coincidentally just started playing Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines for the first time, which is another immersive sim that is quite good. I have also played and loved Arkane's Prey and Dishonored games which are more modern examples. Researching this topic has really opened my eyes to how this genre I didn't really know about encompassed or influenced some of my favorite games. After that I got all the Deus Ex and Thief games on the steam summer sale, and reinstalled System Shock.

The point of this is; what are everyone's favorite immersive sims whether it be a classic, or a more modern game. And bonus question, what does everyone think the future of this genre will be?

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#2 cikame

It's a funny genre tag for what is basically just "action game with rpg mechanics and some traversal options", my favourites aren't that interesting to talk about really, i love stealthing in Human Revolution, i love the vibe of the original Deus Ex, and i don't know if it counts but i have a soft spot for Thi4f, that game got way more hate than it deserved.

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#3 Humanity  Online

They don’t really make a lot of these anymore so I’m basically into all the standards - everything from Arkane is great and Prey is the ultimate realization of the genre with just so many different approaches to each problem. The newer Deus Ex games were pretty good alrhough Human Revolution was much better than Mankind Divided. There’s been a lot of talk about Cruelty Squad being part of this genre but I think that’s kind of a stretch.

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#4  Edited By Justin258


It's a funny genre tag for what is basically just "action game with rpg mechanics and some traversal options", my favourites aren't that interesting to talk about really, i love stealthing in Human Revolution, i love the vibe of the original Deus Ex, and i don't know if it counts but i have a soft spot for Thi4f, that game got way more hate than it deserved.

Immersive sims all fall under that description, sure, but the primary thing you're missing is, to summarize easily, "emergent gameplay elements". The idea is that you create a game world that the player has a tactile interaction with, by which I mean you do things in and to objects and actors that exist in the world around you - meaning you don't interact with stuff through a menu or through some kind of far away camera angle but with things that are literally right in front of you - and there are several different systems enabling you to achieve goals in a variety of different ways, from the boring "shoot your way out" to the more creative "stack some boxes here to jump over this fence and skip half the level" method. They are focused on simulating a world and then asking you to achieve goals within it.

I am aware that this is a pretty broad definition and it can be stretched quite a bit to include things not normally considered immersive sims (Fallout 3, Breath of the Wild) and that early immersive sims don't necessarily seem to fit all that well (Ultima Underworld, System Shock), but I still feel like it points people in the right direction. Far Cry isn't really an immersive sim because it doesn't have enough interlocking systems - perhaps there are three different ways to take out that bandit camp but at the end of the day you're going to have to kill everyone and cut off all the alarms - the world itself only ever interacts with you in the most basic video game-y of ways. Meanwhile, Dishonored gives you an objective, a large level to accomplish that objective in, and then lets you go nuts in whatever way you want to and the game is designed to account for any strategy you want to employ.

Prey, Dishonored, early Thief games, Deus Ex, System Shock 2, these are all very definitely immersive sims because they give you simple goals and the freedom to accomplish them however you see fit.

As for my personal favorite of the sub-genre... I don't know. I think Dishonored 2 and Prey are probably the best this particular sub-genre has to offer, but also I've only finished two of these kinds of games more than once - Dishonored 1 and Deus Ex Human Revolution. I once heard an argument that Dusk is an immersive sim and, while I don't necessarily agree, I can see where he's coming from and I have finished that more than once.

...anyway, I'm going to hijack this thread and mention that everyone should keep an eye on the next promising immersive sim type game, Gloomwood.

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#5 The_Nubster

@humanity said:

They don’t really make a lot of these anymore so I’m basically into all the standards - everything from Arkane is great and Prey is the ultimate realization of the genre with just so many different approaches to each problem. The newer Deus Ex games were pretty good alrhough Human Revolution was much better than Mankind Divided. There’s been a lot of talk about Cruelty Squad being part of this genre but I think that’s kind of a stretch.

My favourite part about Prey is that the main force of enemies aren't linked to storyline outcomes, so it really does give you a level playing field when it comes to using your abilities. Dishonored was always a bummer because you had all of these awesome tools but using them made the state of the world shittier and more awful in the storyline, whereas Prey gives you a free pass on using all of the tools to reach your goal. It is really an incredible feeling to be able to go hog-wild 90% of the time.

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#10 RobertForster

All the Deus Ex games besides human revolution are my favorites, especially Deus Ex 1.

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#11  Edited By Onemanarmyy

I still need to play Arkane's last two games, but Deus Ex 1 still feels a special game where you knew fairly early on, as you opened the body modifications menu, that this game was going to give you all kinds of crazy options. Even something as silly as being able to lure the first enemies to the dock and have all your allies help to fight was pretty cool.

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#13 Mittens

It's hard to pin down immersive sims as a genre; it's almost more of a brand for Looking Glass games in the 90s and Looking Glass-inspired games that came out since then. Arkane in particular have very much billed themselves as the modern-day successors to Looking Glass. Besides Arkane games, there's also S.T.A.L.K.E.R, VtM Bloodlines, Pathologic... If you expand the definition a bit you can include Hitman games, or indie games like Gunpoint. There aren't a ton of those games because they're difficult to make and don't sell that well.

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#15 Camosid

I think the future of the genre is figuring out scale. Skyrim and Morrowind for example while RPG's I would argue are very much Immersive sims with a huge scale. That scale means details present in smaller scale immersive sims like Deus Ex and Cruelty Squad aren't there. You can already see it moving toward that persistent environment with games like Prey and the upcoming Deathloop that both have large extremely open environments that are interconnected.

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#18  Edited By MetalRain

I think Prey is the best example, but I wonder if this kind of games could have more simulation elements something like Oxygen Not Included has. In that game for each room you have to consider pressure, gas mixture, heat transfer etc.

Usually games like Deus Ex or Prey you can have single room that is pumped full of toxic gas, is filled with fire but it never affects anything else, it's more like specific type obstacle than fully actualized dynamic system.


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