DarkStar One is one of the more popular space sims released lately, and positive reviews for it are still showing up all over. Quite a few articles compare it to Wing Commander or Privateer, including the piece at Game Industry News. The author of this review specifically singles out the similarities between Darkstar and Privateer 2, which he considers one of the best games of all time. If you haven't heard a lot about this game, check out the lengthy article here. Priv 2 fanatics can also check out our Birthday deluge for the game here.
The first game that I can remember that fit this bill was Starflight, one of the first titles published by then newcomer Electronic Arts. I still have the game and the original packaging, complete with pictures of the developers in spacesuits inside some type of lunar landing craft (I think that’s what it is). In a more modern sense, the father of this genre would be the Privateer series, which really peaked with Privateer II, one of the best games of all time. It was like the much loved Wing Commander games, but instead of flying mission after mission in a linear fashion, you were turned out into the world to make your own path. A few years ago Microsoft released Freelancer to follow this trend. Freelancer was a great game, but was lacking in a few areas and never quite lived up to Privateer II.