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Game review: Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox Series X)

By Darren Price, 28 Jul 2021

Microsoft Flight Simulator gets its console debut on Xbox Series X|S. Now, for the very first time, Xbox gamers can experience a true civil aviation flight simulator on their Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles.

It’s been a year since the PC release. During this time Microsoft Game Studios and lead developer, French outfit Asobo Studio (who you may know from A Plague Tale: Innocence) has been hard at work refining the game for the Xbox release. And here it is.

With only a few clicks from the welcome screen Xbox Series X|S owners will find themselves in control of a plane soaring over some of the most beautiful places in the world. Flight Simulator looks absolutely beautiful on Xbox Series X in 4K HDR, and I say that coming from a year playing the game on a very high-end PC. 

There are some compromises but not that you’d actually notice without running both versions side-by-side. The game runs incredibly well. Many airports and cities look almost exactly like their real-life counterparts.

What the developers have achieved is nothing short of miraculous. The incredible technology under the hood combines detailed terrain mapping, artificial intelligence, cloud data streaming, real-time weather, and flight updates that all serve to create a digital twin of the planet earth.

The game takes up over 100 gigabytes of hard drive space. It also requires an Internet connection to update the scenery as you fly about. You can set the game to cache areas that you regularly fly to save bandwidth.

The skies are not empty. As well as scheduled (or AI) flights Xbox pilots can also share airspace with other Flight Simulator pilots as an open-world multiplayer game. 

For such a potentially complex game, Flight Simulator is a masterclass in accessibility and scaled difficulty. The many flight control assists, and even an AI co-pilot, open the skies to all.

Players can choose to sit in the pilot-in-command’s cockpit seat or view the plane from the outside for a more casual arcade feel. You can pick almost any airport anywhere in the world. There’s a choice from a number of aircraft from airliners to single-engine prop planes. All these choices may be a bit overwhelming. New for the Xbox version is the Discovery mode. Here players can pick from a few iconic locales with the aeroplane, weather, and time of day all set. You just select your fight take the controller and start flying the plane, taking in the scenery. 

The Xbox Series X Controller has been better implemented into the Xbox version of the game than using the controller on PC. It is still a bit of a mission to remember even simple controls like the throttle, to begin with. Using the left thumbstick to bank and change the plane’s attitude is very easy to grasp. The left and right triggers for rudder are a bit odd at first and rather sensitive. The right stick to look around is great, allowing players to take in the breathtaking world of Flight Simulator.

It’s easy to get going with your first flights, but as you delve further into the game things start to get a bit more complex. Xbox owners have inherited the PC version’s rather esoteric menu system, made all that trickier to use due to the absence of a mouse. Tiny buttons and sliders are a bit of a devil to select with the Xbox’s virtual mouse cursor. If you have a keyboard and mouse, you may want to consider plugging them into the Xbox for this one.

There is a comprehensive flight school taking players through the controls and procedures in a single-engine Cessna as well as a commercial airliner. There are also some bush tours and landing challenges to get straight into.

The game comes in three flavours, with the standard version included with Xbox Game Pass. The deluxe version includes five extra aeroplanes and five extra handcrafted airports. The premium deluxe version includes the deluxe extra plus a further 10 extra planes and 10 more handcrafted airports. 

Flight Simulator is not going to be for everyone. The experience ranges from mellow to complex. Whilst thrilling, it’s not action-packed. If you love the idea of taking to the skies and looking out over beautiful scenery or navigating hundreds or tonnes of metal across continents, you are going to have a lot of fun.

You can take from Flight Simulator what to want. If you just want to just fly around without worrying about the serious business of being a pilot, you can. There are thousands of labelled points of interest to check out. You can fly in in blue skies, at dawn or dusk, in the middle of a snowstorm, or in rain and even a hurricane (try and find one by searching on the Internet). You can watch the sunset over the Pacific, flying out of LAX, or check out Buckingham Palace on a foggy London morning. If you want more, you can even use real-world aviation techniques to fly using en route radio navigation and autopilot settings. 

This is the first killer app for the Xbox Series X. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a technical marvel that is both beautiful to look at and fun to play. It’s a literal game-changer, and it is likely, as it has been with the PC version, that this is just the beginning.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is available on PC, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S. Microsoft provided a pre-release version of the game for this review.

Verdict: 9.5/10

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