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Microsoft Flight Simulator – the only way to fly

06 Aug 2020

Developer Asobo had no idea when they started their resurrection of Microsoft’s legendary Flight Simulator series that most of the world’s passenger airline fleet would be grounded when the game was finally released. For most of us, international flights and overseas travel have been suspended indefinitely.

On August 18th, PC gamers will be able to take to skies, once more, with what looks to be the first of next-generation consumer flight simulation. The Flight Simulator franchise predates the Windows operating system. 

For most of its iterations, the program built upon previous releases providing evolution but not revolution. After the release of Flight Simulator X in 2004, Microsoft kicked the franchise to the kerb. It was a move that shocked the flight sim community that had heavily invested in the game via the purchase of 3rd-party mods and add-ons. 

With the development of MS Flight Simulator suspended, many simmers turned to the likes of X-Plane, a promising alternative to Microsoft’s offering, if a little rough. In 2014 UK outfit Dovetail Games licenced Flight Simulator X re-releasing the game as FSX: Steam Edition. 

Dovetail refitted FSX for the modern Windows OS. With a 3rd party mod, this new version could also be played in VR. Graphically, though, it was the same engine that the program had been utilising for decades.

Meanwhile, X-Plane was advancing in leaps and bounds. Graphically, the planes are amazingly detailed. But, like FSX, without many 3rd-party mods, the landscapes and cities are not much to look at.

Simulations, be it trains, planes or spacecraft, tend to get away with visuals that regular gamers would baulk at. Enthusiasts have conditioned themselves to be thankful for what they are given, with the attention to detail being of more importance than eye candy.

It would seem that with the new MS Flight Simulator flight, sim enthusiasts and gamers alike will be able to take flight without compromise. The new game boasts photo-real landscapes with accurately placed buildings and landmarks. 

Whether you just want to soar among the cloud or practise IFR flight, MS Flight Simulator has you covered. I don’t know how they have managed to create a flight experience that at once sates the appetite for thrills of a gamer and the detail required to engage a serious flight sim enthusiast. From the images and preview videos released so far, this is next-level stuff.

As in the past, MS Flight Simulator comes in a few flavours, depending on how keen you are. The Standard Edition includes 37,000 airports, 30 of which are hand-crafted, and 20 aeroplanes with unique flight models. The Deluxe Edition adds a further five planes and five additional hand-crafted airports. The Premium Deluxe Edition adds more to the above. This ultimate MS Flight Simulator adds another 10 planes and 10 more hand-crafted airports to the game.

MS Flight Simulator draws upon a number of technologies and partners to create a realistic simulation of the whole world. 

The game uses real-world data for landscape generation which is streamed into the simulator over the Internet. Using Microsoft’s Azure Cloud computing system Bing mapping data is enhanced placing trees and buildings as you fly. The game also accommodates offline play, but until I’ve tested this, I’m not sure just how this affects the experience.

The game’s advanced graphics engine not only seems capable of producing photo-real weather and atmospheric effects, but it can also reproduce live weather. This is in addition to player-customised weather settings.

Serious flight simmers will welcome the integration of VATSIM for a premium air traffic control system. This is particularly important as the game has been developed with a shared sky very much in mind.

A detailed, recognisable world means that VFR (visual flight rules) flying is available everywhere. This is the experience that casual flyers will likely engage in. Experienced simmers wanting a more challenging flight will be able to generate flight plans using waypoints, VORs and localisers for IFR (instrument flight rules) flight.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is likely to be a game-changer. Not only is it a great way to get back in the sky during these times when we are all grounded, but it also looks to be an amazing technical achievement. 

Microsoft Flight Simulator is released on 18th August on PC. The standard version of the game is also available as part of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.