Microsoft Flight Simulator Review
It’s insane to think that the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise is almost as old as me. First released back in November of 1982, the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise has launched over 10 different versions, each time pushing the boundaries of what personal computers can do. With Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020), pushing boundaries has never looked so good or accomplished so much. It’s no exaggeration to say that Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the most innovative video games ever made for so many spectacular reasons.
It’s been a year since Microsoft Flight Simulator first launched on PC, and now it’s taking to the skies on the Xbox Series X/S. How does a game that was designed for PC look and feel on the Xbox consoles? Let’s take a look.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is all about the experience. There’s no story here. You create your own journey, and your options are damn-near limitless. From the Welcome Menu, you’ll have access to a variety of different options to get you off the ground. These options are divided into two distinct groups; Activities and World Map. Activities is the ideal starting point. From here, you’ll be able to get your learn on with the all-important Flight Training – Flight Simulator’s tutorial section. Flight Training covers damn near every aspect of flying. While I highly recommend Flight Training, it can be a bit boring, and it does come with its share of frustrations. For example, if you fail a tutorial, you’ll have to restart it from the beginning – and since some of these tutorials can be quite lengthy, it can be a bit of a grind to get back to where you made your mistake. A “rewind” feature or checkpoint feature would have made the tutorial experience a bit more user-friendly. Another odd miss was the lack of the “next tutorial” option when you complete a tutorial – forcing you to go back to the tutorial menu and manually picking your next lesson.
After you’ve mastered the Flight Training – or if you’d rather skip it and just dive into the meat of the game – you’ll have a selection of other Activities to dive into, and these are the perfect way to really appreciate what Microsoft Flight Simulator has to offer. Discovery Flights are pre-arranged flights around some of the most iconic cities in the world. Want to visit Tokyo, the home of the 2020 Olympics? It’s there. Ever wish you could travel to London? It’s there too. How about a flight through Yosemite National Park? That’s available too. Next up is the Landing Challenges. In this mode, you’ll have a vast selection of hand-picked challenges that will force you to become good at landing. The beauty of these challenges is that they’ll start you in the air on approach, but a variety of conditions, including weather conditions, will ensure your landing doesn’t come easy. Finally, there are the Bush Trips. Bush Trips are little tours around predetermined areas designed to really test your navigation skills.
After you’ve taken a stab at some of the Activities, you can dive into the jaw-dropping World Map. A literal recreation of our beautiful planet Earth fully recreated utilizing a variety of technologies and Bing maps. Every single city, town, street, lake, river, ocean, island, and so on have been recreated in Microsoft Flight Simulator. As far as I can tell, every single airport in the world has also been included as well. From the search menu, you’ll select a Departure airport and an Arrival airport. You’ll select which aircraft you want to fly. And you’ll select whether you want current, real-world conditions – weather, time of day, etc. – or if you want to dial back the hands of time and select an earlier time of day with more favorable flying conditions. And with a click of the button and a brief loading screen, you’ll find yourself on the Departure airport runaway, preparing for takeoff. It’s hard to put into words just how vast Microsoft Flight Simulator is. You can literally fly anywhere on Earth. In fact, if you’re goal was to fly over every place on the globe, even in some of the faster Boeing jets, it would still take you months. The game also recreates real-world weather conditions with startling accuracy based on actual real-time weather data. If you hear about a storm on the news, you can literally fly into the storm and see it yourself first hand.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the most awe-inspiring visual spectacles I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Flying over cities, especially cities I’ve been to, is such an incredible feeling. From a distance, everything looks so real and authentic. I’ve flown over houses that I’ve lived in – and while the houses aren’t one-to-one recreations, you can still pinpoint the place you’re looking for. The biggest disappointment is the lack of real-world branding that could have truly brought this world to life. Driving over a real-world Mcdonald’s, you won’t see those iconic golden arches glowing in the night. All branding has been wiped, and for obvious reasons. The amount of money it would cost to use other brand’s visuals in this game would be insane – even if it did provide a sort of “free advertising.” Sometimes flying too close to the ground can also create a muddy, blurry effect on the buildings. But if you’re playing the game as intended, soaring in the sky from destination to destination, it’s a marvelous treat.
Flying a plane isn’t easy. And even if you’ve mastered the extensive Flight Training, you’ll likely still have some challenges. Fortunately, there are some extensive options available that players can tweak to modify just how difficult flying is. If you want a more “arcade” like experience, you can turn on all the assists. You can still stall your plane and crash, but it’s definitely a lot easier than the more authentic options – some of which I’m still too intimidated to try. Another disappointment worth mentioning is the horrendous user interface. Clearly, no thought was put into the fact that console users do not use a mouse to navigate screens. Instead, you’ll get this slow, plodding cursor controlled by your left thumbstick. I desperately hope a console update will come in the next few months to make navigating screens, both in-game and out, a much more user-friendly experience.
Despite how incredible this package is, it still important to note that this is a simulation game. As incredible as it is to first take to the skies and fly, even I have to admit to getting bored at times. Distances are represented in real-time, so even a hundred-kilometer flight can take upwards of a half-hour to complete. I often found myself checking my Twitter and Facebook while I was flying. Crashing your plane is a dull experience, too – often leading to a black screen with minimal details as to what went wrong: no explosions or anything. In a way, I get it – they didn’t want players crashing into buildings, acting out sick terrorism fantasies. But I still do wish there was a little oomph into my failures. In the future, there will be added DLC that will include jet fighters – these will at least provide some much-needed speed to really start exploring our planet in quick time.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a pinnacle in game development. Utilizing a variety of technologies, we gamers get the entire Earth as our playground. All real-world weather conditions are here. Any Earthly destination we want is available. And it looks pretty damn amazing in the process. Microsoft Flight Simulator is not without its faults. The user interface is hardly user-friendly, opting for a simple recreation of the PC version without much thought given to console gaming. The Flight Training tutorials could have some added polish to make them more accommodating to aspiring pilots. And finally, if I’m going to crash, let me crash in style. Give me epic explosions or something to punctuate my failures – not just a simple black screen. If you’re currently an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, then you have no choice at all – download Microsoft Flight Simulator right at this moment and experience this amazing accomplishment in gaming. Yes, this game is a simulator, but it’s a simulator that does so many things right.
***Microsoft Flight Simulator key provided by publisher***
Access to anywhere on Earth
Stunning visuals from a distance
Real-world weather simulations
Accurate plane recreations
Can get a bit dull
Some muddy textures up close
User interface issues
Flight Training needs improvements