I’ve been playing Microsoft Flight Simulator for the better part of two weeks now and there’s something quite addictive about it. It might just be what we’re going through in the world right now, but there’s something about being able to fly absolutely anywhere in the world that has been brought me pure joy ever since booting it up and getting through the initial learning of flying a plane.
I’d had my eye on the game ever since it was announced, and obviously I knew that it was going to be a visual powerhouse, but I was worried about the barrier of entry difficulty-wise as well as just how much of a simulation the game would be (which I’m sure a lot of people are also wondering about). The game definitely does require a decent level of knowledge and skill to be successful in the task of flying a plane, but it’s how Flight Simulator teaches you the necessary skills and eases you into each step with the use of lessons. The way that the game teaches you the basics is seriously effective in setting you up for success in the air.
There’s eight lessons that range from teaching you the basic controls, how to read your instruments, taking off and maintaining a level flight as well as landing. These are the four essential lessons that you’ll need to go through in order to get the basics down, and it feels overwhelming at first, but it’s also super rewarding when you execute each lesson, then take those out into the sky. There’s also four more advanced lessons that are more about navigation and reading traffic patterns, but you won’t need those unless you’re really wanting to get into the simulation side of it.
In terms of controls, assuming that most people don’t have a fully kitted out flight rig, you can use either the keyboard/mouse or a controller. I opted to use an Xbox Elite controller which worked quite well. Everything was well laid out, and I always felt that I had great control over my airplane. The game still does require you to use keyboard inputs every now and then (and you might struggle if you’re using a tenkeyless), but once you’re in the air, you’re fine to just use the controller.
The game has a huge range of assistance settings, allowing you to set the main settings to ‘all assists’, ‘middle-ground’ and ‘true-to-life’. I played on middle-ground, which basically sets you up for success, without making you feel like you don’t have control of the plane.
The game’s world map is where you’ll spend most of your time. This is where you can choose literally anywhere in the world to either depart from or arrive at. The map is laid out with airports and key landmarks, and you can also use coordinates to head to an exact spot. You’re able to see which planes are currently in the air in real time, and also set weather and time or you can tell the simulator to select the weather/time, based on real-world current data.
Once you’re in the air is where the magic begins. I’d be lying if I said I fully understood what was happening in the background to make the game look this great, with such astonishing detail, but my basic understanding is that the game is using Microsoft’s Azure servers in conjunction with Bing Maps in order to stream building and terrain data in from the cloud. The technology is obviously impressive, and it’s something that Microsoft has wanted to push for a long time, so it feels like we’re final seeing it come to life.
Similarly, the way that the plane crashes through heavy cloud, or the way that the rain rolls off the front screen of your plane is just unlike anything else that I’ve ever seen in a game before. It’s a sense of hyper realism that was almost surreal to see unfolding in front of my eyes at times, and that sense of amazement from the visuals and world surrounding me never subsided.
I want to make it clear that you can fly literally anywhere in this game. You can fly to see the Pyramids of Cairo or fly over Area 51. As far as I can tell, there’s nowhere off limits, and if you can think it, you can travel there. If you’re wanting to travel from one area to the next, you’re going to have to play out the actual flight time, which won’t be to everyone’s cup of tea, but as I mentioned earlier, you can select to go to anywhere directly from the world map.
In the game, there’s 30 premium airports (40 in the gold edition) and 20 aircrafts (30 in the gold edition) ranging from jets to smaller propeller planes to a massive Boeing 747-8 that you’d be used to flying in. It’s worth mentioning that these premium airports are only one to one recreations, and that you can visit almost any airport in the world (I believe there’s well over 35,000 in the game). It’s just that these airports outside of the 30 premium airports are pulled from maps and won’t be one to one recreations.
I get that a lot of gamers want structure in their games, and aren’t interested in just picking a random spot on a map and flying around with no objective (I’m one of those gamers too), but Asobo and Microsoft have obviously been aware of the fact that casual players might want to play this game and whilst there’s not strictly a campaign (Asobo said that’s something they’re looking into for the future), there are a series of landing challenges and bush treks that are well worth your time and help give the game a bit of structure.
The landing challenges are split into famous, epic and strong wind and will see you take on landing challenges in places like Rio De Janeiro, Sydney, Aspen, Indonesia and Queenstown. The bush trips will test your long distance skills across places like Yosemite and Santorini. There’s also limited time events with leaderboards, which will definitely give gamers a reason to come back to the game in the long term. I’d love to see Asobo take this further with more challenges, certain skill based trials in order to give all types of gamers a reason to strive to be the best pilot possible.
It’s hard to put into words just how great Microsoft Flight Simulator is. It’s not only the most visually impressive game that I’ve ever played, but there’s an unsuspected joy in flying around the sky with no real objective or end goal. It’s a game that I can continually see myself coming back to on PC, and frankly I think it could be the best reason to buy an Xbox Series X.
Microsoft Flight Simulator launches on Windows PC on August 18th (on Xbox Game Pass). An Xbox One and Xbox Series X release is coming at a later date.