When I wrote about Microsoft Flight Simulator a couple of weeks ago, I was blown away with the technology, had a really great time getting the basic flight mechanics down, and finding landmarks to travel to. Now that I’ve had a lot more time with the game, and have had time to experience things like multiplayer, this isn’t just a game that I wanted, it’s a game that I needed.
You would think that flying a propeller plane through the Himalayas or a sea plane through a thunderstorm in the South of France would be a stressful experience, and it is at times, but it’s equally relaxing. I wrote in my preview that the game suffers from a lack of objectives and things to do (for casual players), but I’ve come to realise that one of the best parts of Microsoft Flight Simulator is that there are no set goals or boundaries.
It’s not only an absolutely great way to take in parts of the world, but it’s equally a great way to unwind. I’ll admit, after 10-15 hours with the game, I turned down a few of the game’s collision systems (the game allows you to turn assists on, off or in the middle), making it so I couldn’t over-stress my plane or experience any crash damage, so I could literally land and take off from anywhere, which made it a much more freeing experience.
I never thought that I’d be saying that Microsoft Flight Simulator makes the perfect game to chill out and catch up with friends, but it absolutely does. Spending a significant amount of time with multiplayer, the experience went to a new level for me. What was initially a quite isolating experience became something that I got to experience with other people. Taking in the same sights, trying to challenge ourselves by landing and taking off from unthinkable areas and just generally taking in everything that the world has to offer. The game allows you to make make your own fun, and there’s nothing better than having the entire world as your playground.
Just like how I couldn’t quite get my head around how the satellite streaming works, multiplayer equally blew me away with how seamless it is. The multiplayer works in the exact same way it does as if you were playing by yourself. You can see friends or other people on your world map, and you’re then able to jump to them (this works best when taking off from the same area). You’re then seamlessly loaded into the same world, with the freedom to pause, land wherever you like, stay as close to the other person you like or basically do whatever.
I can’t even imagine the challenge into making multiplayer in this game possible, and it could have easily ruined the experience, but somehow Asobo has done a really great job at making it seem as though you’re still flying across the world in one seamless universe that has other people in it (just like it ordinarily would). The drop in, drop out nature of it makes it feel like you’re not at all restricted, which is the most important thing for a game like this. There’s definitely a few tweaks that could potentially be made in terms of being able to transport to the same area as a party member automatically, and a few other little things, but it’s a gallant effort.
As I mentioned in my preview, the game does a really great job at easing you into the basics. 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.
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.
In the game, there’s 30 premium airports (40 in the premium edition) and 20 aircrafts (30 in the premium 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 mentioned earlier that I was glad that the game didn’t overwhelm you with objectives or things to do, and I do like that, given it’s still a game that is made for simmers first and foremost, but I definitely do think there are things that could be added and improved before it releases on Xbox. There are a number of landing challenges and bush trek challenges which have you competing against other players and friends around the world. There’s also a live landing challenge which looks like it’ll be updated. These are a great start, but I do think that the team could add more “gamey elements” without taking away from the experience. Not necessarily, a full campaign, but maybe challenges that gradually build in difficulty. The way leaderboards are integrated are also a little bit clunky and could use a bit of work. At the end of the day, I understand that this is a platform and will be built up for years to come.
At the end of the day, if you’re wanting to play Microsoft Flight Simulator for the visuals alone (which I suspect is what will draw a lot of people in initially), then you’re going to absolutely love this game. Visually it is absolutely stunning. There’s nothing like coming out of a thunderstorm to see the sunlight, or coming above the clouds when taking off. Given most of the world is still in some form of lockdown right now, with the inability to fly anywhere in the world, it feels like Microsoft Flight Simulator is releasing at the perfect time. It’s going to provide so many people with the chance to fly over their hometown or just unwind by flying somewhere remote on the other side of the world.
THE PC VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a game that you have to play to understand just how incredible of an experience it is. It's an incomparable adventure that consistently surprises and delights. The game provides you with all the tools necessary to conquer the unthinkable task of flying the plane. Asobo has laid an incredible platform that will provide hours upon hours of joy for both casual gamers and flight experts alike, and it's only upwards from here.