Simulation video games have come in all shapes and sizes. From the more casual Sims and Stardew Valley to the hyper-realistic Euro Truck and Farming Simulator. Even if some of the more casual simulation games don't feel like it you're still filling a role in that world. No simulator has been as prevalent as Microsoft Flight Simulator which released its 1.0 version back in 1982. The 2020 release is now the 15th game in the series continuing to push hardware not only locally but online to create a faithful flight experience. How does Microsoft Flight Simulator live up to expectations though?
Take to the Skies in Microsoft Flight Simulator
Upon first starting Microsoft Flight Simulator you're greeted with a variety of options. World Map, Live Events, Training, and Activities. The World Map is the sandbox of the game. Pick your aircraft, a departure and arrival airport, and start out on your flight. The sheer number of airports available is incredible. Zooming into the middle of empty parts of the world you're still sure to find somewhere to explore. The recreation of the world, not just including airports, but mountains, rivers, and cities is truly incredible. Flying over known locations, or even your own residence, it's amazing just how accurate the world in the game is.
Chances are you'll end up wanting to fly over your own house taking to the skies for the first time before you begin taking on more serious ventures. You have free access to change the time of day, date, weather patterns, and more before setting out but you can also pull from live weather information. The weather in the location you're flying will be relatively accurate to the weather that's actually happening there. While this feature does download a fair bit of additional data (almost 200 MB in 2-3 hours) it does show the level of realism that Adobo Studios was going for.
Earn Your Wings in Microsoft Flight Simulator
Before you set out on your own adventures though there's a brief tutorial that will help you go over the basics. You'll learn how to steer, take off, and land before you get to go on a pre-scripted flight that links all of these skills together. It's a lot of information that gets delivered very quickly but having it broken up and paced well it's all manageable. This really is the bare basics of training though. In my very first solo flight after training, I wasn't able to complete the flight successfully because I didn't radio into Air Traffic Control, something that was never taught. After finding the hot menu I was able to locate the ATC options, but there's plenty under the surface that you'll be learning for a while. Playing a simulator it's understandable that there will be plenty to learn but with no advanced tutorial you're forced to look through settings to find out what you can do.
Once you've gotten more confident with your abilities you can test your skills in the Live Events and Activities section. These can either be Landing Challenges or Bush Trips. The landing challenges push you to approach hard to reach locations and not crash on descent. The Bush Trips however have you flying specific tracks across the world with limited knowledge and your wits as your allies. Your plane won't appear on a map and you'll need to follow different headings given to you. If you feel you're very far off the beaten track then you can have your plane appear briefly but don't expect it to carry you the whole way. These modes are tough, especially for a newer player. It doesn't just take away the AI assistance but also technology like GPS. It's understandable that Simulators are meant to be hard, but taking away modern technology like GPS leaving you blind adds another dimension of challenge. It's going to be that next level for players who really want to push themselves, but most players will happily never touch this part of the game.
Explore the World of Microsoft Flight Simulator
When you're not flying you can spend some time in your hanger with your planes. Here you can see your planes statistics including cruise speed, max altitude, how long they will stay in the air for, and how far they can go. These are the statistics that are relevant to the gameplay experience, but you can also dive deeper and learn more about each individual plane. The planes have a brief description as well as information about wingspan, weights, fuel capacity, and more. To get a better sense of the plane you can also spend some time sitting in each cockpit here. If you'd like to use a plane with more informative instruments or more window space, the hanger is worth spending some time.
As you're tailoring your Microsoft Flight Simulator experience you'll also get to pick what level of stimulation you'd prefer. The three levels are All Assists, Middle-Ground, and True to Life. The training mode will prepare you for All Assists. Here you don't need to worry about radio and it's easier to correct your plane as your flying, even weather effects get lessened in this mode. Higher levels of realism require more attention on the screen, instruments, and radio instructions. Even with the least amount to monitor once winds pick up or sharp turns need to be incorporated even a simple task can become very difficult.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is NOT playing around
Unless you're a seasoned pro chances are you'll start that All Assists and slowly remove the training wheels until you get to a comfortable point. Each of the individual settings can also get toggled for a custom difficulty level. If you want an easier flight but for the plane to feel 100% of the force of the wind you can do that. If you want everything to be as realistic as possible, but you'd prefer the AI handle the radio comms then there's an option for that too. It's great when a game has a robust difficulty slider, but even more to when so many individual elements can get tweaked to your liking. This is a great way for players of all levels of knowledge to ease themselves into the game.
As you'd expect controlling an airplane is no mean feat and the controls reflect this. The keyboard controls will have you pressing keys all over. F2 and F3 for the throttle, number pad for controlling the yoke, number keys for different views, mouse and arrow keys for camera controls. To the credit of the tutorial, instruction begins with the yoke and dashboard explanation. Each further lesson expands while reinforcing what you've already learned. Even if you end up having to know twenty different keys and combinations across the keyboard at no point does it feel overwhelming.
Smooth Landings in Microsoft Flight Simulator
Much like playing a third-person platformer, you can immediately tell when steering that Microsoft Flight Simulator is best experienced with a joystick. Pulling up on the Yoke and even increasing the throttle has an exponential effect. Instead of being able to make medium adjustments holding down the key, you'll find yourself spinning out of control. To get around this you need to repeatedly mash the yoke keys for more precise control. Controlling your airplane with a keyboard is no issue when adjusting in midair or during take-off but when precise control is needed during landing lack of fine controls is a fast way to an air disaster. It's certainly a frustrating feeling to be cruising through an hour-long flight only to completely lose control in the last 5 minutes.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a beautiful game, from the wonderfully crafted planes to the accurately recreated world it's amazing the level of detail that has been crammed into this game. Even as an entry point for new players the tutorial does a great job easing players in. For those wanting to get further into the world of Flight Simulator though don't expect any handholding as more responsibilities are thrust upon you. Those driven enough to learn the systems and create the own objectives in the game will have a lot of fun but if you're seeking missions or levels to complete then you won't find it here. Those out there that already are fans of Flight Simulator are in for an absolute treat as every aspect of the game has been improved from prior versions.
- Beautiful Simulation
- Great Beginner Tutorial...
- Next Level Weather and World Simulation
- Players Must be Driven
- ...No Advanced Tutorial