Microsoft Flight Simulator Review

Microsoft Flight Simulator is the most incredible experience I’ve ever had on a computer. The realism, the depth, the almost limitless replayability – it’s like nothing I’ve ever played before. It does so much to recreate the feeling of actual flight, at a level of accuracy never before seen, that there were times when I came in for a landing at real-life airfields I’d seen during my time in the Air Force where I was simply stunned. These are places I will likely never visit again as a civilian, and yet as I gazed out the window during my final descent into places like Jacobabad, Pakistan or Thumrait, Oman, I was seeing an approximation so close to what I remembered from all those years ago that I actually said out loud, “Holy shit, I remember this.”

The attention to detail in the plane interiors, rebuilt virtually using laser scans of the real things, manufacturing documents, and CAD drawings, is astonishingly precise. But it’s the integration with Microsoft’s real-world Bing map services that takes this incredible simulation into a whole new realm of freedom and realism. Granted, there are a few cracks in the picture-perfect facade in some of the more remote areas, and the buildings outside of major cities are built largely with a clever algorithm instead of by human hands, but it’s still absolutely wild how complete it seems. If you want to fly over your house, it’s there, in Flight Simulator, exactly where it ought to be. It might not look exactly like your house, but it’s there. I promise.

32 of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s 37,000 Airports

The base version of Microsoft Flight Simulator comes with 20 planes and 30 hand-crafted airports. That might not seem like a lot of locations, but the remaining 37,000+ of the world’s airports are generated using technology sufficiently advanced that, to my eye, it is indistinguishable from magic. My local airport on the east coast of the United States, for example, is tiny and largely unremarkable, but I was impressed by how close to the mark Flight Simulator came while I was taxiing to park my Cessna. Every building is in the right place, aside from a few of the smaller (less than 10×10′) outbuildings. It’s quite impressive.

If you want to fly over your house, it’s there, in Flight Simulator, exactly where it ought to be.

The hand-crafted airports, built from scans and real-world blueprints, are even more technically awe-inspiring – I’ve never seen anything close to this level of accuracy in a flight simulation before. What I really like is how developer Asobo Studios expanded the selection of “hand crafted” recreations beyond just the major airports. Sure, major hubs like JFK, Seattle-Tacoma, and Heathrow are lovingly recreated in the base game, but smaller airports are also here. There’s even one in South America that’s no more than a strip of dirt cutting a swath through the thick rainforest. I wasn’t expecting to find such accuracy for these tiny, more challenging destinations, but I loved discovering them.

In a similar vein are the airplanes themselves – the level of detail is astounding. I can say from real-world experience the cockpit of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk is perfect. You could snap a screenshot and share it online as a photo and, unless your PC is a complete potato, it would easily fool a lot of people. (I know this because I did exactly that.) Asobo not only flawlessly recreated the look of the interiors and exteriors of the available planes, but the instruments are also fully operational. The Garmin digital instruments appear and function exactly as they do in real life because the developers built emulators for the actual software that runs them into Flight Simulator. This is the first game I’ve ever played where I downloaded a .PDF manual from a real-world piece of equipment to reference during play – and everything in the manual checks out to the virtual hardware. It excites the absolute nerdiest parts of my core.

Cruising Altitude

As unbelievably realistic as the flight simulation is, it’s also accessible to just about anyone’s level of flight experience. You can turn on all the assists and enjoy Flight Simulator in a more arcade-style, or turn them all off and approach a virtual sortie in the same way you’d do the real thing, checklists and all. As someone without a pilot’s license (I was an electrician in the Air Force, not a pilot) my personal preference is playing halfway between the full simulation and the highest assist settings because it still creates a very challenging experience but removes some of the mundane steps from the process, like pre-flight checks, engine start, etc.

Better still, since Flight Simulator is coming to Xbox Series X at some as-of-yet-undetermined point in the future, it controls really well with just an Xbox One controller. The elevator controls are a little touchy on some of the planes using the analog stick, but can be adjusted to suit your needs. Overall, I have no complaints about playing with the controller. It still requires keyboard functionality to get the most out of your plane, but there’s no immediate need to rush out and buy a flight stick or yoke.

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