Microsoft Flight Simulator
- Fly anywhere in the world
- ... seriously, anywhere!
- Incredible graphics
- Extensive customisation to flying experience
- Highly-adjustable levels of difficulty
- Good choice of aircraft
- Feels like the real thing
- Available on Xbox Game Pass
- Can be hard to begin
- Some features missing in some cities
- Some minor graphics quirks
If you have spent any time at all on this website in the past you will know that I have been looking forward to the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator all year! It’s imminent arrival even inspired me to get my hands on some of the best PNY XLR8 gaming components to boost the credentials of my gaming PC.
Well, Microsoft Flight Simulator is available now to purchase outright, or better yet as part of the brilliant Xbox Game Pass for PC, which means you can jump right in and try it out for as little as a dollar (if you are a first-time user of Xbox Game Pass)! WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE? GET FLYING!
Right… you probably actually want to know what I think of the game. Or, you may just be killing time while you wait for a substantial 120+ GB download to complete. Be patient – it’s worth the wait!
Is Microsoft Flight Simulator Even A Game?
Yes! Well… sort of… it depends what you mean by “game”… maybe…
For any Dad like me who is familiar with the long and glorious history of Microsoft Flight Simulator, I don’t need to say much more. The basic principle of Flight Simulator hasn’t changed much in nearly 40 – despite the small *cough* boost in graphics performance. You lot will know exactly what to expect, which is why you have probably already downloaded it and clocked tens of hours of jaw-dropping cockpit time.
A small boost in graphic since the original (1982) version…
For the rest of you, let me try and explain. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a game, but perhaps not in the sense you are used to. There is no shooting, racing, storyline anything like that. You can’t even crash the aircraft in a spectacular manner – moments before impact a simple message informs you that you have monumentally cocked it up (not the exact words).
The purpose of the game is simply to fly. From one place to another place… or even back to the same airport if you just fancy a quick joy flight. It is fair to say this sounds like a niche concept in the gaming sphere, but look around and you might be surprised by how popular it is. And thanks to Xbox Game Pass, you don’t even need to drop a chunk of cash to see if it is for you.
The enjoyment of Microsoft Flight Simulator has always been the fulfillment of childhood dreams of flying an airplane. We all had them, I promise you. Even if they are long forgotten. It is impossible for a little child to look up at a Boeing 747 flying directly overhead as it approaches the runway, or watch a jet fighter take off from RAAF Base Williamstown, or see a hang glider soaring over Stanwell beach and not wonder what it must be like to fly! I see the wonder in my 4 year old’s face every time. Even my 1 year old can’t walk down the street without gleefully pointing to each and every bird in wide-eyed joy! The desire to soar through the sky runs deep in us all.
The Whole World
With the feeling of truly flying as the basis for creating a new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Microsoft set about the simple task of digitally recreating the entire world. Easy!
Microsoft brought in French game developer Asobo and pulled data from over two petabytes of Bing Maps satellite imagery fed through complex machine learning algorithms to recreate… everything.
Well, almost everything…
The Maiden Flight
I had big ambitions for my first flight – piloting a 747 under the Sydney Harbour Bridge! What could go wrong?
However, Technically my first flight was a series of crashes in a Cessna as I completed the first training exercise. I’m not a compete idiot and I realised I would probably struggle to get the bird off the runway without at least a rudimentary understanding of the basics. After all flying is hard!
The training exercises certainly provided a crash course in the basics. I quickly realised two things – subtle tweaks of the controls are important (move too hard, too fast and you quickly lose control), and piloting an aircraft with an enthusiastic toddler co-pilot sitting in your lap is impossible. An ambitious mash of the keyboard by a tiny fist caused more than one fatal tailspin.
With a solid ten minutes of flight training under my belt, I finally felt comfortable enough to graduate to the mighty 747.
I selected my aircraft, set my starting point as Sydney Kingsford Smith airport and set about taking off with a spectacular sunset playing out around me (both in the game and real life, thanks to the remarkable weather and time of day lighting systems in Microsoft Flight Simulator).
I got off the ground okay and began to feel pretty smug as the aircraft gracefully ascended. However, things began to come unstuck pretty quickly.
Firstly, I was blissfully ignorant of things like raising landing gear and the purpose of flaps. I was also unaware of the damage that high-speed, low altitude flying can cause to a large passenger airline. I had barely gathered my bearings in the Sydney dusk when the warning messages began to appear.
Nevertheless I pushed on. A little damage to non-essential components such as wings wasn’t about to stop my grand plan.
I located Sydney City and set about piloting the 747 towards glory. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my lesson about small movements, which appears to be even more important in a large aircraft than it is in a small one. Within moments my airplane jerked violently to the side and tilted dangerously. I panicked and badly overcompensated, which resulted in an aircraft tilted at an absurd angle and heading rapidly towards the Tempe IKEA parking lot.
Some more expertly panicked overcompensation and I was suddenly seeing stars. As in, my 747 was heading into the cosmos and no mad mashing of buttons on my keyboard could convince it to do anything else.
Eventually, Microsoft Flight Simulator politely informed me that I had overstressed my aircraft resulting in catastrophic damage via a pop up message. There was no explosion, no disintegration or mid air fireball. Just a polite message telling me that my incompetence had prematurely ended my joy flight.
I reassessed my goals and took to the Sydney skies in a smaller and far more maneuverable aircraft.
This time I was able to steer in the direction of my target – the Sydney Harbour Bridge – without too much fuss. I quickly gathered my bearings and enjoyed the sudden realisation that I was flying low over an eerily familiar place. Sydney is a city I know well and, from above, familiar roadways reassuringly snaked their way towards the CBD. There were slightly odd sights, for example the Flight Simulator version of Sydney has more cricket stadiums than I remembered, but overall it was remarkably impressive.
I found the glorious mass of water that is the Parramatta River and headed East in search of the bridge. Here some of the quirkier finer details of the AI-generated 3D world were on show. The most obvious not-quite-right detail was the multi-million dollar yachts that had mysteriously sunk below the surface throughout Sydney’s copious amounts of marinas. This is, of course a minor detail that is indiscernible at a cruising altitude and one that I’m sure the algorithms will be trained to deal with over time. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a game that will continue to evolve and improve in terms of detail – both through the work of developers and third parties who can develop and sell add-ons through the marketplace.
My bigger problem became more apparent as I rounded a bend. In Microsoft Flight Simulator, Sydney Harbour Bridge does not yet exist in the majestic form we know and love. Again, word on the street is that this is a coming soon detail. The Opera House, however, was there and it looked absolutely stunning!
Does all this mean that Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incomplete game, rushed to market under-baked? Absolutely not. Microsoft Flight Simulator is well and truly ready for take-off. A missing Sydney Harbour Bridge is an extremely minor detail in a game that has essentially recreated the entire globe. If Asobo were to wait until every little detail from every city around the world was added then I would be babysitting my grandkids by the time it was released.
Curiously, the AI algorithms have added a few landmarks that I’m fairly certain don’t exist in the real world. The most enjoyable of those discovered by curious pilots so far appears to be this incredible tower located in suburban Melbourne. Needless to say it’s existence has caused much enjoyment, with one eager pilot dedicating hours of his life to landing a plane on top of it. Not all heroes wear capes.
From Take-off to Touchdown
After all that mucking about I decided it was time to get serious and do as nature intended – fly my plane from one airport to another. As it was getting late I decided the best bet was to fly from Kingsford Smith to Bankstown, both in Sydney.
This was actually way more enjoyable than my silly joyrides and outlandish attempts to do crazy things. I finally took some time to soak in the goodness that can be enjoyed through serious flying.
I became aware of the complexity of the game. There were radio communications from air traffic control that I was supposed to acknowledge and respond to. I noticed my flight path mapped out on a little screen in my cockpit. There were other planes on my radar that I miraculously didn’t interfere with.
I could easily make out the end of the runways at Bankstown, with white flashing lights clearly visible from quite a distance to guide me. I felt confident as I lined up and gently guided my aircraft towards the ground.
Once again I was reminded that piloting an aircraft is no easy task. My confidence was quickly shattered as I bounced off the runway hard, then madly tried to bring the flight to a safe end. Somehow I managed to stick the second attempt at a landing, albeit in the strip of grass between the two runways. Nevertheless, I will call it a success.
Diving Deeper into Aircraft Simulation
My little anecdotes above are just scratching the surface of what Microsoft Flight Simulator has to offer. In fact, what Microsoft Flight Simulator has to offer is an endless range of flying experiences with an incredibly fine degree of AI customisation to tweak just about every aspect of the flying experience as one delves deeper into the Simulation aspects of the game.
I have noticed that the more confident I become in the basics of flying, the more I begin to explore all the other tiny little intricate aspects of piloting an aircraft. I have learnt to take full advantage of my dual monitor setup and open such vital screens as navigation and communication to have as much information as possible at hand. It is still early days – air traffic control still get cranky at my inability to maintain a consistent cruising altitude.
I also make sure I take the time to just sit back and enjoy the awesome beauty of this game and marvel at the achievement of recreating the entire world within a game. Missing bridges aside, it is something truly worth applauding and appreciating. Experiences like spotting Mt Fuji looming in the distance on a flight from Osaka to Tokyo have truly taken my breath away.
I have read comments that basically suggest that no consumer PC is yet capable of realising the full graphics potential of Microsoft Flight Simulator. This may well be true but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an exceptional visual experience on high settings with currently available hardware.
My recently rebuilt PC (motivated by the imminent arrival of Microsoft Flight Simulator) does an incredible job of rendering a stunning flight experience on high settings. The PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition graphics card does some pretty heavy lifting to make the experience so good. Check out the specifications below:
- Processor: Intel Core i5-4460 3.2GHz / AMD Ryzen R3 1200
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 or AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB
- VRAM: 2GB
- RAM: 8 GB RAM
- Storage: 150 GB Hard drive space
- DirectX 11 Compatible Graphics Card
- Processor: Intel Core i5-8400 2.8GHz / AMD Ryzen R5 1500X
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB or AMD Radeon RX 590 8GB
- VRAM: 4GB
- RAM: 16 GB RAM
- Storage: 150 GB Hard drive space
- Bandwidth: 25 Mbps
- Processor: Intel Core i7-6700 3.4GHz
- Graphics: PNY GeForce RTX 2070 Super 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition
- VRAM: 8GB
- RAM: 32GB XLR8 DDR4 3200MHz
- Storage: 500GB XLR8 CS2311 SSD
- Bandwidth: 50 Mbps Telstra NBN
- Processor: Intel i7-9800X / Ryzen 7 Pro 2700X
- Graphics: Nvidia RTX 2080 or Radeon VII
- VRAM: 8GB
- RAM: 32GB
- Storage: 150GB (SSD recommended)
- Bandwidth: 50 Mbps
A cynic might suggest that a long-time Microsoft Flight Simulator fan like me was always going to give this game a 5 star review, even before playing it. There may be some truth in that. They may also suggest that a product with obvious graphical anomalies such as sunken mega yachts and missing landmarks doesn’t deserve the full 5 stars. But I strongly disagree. In the context of a simulator that has achieved the ambitious goal of beautifully replicating the entire planet, those are extremely minor details that can easily be forgiven. This is especially true as the development team remain committed to continually improving these details over time.
The fact is that Microsoft and Asobo have created something truly special and unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. The important things – flying various aircraft, for example – are finely polished and full of glorious detail. The level of assistance is finely tuneable so that anyone can feel comfortable taking to the skies, or challenge themselves to learn all the intricate details of piloting iconic commercial airliners. Microsoft Flight Simulator will be a go-to game for me for many years to come. The fact that Microsoft have made it ridiculously cheap to play through Xbox Game Pass is the icing on the cake. 5 stars, very much deserved.