Microsoft’s Flight Simulator “landed” today for the PC in the Microsoft Store or Steam Store for purchase, or as an included title (Standard Edition) with a GamePass for PC (beta) subscription. The release of the venerated title has been anticipated for months. I have been excited to see news of the title coming out over the past several months as it went through Alpha and Beta testing, and was waiting early this morning to get to downloading and installing the massive title. With this, I give first impressions on the iconic game’s newest edition, and embark on a multi-part review and exploration of Flight Simulator.
This latest MS Flight Simulator is loosely the 15th or so version of the game, depending on how a “version” is counted, though in terms of major releases and/or updates, its more like the 13th, if you discount the “Steam” version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X as being a different version of Flight Simulator X, and FS98 as more of an update for Flight Simulator for Windows 95. In any event, MS Flight Simulator, going back to its original DOS version, is actually the oldest piece of surviving software at Microsoft when you consider software that it still updates regularly, predating even any of the software in its Microsoft Office suite. Consider that Microsoft has been investing in developing, redesigning, retooling, and recreating Flight Simulator for nearly 40 years. It is only slightly younger than I. Which is what excites me about being able to play this title again.
I’ll only be giving you my first impressions today, and I will/we will be doing a whole series of pieces on this game, to truly give a full rundown on a title this massive in any meaningful way, I am going to have to spend a truly significant amount of time to give it a full shakedown. There is a LOT to unpack in this game, from the basics of flight controls to take-off and landings, to (our favorite part) – the Flight Simulator coop aspects of game play. My intention here is to just take you through my first couple of hours, which I am spending by carefully going through some of the flight training. Unlike your standard issue strategy, FPS/TPS or action game, the tutorial are not only necessary, they are a BIG part of the game.
To preface this as well – I am not a pilot in any legal capacity – However, its important to place some context to my experience. I have flown several of the small planes featured in this and prior versions of Flight Simulator. My father was a private pilot, and I regularly accompanied him into my 20’s to the local airport (Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, CT) where he would rent one of the Cessna 152’s or 172’s or Piper Cherokee’s from one of the airfield’s private training schools, and we would take them up and just fly around southern Connecticut for a couple of hours, only to land back at the airport, having gone essentially sightseeing.
So after waiting this morning for a good while for the game to download (at about 91 GB, its a pretty heavy lift) and having to unfortunately accomplish some other required activities during the day, I was able to finally jump into the Flight Simulator this afternoon. The setup was pretty quick, needing only to take me through a few brief settings pages to set preferences for the typical stuff – graphics and sound, controls, etc. After going through the brief settings selection, I ended up on the main menu, which has a clean, simple setup, allows you to easily identify where to go in the game, with options to start a free flight, perform flight training, and participate in community activities and challenges.
Learning to fly (again…)
Knowing that I need to learn (or re-learn, as it were) some basic flight skills, and how to interact with Flight Simulator, I spent some time hopping straight into the training lessons.
First Lesson – How to fly straight
Lesson One of Learn to Fly in a Cessna 152 is Basic Controls & Cameras. I recorded my first foray into the cockpit of this aircraft, which I have flown in real life many times. I can say that my immediate first impression on hopping into the pilot seat is one of awe and amazement. Its been a long time since I have been in one of these planes, but the level of detail that has been incorporated into the interior of this vehicle is impressive. I followed the instructions of my flight instructor, Captain Jess Molina, over Sedona, AZ. The training took me through the controls for changing POV, as well as the basics of rudder, elevator and aileron control.
As I followed the instructions and look at the instruments, switches and controls, as well as the surrounding environment, it really is striking just how much attention to detail was paid to just everything. When I pulled back on the left thumbstick on my Xbox controller, both of the yokes in the cockpit respond, as does the elevator surface at the rear of the plane. When I push the stick on my controller left or right, the ailerons out at the wingtips respond. Rudder controls (on my Xbox controller – the L and R triggers) are tied to the foot pedals and respond in the expected manner on both pilot and copilot seats. Really, everything that I interacted with responds exactly as would be expected, were I sitting in the real thing. And the level of detail, is, again, just stunning. Down to the minute details of the appearance of the breakers in front of the co-pilot, the color of the carpeting and the placement of the foot-pad on the wing struts. Everything is just as I remember it from sitting in a 152.
Not only this, but the response from the plane in flying this first mission is as expected. Simple and subtle details that could easily get lost or just not considered are present. One example I noticed of this immediately was the tendency of the plane to want to dip its right wing slightly during level flight. As my father taught me and I learned when I was taking those morning flights to nowhere, the plane tends to want to roll because of the rotation of the prop on the front of the plane, as is generally the case with single engine planes. Attempting to steer the plane with the use of rudder only and no aileron results in a very choppy and jerky control.
The second training session, Attitudes & Instruments, follows much the same format, taking me through a simple sequence of instructions, introducing a number of the basic instruments and terminology, all of which are real and valid details. As I perform the basic maneuvers through these first two classes, the thing that really dawns on me about this is just how accurate the information is, and just how valid some of the instructions being given are. I can remember my father giving me some of the same basic pieces of advise – such as to keep my rolls under 30 degrees, to pull back on the stick as I enter a roll to turn to maintain the vertical position of the plane and to counter this by pushing forward on the yoke when rolling out. In so many ways, it feels just like taking a basic beginners pilot class.
Granted, there is a lot about flying a plane that this simulator can not recreate. The physical, tactile feedback that holding the yoke in a real plane. The physical sensations of turning, stalling and turning provide – though the lack of extreme noise generate by sitting directly behind the engine and prop also makes you appreciate that its not all a loss. In reality, I find myself thinking that getting in a plane again and trying to get that pilots licence I dreamed of earning when I was much younger could still be an attainable goal.
Anyone with ambition to do so shouldn’t think that Flight Simulator will set them up for success in that realm. However, in just these couple of short hours I spent playing through these first introductory lessons, I also realize there is a good deal of the basics that Flight Simulator very accurately conveys.
On a more critical note – one of the big shortcomings to Flight Simulator is from a control interface standpoint, anything short of a yoke and pedals or at least flight stick for controls really suffers some handicap in terms of simulating reality. I lack such an interface (at this point) and the closest I can come right now is with my Xbox controller. At best, the Xbox controller is unrefined for the very subtle degree of controls that the Cessna in my training flights responds to. Beyond the slightest feathering of the control stick results in extreme levels of input. I can certainly go in and adjuster the sensitivity of the controls, and I intend to do so for future flights (and will bring you my recommendations on those settings in one of the next editions of this series). The fantastic thing is that, were I really to want to make this much more lifelike, the hardware is out there to add a full yoke, footpedals, throttle and mixture control, radio controls… The list goes on and on. Its no wonder that these options exist. Afterall, MS Flight Simulator has been around for nearly 40 years. For it to have a following that would result in this sort of custom hardware being out there is no surprise.
As a conclusion to this first installment on my exploration of Flight Simulator, I will say simply that so far, Flight Simulator is, for me, a highly detailed, interesting, and exciting wonder of software. While initial impressions don’t always hold up on a new game or piece of software, once many more hours have been spent engrossed in the experience, I’m highly optimistic from these initial experiences today. There is certainly a certain amount of nostalgia that is tied to my long history with playing Flight Simulator that probably biases me in favor of positive feelings. Flight Simulator won’t be for everyone. It is not a fast-paced, exciting adventure featuring repeated dog-fighting missions where the hero saves.. whoever. It is an expertly crafted simulator, but one for which many people can get appreciation from trying out.
Wait – What about the coop stuff??
I know, we’ve come all this way and it seems only touched the tip of the iceberg. You are probably even thinking, “What, nothing on the Flight Simulator coop part of the game?” I know, I’m truly sorry – but we are getting there. I haven’t even talked about the SCENERY YET! AND I need to learn how to fly this thing first. Check back for part two in this ongoing series about MS Flight Simulator, wherein I’ll fly some more of the training missions, talk about the coop gaming, and ultimately see if I can perform the most difficult of piloting maneuvers, along with my gaming bros. As they say, “its not the flying that kills yah, it’s the landing!”
Microsoft Flight Simulator is available via GamePass for PC today via various digital downloads, but a disc-based version in a 10-disc box set will be offered as well.
What do you think of MS Flight Simulator so far? We’d love to hear about it! Comment in the section below, and keep the conversation going!