Microsoft Flight Simulator Review
It’s incredible to think that a mere week ago I’d have been deadly in the pilot’s seat of a plane. Now, thanks to Microsoft Flight Simulator on Xbox Series X, I’d be merely very dangerous. Yes, thanks to this masterclass in design, I’ve actually learnt a thing or two.
I’m only half-joking. Okay, so very few people who play this game are going to end up capable of taking to the skies. But, man, it does a good job of making you feel like you could.
For something as strange and seemingly mystical to most of us as manned flight, this game gives you the power to take off to anywhere in the world. It’s beautiful, it’s good fun and it’s strangely addictive.
But while it does everything it possibly could to give fans everything they need, others will find it lack of focus too big of a turn-off.
Flight Simulator – the Pilot Wings We Deserve
So first things first, you have to give it up for Flight Simulator as a technical feat. Everywhere in the world is recreated in game, thanks to the power of the cloud. Naturally that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to see the state of your roof or the colour of your favourite garden flowers, but generally the shapes and sizes are just about right. When you fly over your town, it is unmistakenly your town, your street, your home. You recognise shops you love, rivers you’ve walked along, even landmarks.
I’ve spent hours flying along routes I’ve driven, checking out places I’ve visited, and I’ve yet to be anything but impressed. The detail that the world is recreated in is notable. If you’re flying high enough, it might as well be a video. Granted, if you get close enough, suddenly things start to fall apart. You might notice that cars drive a few feet above the road, for instance. But with everything this game achieves you’d be a pedant to complain too much about that.
Once you’ve found your home and your parent’s home and that place you visit all too often and your office and… you’ll start going further afield. You’ll visit holiday destinations or places you took trips, and it’ll be just as you remember it. By this point you’ll have a good few hours into it and either you’ll stop playing, satisfied that it has fulfilled its purpose, or you’ll hear the call of the sky and start to return for more.
There are tutorials for those that want to really get to grips with the controls. These are extremely tight in terms of what you have to do – so if you’re off even a few degrees you can fail an objective – and felt a little overwhelming to someone who is A) a complete novice and B) playing on a controller.
There are also other little challenges or set-ups – famous or difficult landing runs, or places to visit including the Great Pyramids.
But the bulk of the game for those that’ll dedicate more than a few hours to it will be in simply picking a start location and a destination and making the way between the two. There are a seemingly endless amount of airports to pick from, including one near me that is effectively just a field. I’m sure it’s similar for other places.
This means that for the most part you’re making your own fun. You’re not going to land, get out and cause mayhem. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto. You’ll probably just call air traffic control and take off again. Neither a negative or a positive, your patience will depend on how much you enjoy the journey.
I mentioned the controller above, and it’s true that it’s not the ideal method of flying a plane. The developers have done an excellent job doing what they can, but nothing can successfully recreate the dozens of buttons, knobs and dials that a plane has. Thankfully, there’s enough assistance in the menus that you can still enjoy yourself regardless.
It also goes without saying that learning this game inside out is practically a full-time job. This isn’t a cutesy platformer. You’re not going to feel like a badass by default.
Graphics and Sound
Microsoft Flight Simulator is the latest game of the generation to take the “now THAT’s next-gen” prize for its visuals. First it was Demon’s Souls, then it was Resident Evil 8. In terms of pure scale, this beats them both out. A distant height in the air, you can genuinely forget that you’re playing a video game. There are moments that are awe-inspiring.
Now, granted, it isn’t a straight comparison with those other two games. But I think that just works in Flight Simulator’s favour. A team of designers worked tirelessly to make sure that first level in Demon’s Souls was gorgeous, right down to the first angles as you take control. The country road between my town and the next one along is just as gorgeous, world-accurate and without the direct visual input.
Textures and draw distance are incredible on Series X. Lighting is incredible as well, although I’ve seen a few visual glitches.
Quality falls apart a little the closer you get to the ground. Some buildings are flat, others take a second to render. It doesn’t matter. On a world of this scale, doing what it’s doing and doing it so well, it just doesn’t matter.
You can fly within the cockpit or from a “third person” view behind the plane. The latter is easier but the former is more realistic. The best-case scenario is probably a mix between the two.
Framerate is usually good, but it can tank in populated areas on my VRR screen. I think it’s manageable, but experience may vary.
Sound is incredible. With that said, I’m no expert. The roar of the plane’s engines sounds suitable to me. I presume they’re accurate to the world, because so much else is. It certainly does the job.
Microsoft Flight Simulator Review – Conclusion
It won’t get the hullabaloo of God of War, Halo or even Metroid Dread, but Flight Simulator is quietly one of the most impressive games ever made. It’s understated, but perfect on so many levels.
The issue is that it isn’t “gamified” enough. For many the visuals and tech are self-evident, although that’s arguably not a fair thing. Instead, they’ll focus on the fact that it is, indeed, a flight simulator. You’re not racking up points or shooting down alien ships. Nor should you be.
And so its biggest strength will inevitably be its biggest weakness when it comes to public perception. Thankfully, nobody has to review on public perception. What Asobo have set out to do, what they have achieved on console and PC, is nothing short of a modern software miracle. You owe it to yourself to download it and, if nothing else, see what you’re house looks like from above. And you might just find taking to the skies more enjoyable than you ever imagined.