Game Review | Microsoft Flight Simulator
Come fly with me...
Game summary: The next generation of one of the most beloved simulation franchises. From light planes to wide-body jets, fly highly detailed and stunning aircraft in an incredibly realistic world. (IMDb)
I didn't know whether Microsoft Flight Simulator should go under 'game' review, but I'm using a wired Xbox 360 controller connected to my PC to control it and it launches from Steam, so that's good enough for me. And yes, I did say I'm using a controller for it and not any kind of flight stick - because I don't need to.
Let's just make this clear from the start: this is a next-generation title before the next generation of consoles has even launched. Even once that's happened, the all-powerful Xbox Series X will struggle to match the top-range PCs needed to run Microsoft Flight Simulator at maximum settings, something which I can sympathise with.
I don't have an all-powerful PC and neither do I have the 'correct' type of controller to experience this game fully, but it's so good and so well made that I don't need either. Even on my struggling PC, this looks absolutely stunning, with the lighting, shadows and clouds standing out above how amazing almost the entire planet looks.
Yes, that's right - the entire planet. You can fly pretty much anywhere in the world that you want, making either the full trip yourself, or jumping to certain points along your journey if you'd prefer. Microsoft Flight Simulator uses Bing Maps rather than Google - because Microsoft, duh - so the ground detail isn't always perfect, but that hardly matters.
Considering the only time you'll spend close to the ground will be when landing or taking off (unless you fancy some daredevil stunt-flying), it hardly matters that buildings may not be 100% accurate to life or that those buildings recycle set types of models, much like trees. It's what in the sky that matters and that is where this game shines - often literally.
Lighting can do a lot to enhance a game's looks (Life is Strange comes to mind) or spoil one (hello, parts of Mass Effect: Andromeda!) and in Microsoft Flight Simulator, it's pretty much perfect by effectively replicating reality to such a degree that there have been times that I've been convinced the game is cheating and switched to running video footage.
And how that can affect the clouds? Wow. And the technology for those clouds and how well made they are? Even bigger wow. I made another short flight in-game before writing this review and kept myself below cloud cover, then noticed the sky slowly getting hazier and hazier, before clearing suddenly.
I turned the external camera around to look behind and couldn't see anything there, because the transition from clear sky to the fringes of the clouds was so fine that the haze was invisible to the naked eye - or naked in-game camera, I suppose. It might not sound like a big deal, but it was one of those moments that made me re-think how I judge in-game graphics going forwards now - the seams are getting much, much harder to spot.
The bar has been raised massively with Microsoft Flight Simulator. The entire planet is here, covered in almost true-to-life cloud coverage and weather patterns thanks to satellite data keeping your game accurate if you choose to, but you can also pick your own weather settings if you want. And that customisation is also fantastic.
I tend to keep to real life data and have only made a couple of flights where I pre-set what weather conditions I wanted to fly in, but the choice is there for you and works brilliantly. If you want a cloudless blue sky, you can have it. If you want to fly through a raging storm that'll rock your plane constantly, you can have that too. And you can have literally everything in-between.
As for how it all plays? I'm using a Xbox 360 controller and it works fine. I can't imagine it working any better than it does using the limited capabilities of a gamepad compared to a full-on flight stick that would obviously be a far better way of experiencing this game. There's a smattering of keyboard buttons to round things out, but it's easy to tap them and go pack to using just the controller.
As for Microsoft Flight Simulator as an experience? It's incredible, and I'm saying that as someone who doesn't actually like flying at all in real life - landings in this game are and always will be anxiety-inducing for me as a result. But, much like the extremes of the customisable weather conditions, the range of experiences is almost as good.
It can be very calming and relaxing to cruise comfortably, tens of thousands of feet above the ground - until you panic as you realise you didn't put enough fuel in and start 'eco-flying' to make sure you can still reach your destination. It's fun to take a small plane and do low-level flights so you can see the countless real world sights added to the game too.
Then there's the 747. As I said, I don't like flying, plus I can very easily put myself into the mental headspace of characters in games that are very close to reality. As a result, I was shitting myself when I first tried to fly a 747 as I kept wondering how something so large and so heavy could get into the sky safely with hundreds of people onboard.
I crashed on take-off, the left wing dipping and catching the ground. My current strategy for taking off in a Jumbo Jet is to use full power for the entire length of the runway so it's on the verge of leaving the ground by itself before I (very, very gently) ease back on the controller and lift the plane up and into the sky. I haven't even tried landing one yet.
It's genuinely incredible to me how wide-ranging a set of experiences I've already had with a game that doesn't look anywhere near as good as it can on the right hardware while controlling it with a gamepad - I've enjoyed maybe 75% of the 'full' Microsoft Flight Simulator experience and it's an easy 10/10. If you have a flight stick and enough power in your PC, then you can get a preview of the future right now.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a true 'next-gen' experience that has absolutely set new standards for what experiences advances in technology can provide. It's genuinely mind-blowing how incredible every single piece of this package is and how scalable it is too - if I had a PC capable of running it at full? I'd have to do away with scores right now because this would break the scale.