Published on August 19th, 2020 | by Chris O'Connor
Microsoft Flight Simulator PC Review (2020) … flying just got real!
Summary: Earn your virtual pilots license with a visually stunning and challenging globe of flying locations.
As someone who was driven to the outer perimeter of our local airport as a child just to watch the planes take off and land… aircraft have been a long held fascination for me. In regards Microsoft Flight Simulator and my history… the last time I remember playing one was I think Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 and let’s just say things have changed a bit since then.
When the opportunity to review the latest installment in the long running series came up I was quick to request the task because I wanted to see what the state of Microsoft Flight simulation was like and I was blown away…. after I managed to get it downloaded.
So before I go too far I will state a few things. The game is huge, for me it was around 100 odd gig (give or take a few… it depends in part on what language packs you are using). So if you have a slow internet connection, you are going to be waiting some time to download. The other important thing to note is that if you have an SSD hard drive I would highly recommend making space on it for the game because I didn’t have enough space left on mine and so I had to install on a conventional hard drive and I can only imagine the loading times are a lot faster on SSD’s (I have been kind of spoilt recently being able to play most of my games off the SSD… I just didn’t expect such a huge space requirement).
But what do you get? Well, one of the loading screens pretty much sums it up “you can fly anywhere”. I will put a slight caveat with that, if you want to find your home, it won’t look exactly like your home. Despite the world data being apparently sourced from Bing maps and enhanced with photogrammetry, it doesn’t quite have the resources to map every individual house and object on the face of the earth (and really when you state it like that, it seems pretty reasonable). Having said that, you can find landmarks and then follow roadways and you can certainly see the location of your house and things will look “oddly” familiar.
As an example of the familiar Google Maps compared to the same area in game.
I do have to make a recommendation too. Thanks to the large installation size and the fact that at the time my internet was dropping out frequently (that seems to have been fixed now, thankfully)… I finally got the game installed at around 2.30am. Being keen to have a first look at it, I fired it up and jumped into a plane at the local airport (which in and of itself is a cool thing to be able to do). What I hadn’t noticed is that the time will match your local time by default (you can change this as with many other things). As a result, my first attempt to fly a plane was in a dark cockpit with an array of small lights across my dashboard and a mostly dark surround with only the faint lights of a regional airport to show me where I was. After fumbling for a bit I managed to get in the air but was quickly… no longer in the air. The next day I jumped into the tutorials and having guidance and daylight for your first few flights is highly recommended!
There really is an awful lot to delve into here. You can certainly just jump in a plane and take a flight somewhere, scour the globe for a location you’d like to see, pick the closest airport and off you go (I chose to do a flyby of the Sphinx)
The developers clearly want you to enjoy the locations as well as there is a “points of interest” button that you can press that will draw your gaze to areas of interest near you. But if you want more than just casual flight, you can tackle any one of the many challenges available. I learnt very quickly that the handling of the light aircraft you train in and the handling of a commercial airliner are very different when I tackled one of the landing challenges… it took me a few goes (with a lot of cockpit warning messages in the process) but I eventually got the hang of it and landed… it wasn’t a smooth landing, but as they say “any landing you can walk away from, is a good one.”
Clearly the game is a visual stunner but it just wouldn’t be the same if those visuals weren’t matched with a soundscape to compliment them and fortunately we get some excellent audio here. Again it’s worth having a fiddle around the options to adjust settings as you can opt for more or less radio chatter (or ground traffic, weather effects and many other things) and it just adds to that tingle of “I’m a virtual pilot” hearing the radio chatter from the local control tower directing planes landing and taking off. Naturally one of the most satisfying things to hear though, is the engine hum, that rumble of the engines as you soar high above the ground (the difference between the cockpit noise levels and the external camera noise levels is well done too).
I’ve only really scratched the surface but I’ve been having an absolute ball with the game/sim. On that note… it is labeled as a simulator more than a game and that is true, it has options to make things easier or harder (I stuck with the default mid level). I suspect for hardcore flight enthusiasts there may well be even more detailed simulators out there, but for the average aviation aficionado Microsoft Flight Simulator provides enough of a challenge to make you feel you’ve earned your wings (I don’t often play games that seem to actually have key bindings for every key on the keyboard). You will likely also learn just how sensitive your keyboard can be to touch. That moment when you’ve been cruising reasonably level and notice you are starting to yaw a little and attempt to make a minor adjustment and tap so hard that you find yourself over correcting and just about inverting… yeah, that’s a bit of a heart racer (especially if you have been flying for some time, there are no checkpoints here!)
I could keep going on and on about this for ages… but I need to stop somewhere. With a strong starting point in terms of aircraft to use and the fact that you can fly to/from anywhere in the world and the promise of more content in the future (especially the teased VR update in the not too distant future), I really can’t recommend this enough to fans of flight! Visually stunning and a challenge if you want it to be, or a reasonably calm flight of fancy if you want that. Perhaps a little pricey, but some extreme flight simulators can go for much more, so it’s somewhat relative.
But enough from me… I need to get back in the cockpit and enjoy the sights of the world (if we can’t get out there in reality at the moment… this is arguably the next best thing!).