Last year, when I reviewed Microsoft Flight Simulator on PC, in Victoria, we were deep into our major lockdown, unable to go out and unable to do many of the things we take for granted every day. Microsoft Flight Simulator was an incredibly welcome respite from the real world then and now, with its release on Xbox Series X, it’s just as welcome, if not more so.
While almost an entire year has passed, there’s an odd feeling of deja vu at the moment with much of NSW in lockdown and a creeping sense of dread and unease that at any moment we may be plunged back into a deep dark lockdown again. COVID has really done a number on the entire world and while the health impacts can not be understated, neither can the impacts this virus has had on people’s mental health.
Microsoft Flight Simulator isn’t going to cure anybody’s depression or anxiety but it does have a tremendous calming effect and, in my own experience, relieves the pressure of being cooped up. Now that it’s available on Xbox Series X and on Game Pass no less, Microsoft Flight Simulator is even more accessible and available to a wider audience.
Essentially the same game released last year, Microsoft Flight Simulator has been optimised to run on the Xbox Series X, which is a technical marvel up there alongside actual wizardry. To be able to sit on my couch and boot up a game of this visual fidelity and technical prowess on a console is mind-boggling.
Sure, it runs at 30fps instead of the 60fps you can get on PC, but getting the best out of the PC version required a PC sent back in time by Skynet. Where I had to run Microsoft Flight Simulator on medium to get it going on my PC, the Xbox runs it flawless out of the box. Simply start the game and get flying.
And this is exactly what I did. Albeit after I had to plug a mouse into my Xbox because the menus wouldn’t respond to my controller. A known bug that will soon, hopefully, have a fix.
There is simply no denying that with Microsoft Flight Simulator, gaming has well and truly left the last generation behind. Cross-generational releases are becoming less frequent but so far, no game has been available that simply would not run on last generation’s hardware. Until now. Microsoft Flight Simulator would have had no chance to get its wheels off the ground on the Xbox One but on Series X it soars. In fact, my experience with the Xbox Series X version has been vastly superior to that on PC, simply because my PC isn’t up to snuff. Everything looks crisper, richer and more detailed and playing in 4K as opposed to the 1080p of my monitor is a quantum leap forward in quality.
PC purists will argue the Xbox Series X version is lesser but that’s absolute hokum. This is a game that can and should be played by as many players as possible. It’s pure freedom and pure relaxation and that’s something we sorely need now more than ever. I’m to ashamed to admit that while taking the Egypt discovery flight, flying over the Pyramids and taking in the breathtaking views, my eyes welled up with tears of joy. This is the impact more games should strive for. To make players feel something.
Microsoft Flight Simulator does it without plot, without storytelling. It uses only the beauty of our world and the power of the Xbox Series X. It was amazing on PC and now, it’s flawless.
Original PC Review Follows
Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredible piece of software, tech and engineering. And it couldn’t have been released at a better time. To take flight, explore the planet and experience life high above the ground during these troubling times is the perfect escape. Sure, it may not see you actually leaving your home but it’s the closest you can get right now.
Developed by Asobo (A Plague Tale) Microsoft Flight Simulator presents players with the entire world as their aerial playground. And while it’s certainly a sim game that will appeal far more to sim fans, casual players can still come along for the ride.
There’s a very steep learning curve and playing with keyboard and mouse or Xbox controller doesn’t really provide a perfect experience. That being said, unless you’re a hardcore flight sim fan, you probably don’t need the extended peripherals and playing with a gamepad is going to do you just fine.
What you definitely will need if you’re planning on getting the most out of Microsoft Flight Simulator is a powerful PC and a decent internet connection.
Microsoft Flight Simulator Review
Microsoft Flight Simulator is absolutely stunning, even when it’s running on lower settings. My potato/Samsung Smart Fridge can only capably run the game at medium and even then it’s breathtaking. Part of the reason Microsoft Flight Simulator is so visually impressive is that it takes realtime satellite imagery and data and superimposes it over the game. This means players will see incredibly detailed and accurate representations of real-world locations, weather, traffic and conditions, all while taking their joy flights.
With the data connection disabled, Microsoft Flight Simulator still looks impressive but not nearly as much as it does with it turned on. So, players without a decent data plan or fast enough internet are going to be in a bit of a bind insofar as they won’t have access to live conditions nor will the visuals be as wonderful as they could be.
That being said, once you’re 30,000 feet up, the views of the planet give way to incredible vistas of clouds, sky and weather. Honestly, I can’t begin to think of a more visually impressive game from 2020 and by virtue of the type of game Microsoft Flight Simulator is, players have plenty of time to stop and look around.
When it comes to playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, things start to get a bit hairy. There’s a robust tutorial system in place but even so, I found myself struggling to come to grips with everything. Players will learn to fly a small Cessna in the tutorials and even though most of the controls transfer to each of the other types of plane, actually flying them is an altogether different experience. Luckily, players are able to turn on a huge number of assists which help keep them in the air and stops them from plummeting to their doom.
With the assists on, I was able to “land” at tremendous speed in the middle of a paddock and taxi and takeoff again without incident. This only worked in the free-flight mode, which is, incidentally, my favourite. Here, players select whichever aircraft they like (from those included in their version), select their departure and arrival airport and then hit the skies.
This is where I spent and will continue to spend the majority of my time with Microsoft Flight Simulator. With absolute freedom to fly wherever I want, without having to worry about fuel and with the ability to explore the world, I could get lost for days. I have never felt more relaxed while playing a video game than when playing Microsoft Flight Simulator. There’s just something about the freedom it affords that really gives me a sense of inner peace.
I flew Melbourne to Sydney for the fun of it and even managed to land on the perilous Sydney runway. However, I only succeeded because I’d tackled a few of the landing challenges beforehand. Challenges are where the most “gamey” elements of Microsoft Flight Simulator live and at launch they include landing and Bush Runs. Landings are self-explanatory. Players are placed on the descent to the target runway and need to land. Points are awarded based on accuracy, speed and performance with a global leaderboard already well out of my reach.
Bush Runs are far more interesting and involve following a set of instructions, compass points and Point of Interest descriptions to take a scenic flight. These flights last quite some time and players will need to be patient, keep a steady hand and not push their plane too hard. I did the latter a few times and ended up failing in mid-air. Not fun when you’ve been flying for over 30-minutes and are nearing the end.
For players who need feedback, direction and objectives, Bush Rund and Landing Challenges are about as much as you’ll get at launch. Those who don’t thrive without instruction will likely bounce off Flight Sim as it’s geared far more towards simply being an experience.
It’s certainly not the most forgiving game, nor is it the most engaging but it’s easily one of the most technically impressive and enjoyable gaming experiences of the year. While we’re all trapped inside, battling COVID-19 and forgetting just how gorgeous the world is outside, Microsoft Flight Simulator allows us to experience it again in comfort and safety.
There’s near-limitless gameplay potential in Microsoft Flight Simulator and there’s simply no denying how magnificent it is.
Microsoft Flight Simulator was reviewed on PC and Xbox Series X using a digital copy provided by Microsoft.