Microsoft Flight Simulator X [PC]

Choose a plane and an airport, and explore the whole world. Microsoft’s latest flight sim reaches new heights of graphical realism.

Microsoft might have ditched the slogan, « Where do you want to go today? » but it’s never been more appropriate than with a game that models the whole world. The company’s Flight Simulator series, one of gamings’ most aged and venerable, hits its 25-year mark in 2007. It’ll do so in fine style, because the 10th incarnation is a gem. The breathtakingly realistic open-ended civilian flight sim now includes an improved range of missions, far better ground detail and, of course, vastly improved visuals. Crank up the graphics options, and you will be seriously impressed.

Then you’ll turn all those options back down again. Not because it’s ugly, but because a computer has not yet been made that’ll run  at maximum detail. It’s as if Microsoft is deliberately targeting the machines of ’17 or ’18 rather than today’s hardware. Given that the company plans to improve‘s realism even more in a DirectX 10 patch sometime next year, it’s entirely possible that’s exactly what’s going on.

Still, any relatively recent games-capable PC will play the game quite happily, as long as you’re prudent with the settings and don’t expect first-person shooter framerates. Moreover, it’ll still look stunning. The plane models are outstandingly detailed, and almost shockingly realistic. The weather effects are near perfect. Clouds look real, and if you check the right boxes, are real — the game downloads location-appropriate, real-time weather information as you play.

On the ground, FSX brings major improvement over its last release. The game’s traffic now winds its way down accurate roads, the texture resolution has been increased, and the auto-generated buildings have been greatly improved. Don’t expect to take a spin over Nowheresville, Alabama and see accurate structures — but try Seattle, New York, or London for incredible authenticity. It really is a marvelous looking game.

Along with a reasonably hefty PC you’re going to want a joystick of some description. Unlike its predecessor, FSX does support mouse-yoke, but it’s not a tremendously satisfying solution. A basic stick will get you started, but the real pros fly with a separate throttle controller and rudder pedals. A wired Xbox 360 pad also works pretty well, if you have one of those around.

So now that we’ve got all that out of the way, what do you feel like flying: a microlight, a 737, a glider, or a helicopter ? Perhaps a commuter jet, a seaplane, or a Beechcraft twin prop? Flight Sim X‘s selection, while not huge, is amply varied, and there’s none of that unlocking nonsense — they’re all open from the beginning. Potential players should note that none of the aircraft bear any weapons more formidable than a flour bomb, so this is a civilian-only sim.




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