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August 18, 2020
Exploring the world doesn’t mean you need to leave home at all. Asobo Studio’s newest release Microsoft Flight Simulator refreshes the most well-known aviation project. Players can travel the world, with 37,000 airports and detailed environments to couple the intense features of each plane. The eleventh major entry into the series comes fourteen years after its last proper iteration, Flight Simulator X. The timing couldn’t be more right to traverse the globe from the safety of our homes and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is truly a liberating experience.
As a simulator, this is technically not a game in the traditional sense. There is no primary goal or real end. Unlike a lot of simulator branded games, this is an experience for education, practice, and hobby. While complicated systems of aviation are daunting, incredibly friendly tutorial stages fly pilots through the ups and downs of aeronautics. Microsoft Flight Simulator will not explain every single flight term to you, yet it demonstrates the mechanics and physics of flying with such amazing accuracy for an amateur flight simulation. Newcomers to aviation will learn more about planes in the first few hours than ever before and continue to want to know more.
This doesn’t mean this simulator is streamlined or dumb downed for beginners. There are so many intricacies for veterans of the skies to tinker with and adore. Each aircraft is fitted with all its components, each cockpit fully interactable. Control planes with the usual keyboard or mouse controls; or manually pull on the throttle, steer the yoke, and manage the trim from inside the cockpit. To add, players can change the assists of flying to be as close as you can get to hardcore simulation or a casual Sunday afternoon trip.
It’s astounding how much detail is in this experience, given that not even driving games allow you to individually control the inside of a car. While this is already incredible, it’s better with proper flight simulation controls. Sometimes slightly tapping the arrow keys to adjust the yoke will send a plane flying out of control and to regain stability you’ll have to play a game of keyboard Twister with your fingers. Players without a good HOTAS joystick or variation of a flight setup are going to find difficulties controlling everything at once.
“Microsoft Flight Simulator lets pilots fly around the world to essentially anywhere they want… innovative and mind-blowing.“
Microsoft Flight Simulator lets pilots fly around the world to essentially anywhere they want. Using textures and topographical data from Bing Maps, Asobo Studios has simulated the entire Earth with near-exact terrain data. Three-dimensional renders of trees, grass, buildings, and waterways are generated using Microsoft’s cloud computing tech, Microsoft Azure. While often these ambitious ideas end up feeling like tech-demos, the map data and photogrammetry in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is innovative and mind-blowing.
Setting a small trip from Moorabbin Airport to Melbourne International to purely explore familiar locations is bewildering. Admittedly, buildings and vehicles are bare-bones; however, the layout of parks, ovals, oceans, and major cities are an unbelievable sight. Yes, you can fly over your own home.
A neat bonus is the ability to move user interface boxes off-screen to a second monitor. UI for navigators, communication channels, objectives, and more are required to stay on track. Having these all on-screen at once can be quite cluttered, and having the option to move them aside is so intuitive. It adds to the immersion of being a pilot, needing to check several screens to get information on your flight status and fly safely.
Each flight can be as scenic or as anxiety-inducing as you wish. Fly day or night, with the most pristine and beautiful sunsets and casually enjoy the world passing below. Or players can crank up the lightning and storms, increase the wind speed or change the humidity and recreate a true “flight disaster” scene. The real-time weather allows for storm chasers to live out their dangerous fantasies without actually flying through them. Messing around with the weather makes each flight different and showcases the graphical power of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.
Besides soring the skies, enjoying the various environments, and chatting with airport communications channels, the simulator provides more to keep interest. Periodic challenges are highlighted on the main menu that will challenge even the best of pilots. This can include scenarios like taking off and landing in difficult conditions like tiny runways and hazardous storms. This is a live feature that will update as months go by, a reason to keep coming back besides new downloadable planes.
Unfortunately, all this detail isn’t without some downfall. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 does require a beefy computer to handle it at it’s best. The lower altitude planes cruise, particularly around denser cities and busy roads, the simulator will begin to drop frames quickly. While it does have settings to offset poor performance, including a less-taxing version of ray-tracing called ray-marching, no ordinary PC will be able to run this. Mostly, this won’t be a huge issue as you shouldn’t really be flying that low anyway. Nevertheless, when you want to get up close and personal with the world below, tanking performance can be annoying.
The aim is to replicate a synchronised representation of the Earth and this requires a fast and consistent internet connection. Much of the data from Azure is live-streamed to generate high quality renders of Earth. Playing offline or having a poor bandwidth will severely limit sight-seeing fidelity. This includes cloud technology to calculate real-time air flows, plane traffic, and meteorological data. The options can be turned off and on in settings and clearly say they require gigabytes of data streaming. Being online most of the time might be of concern to some pilots following a mishap with Flight Simulator X DLC a few years ago. This may not be a problem for many, but some keen flyers might reconsider if their network isn’t the best.
As you can probably expect, Microsoft Flight Simulator is back and better than ever. This edition of aviation simulator brings the series into the next-generation, representing not only true flight and travel but the changing world around it. Microsoft Azures innovative technology, syncing the in-engine Earth with the real one, is an outstanding feat despite it’s demanding network requirements. Every aircraft, every dial, every drop of water on the cockpit screen looks absolutely photorealistic. Pilots with full setups can confidently immerse themselves in long flights across the globe; and those with just a controller or keyboard and mouse will still get a realistic experience. Living in a world where travelling countries and even states feels so foreign, it’s good to be back in the skies.