Microsoft Flight Simulator is finally back to the delight of countless aviation and simulation enthusiasts and perhaps the cautious interest of many other gamers. It’s been about 14 years since the last new Flight Simulator game launched, but the quality of this new title may make up for the wait. As a true hardcore simulator, MS Flight Sim 2020 is close to perfection. There are a few wrinkles and kinks here and there, but the potential is enormous and the precision-above-all approach has paid dividends.
For the purposes of this review, Today Technology was given a full copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator and an upgrade to the Premium Deluxe edition, complete with all 30 planes and 10 additional hand-crafted airports to explore. We flew with a mouse and keyboard, an Xbox One controller, and a Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS flight stick with the throttle, which puts the flight stick as the best option.
Flight Simulator is intended to put the simulation and aviation community first. This isn’t the Forza Horizon of planes; it is highly realistic and offers very little in the way of traditional video game content. However, this first caveat goes hand in hand with the second: Flight Simulator is intended to be a platform more than a game. It will receive content updates, upgrades, fixes, and mod support for years to come, which means the launch experience is more indicative of the game’s potential than anything else.
Outside of the complexities of takeoff and landing, most of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s gameplay goes into making fine adjustments as the plane floats gently through the atmosphere, looking down on the landscape below and likely taking lots of great screenshots. So it’s a good thing, that the world seen from above in Flight Sim is gorgeous.
The water glistens realistically, the clouds echo in the sky, and landscapes like the Hawaiian islands offer almost the same incomparable beauty that they do in life. Live weather based on real-world reports, live air traffic, and an active day/night cycle combine to make flying over familiar landscapes almost terrifying. Soaring over cities at night is spectacular, and skimming over mountaintops in a prop plane is exhilarating. The planes themselves are modeled in incredibly fine detail, with cockpit interiors that should look even better when VR support hits the game.
However, not everything looks so good. Because the terrain shown in Flight Simulator is generated through a mixture of satellite photography and AI, there are some areas that don’t fare well, especially areas with unusual topography or that haven’t been well mapped. As more areas get attention, the glaring issues will hopefully be ironed out, though. Being able to climb atop Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro or see elephants meandering through the African Savannah is still an incredible experience, and any complaints about poorly modeled regions should be assuaged by the knowledge that Flight Simulator has achieved the incredible feat of offering the entire globe as its world map.
Flight Simulator offers varying degrees of assistance with the controls, which is particularly helpful when playing with an Xbox controller. However, hooking up a flight stick and turning off the assists can be both oddly satisfying and sometimes very difficult. Using a flight stick is definitely the best way to play, but for those who just want to try out the game, a controller works just fine.
Even after playing through the tutorial missions, going through the basics of flying and landing a Cessna, trying to figure out how to fly a passenger jet is a real challenge. From time to time, issues appear that seem to come from the game more than the aircraft. For example, on one particular flight, the assists would occasionally, inexplicably adjust the trim and flaps to send our jet arcing upward into a stall. Even with the aids turned off in later sessions, exiting active pause occasionally had the unsettling effect of instantly sending our plane into an irreversible spiral.
It can be difficult to determine what exactly is going on, and the fact that the controls menu is so extensive that it requires a search bar doesn’t make things any easier to troubleshoot. While active pausing is a great feature, there are too many issues caused by the physics effects that continue on a pause, only to stack up and send the plane caterwauling into the wild blue there when resuming the real-time. Ultimately, though, bugs are relatively rare, and getting past the difficult learning curve is rewarded with deep customization and satisfying, challenging realism.
At first glance, there isn’t much content on offer in Flight Simulator. There are lots of planes and a whole world to explore, but no missions or progression system of any kind. Aside from tutorials and some regularly updated challenges, there’s not much to eat for gamers used to less simulation-focused games. Where Flight Simulator really opens up is in the options for setting malfunctions to occur mid-flight, testing one’s abilities in a storm, or trying to navigate through landmarks on one’s own. without a map for guidance. Multiplayer also holds enormous promise – flying side-by-side with a friend or playing with the upcoming pilot / co-pilot co-op will certainly multiply the possibilities.
The developers have promised more content to come, including missions, but players looking for a more traditional video game experience will still be disappointed. That kind of content isn’t expected from a product that’s only aimed at hardcore boilers, but it still seems like missed potential when such a finely crafted product doesn’t cater to a casual audience. That said, flying around the world is fun and addictive in its own right, and many casual players will no doubt fall for the fun, even without a solid progression system. We can only hope for more updates, such as VR support, to come.
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is worth checking out. Hardcore simmers will love it, and for more casual players it’s still undeniably fun. While the full $60 price tag ($120 for the Premium Deluxe edition) may be a bit steep for gamers who typically play more traditional titles, Flight Sim will also be offered with Xbox Game Pass, making it a very strong value proposition. As much as we crave more content, something keeps us coming back, again and again, to try another plane, fly over another landmark, or attempt another tricky landing.
Microsoft Flight Simulator will be available for PC on August 18, with an Xbox One version in development. Today Technology was provided a PC code for this review.