Microsoft made its highly anticipated, new-generation flight simulation game available for free download a day earlier than originally announced, but that only seemed to ensure the negative reaction to Flight, available for the PC, came early as well.
Pilots generally are giving the game a thumbs down for taking a big step backward from the Flight Simulator franchise, which Microsoft produced for more than 30 years before selling to Lockheed Martin a couple years ago. Microsoft developers promised that Flight would be a more “accessible gaming experience,” providing something for pilots and non-pilots alike.
I downloaded the game yesterday, and agree with others who came away disappointed. This is a game and not a flight simulation. In fact, playing it last night, I realized that, intentional or not, this is really little more than a clever marketing promotion for the Icon A5 amphibious LSA, which is the first airplane players can fly when they start up the software.
The first “mission” players are invited to try involves dropping your flight instructor off for a party on a yacht off the coast of Hawaii. The experience feels like you’ve been cast to star in an Icon advertisement. The default “realism” settings on the A5 are set so low that a three-year-old could probably fly the LSA and land it safely. If the A5 really flew like that, they wouldn’t be able to build them fast enough.
Seeking a harder challenge, I went into the weather settings and chose “dense fog.” I took off into the murk at night in the A5 -- which, alarmingly, had no attitude indicator or turn coordinator -- and had no trouble flying by reference to … well, nothing. I let go of the controls and the airplane dutifully continued to climb wings level. I got up from my chair, went to the kitchen and poured myself a diet Coke, came back, and the Icon was still climbing as nicely as could be. I had to keep reminding myself that this game, released on Feb. 28, was free; if I’d paid $50 or whatever for it I would have felt hugely cheated.
Next I went into the realism settings and changed everything to full-on realistic. This slightly improved the handling and physics in the simulation, but it still wasn’t right. In a 29-knot direct crosswind, I could land without having to crab or slip or do much of anything at all. On the takeoff roll, there was almost zero effect from torque or the propeller’s spiraling slipstream.
The one cool thing that was fun to play around with was the A5’s angle-of-attack indicator. I toyed with flying on the ragged edge of a stall, and it made me want an AOA indicator in the real airplane more than I already did. Still, something was amiss. I tried to fly on the back side of the power curve, but the game didn’t seem to want to let me (although the A5, in the game anyway, is a good musher). I’ll reserve judgment until I fly a real A5, but something tells me the experience between the game and the airplane will be significantly different.
On a positive note, when I first fired up Microsoft Flight on my old Windows XP machine, I received a warning message that my PC's microprocessor might not be up to the task of running the game. But it ran very well with the scenery settings dialed back, and still provided smooth graphics with some settings turned way up. I had to hunt around to find the balance that provided the best visuals without sacrificing performance, and I think I’ve done it.
Alas, having fine-tuned the settings to my liking, I probably won’t play it very much. After all, it’s just a game, and not a very good one at that. Microsoft expects users to pay for add-on content, and maybe some would. My guess is few pilots will.
Lucky for us, the latest version of X-Plane just hit the streets.