Flight Simulator X review
Forgivable flaws, unforgettable beauty.


So over the past few weeks or so I’ve had quite an interesting experience with the 2006 game Microsoft Flight Simulator X. I can’t say for sure whether this affects all games, but I have had quite a lot of activation issues. The game installs fine, and then does not allow you to activate it using your perfectly legitimate activation key, giving you the same error message over and over again. A lengthy call to Microsoft Games tech support later, I was told to reorder a new copy of the game. A week or so later my new copy arrives in my mailbox, and what happens? The exact same issue and another lengthy conversation with a man accessing my computer and probably snickering at my somewhat embarrassing desktop wallpaper. A few hours later I have a newly generated code which appears to work fine. Now that that’s out of the way, time to map the controls to my PS3 controller and get into the game! But of course, you can’t just dismiss two weeks of waiting to play a game that you’ve almost lost interest in by the time you get it working. This is a major flaw that the smallest amount of research will show a vast amount of FSX players have or do experience.

Flight Simulator is a franchise that began development by Bruce Artwick in 1977. It was picked up by Microsoft in 1982, as a means of demonstrating the visual differences between 8-bit machines and Microsoft’s new 16-bit machines. Over thirty years later, the series still holds strong as practically the king of flight simulators, used by gamers and real pilots alike for varying reasons, and often considered to be more a tool than a game, a sentiment that is completely correct. The ACES Game Studio, the development team for MSFS closed down due to issues within Microsoft in 2009, and Flight Simulator X remains the last installment in the legacy the franchise left.

Blah blah history blah though, right? Let’s get into the game. If you’re used to playing games where the most flying you do is to dodge bullets and shoot at enemies and you get Flight Simulator because that’s what you love, you’re in for a surprise. Like all other games with the word “Simulator” in italics in the title, Flight Simulator is just that... a flight simulator. You choose your plane, your flight and environment settings, and then off you go, flying around the world. You may think it sounds boring, but it’s actually quite amazing. The Flight Simulator games are popular for one reason, and one reason only… realism, which is what all simulation games strive for. Most other flight simulators can only dream of this type of depth. The map is basically the whole earth, and you will fly your beautiful aircraft around utilizing complex controls and encountering weather, air traffic, and the difficulty that comes with flying a plane in real life, among other things. From a gamer’s perspective, the game is incredibly difficult to master, but so is flying a plane. This is why real pilots use it, and I’ve heard of many who use it as a near professional flight simulator to practice their real life flights on. This isn’t really a game, so perhaps I’m not qualified to review it, but I’ll do my best.

You start with what you would think at first sight to be some kind of launcher, but this is actually where you do all your setting up. Here you’ll stare dumbfounded and intimidated at all the extensive settings, from realism, to aircraft, to graphics, to payload, to “general,” which sounds deceivingly simple. The first time you take off, you may want to just stick with the defaults, it’s hard enough to figure out how to get your engine started in-flight. But if you know what you’re doing, which I still can’t at all say I do, you’ll be able to tweak and adjust pretty much anything you could possibly have a hankering to. Not at all being a professional pilot, I can’t say I’m bold enough to even touch most of these option beyond choosing the color of my plane, but it’s not like you have to do much if you just wanna get in there and fly a plane around for a few minutes anyway.

It is in this launcher-type-thing that you’ll also adjust your control and graphics settings, might as well get that out of the way here. I can’t really discuss the controls, because I have never flown an actual plane to compare them to, though. It didn’t take me too long to figure out how to use my PS3 controller to at least get the plane moving, but it’s quite a challenge to distinguish what one button does as opposed to another one, etc. I can’t say this is a negative for a plane simulator though when the majority of actual pilots have to look at this everyday:

The game is designed to be controlled with a joystick unique to flight simulators and the like, but it is also controllable with a wide range of other things like PlayStation or Xbox controllers, really anything you can find the drivers to connect to your PC for. One thing I cannot recommend is trying to play with a keyboard. To do that you’ve got to have a lot of creativity and even more patience than is probably humanly possible. You will use the mouse in-game to access the in-flight menus, though. Simply right-click anywhere on the screen to open a small menu allowing you to change simple things like viewpoints and camera, and you can also access a larger menu bar along the top of the screen which allows you to adjust things in-flight like air traffic, weather, tower communication, and simulation speed to name a few. In just a few short minutes you can find yourself with your screen littered with text and menus and maps, if you so choose. Go steady on menu usage, though, because in my experience, crashing (with a Fatal Error) can and will very quickly become an issue. I have found a few very complicated fixes online but nothing so far has worked for me so I have to be careful with using the menus, apparently it takes a rather large toll on the game. I am not particularly surprised, seeing as how large and complex the game already is, and of course it depends on your other settings such as graphics and how good your computer is, but it’s still something to look out for that may or may not become a big issue with your game.

Now for graphics and the seemingly endless map that everyone plays the game for. For a 2006 game, it’s absolutely beautiful. Of course the graphics settings are highly customizable regarding everything from your aircraft to the world beneath you, but without even touching them once except to fix the resolution I dove straight into the game the first time and was captivated by the simple beauty of it. If you start landing in the middle of fields and forests, of course you’re going to see butt-ugly textures because you’re not supposed to be landing there, it’s all designed for an overhead view, but if you keep soaring through the sky with all the settings high and special effects turned on you’re guaranteed to be amazed as you see the actual real world beneath you, slowly coming into view over the horizon ahead and fading over the horizon behind you. Knowing that everything you’re seeing is right there on earth somewhere in that one same location is an amazing concept and an even more amazing technological feat. Seriously, the scenery practically leads while the rest of the game trails behind and is perhaps the greatest and most boast-worthy feature of FSX, something no other flight simulator has been able to trump so far. You can fly over anything, even your house if you have the knowledge and extreme patience to find it. The possibilities are, with FSX, truly endless, with no doubt, and no competition.

Having not played previous games in the Flight Simulator series, I cannot compare it to them, but I will say it must be an improvement over whatever was last. How could it not be? While difficult to understand for the average person at the best of times, the menus aren’t really intended for the average person to be honest, and they manage to look nice and somewhat simple despite their inherent complexity. How ACES Game Studio pulled this whole thing off, I don’t know, but from a gamer’s perspective once again, this is a mindblowing tool, to say the least.

Everything about the game just reeks of realism, from the soft sounds of the engine and turbo-whatever-they-ares to the incoming radio transmissions to the gentle hum as you extend your landing gear only to crash down into a busy city seconds later. I didn’t spend too long playing the game, I have no reason to considering I’m not a real pilot and don’t need any practice or experience for an upcoming flight or anything, but Microsoft Flight Simulator X blows me away in its complexity and is perhaps one of the best uses of the word “simulator” in gaming I can think of. 8.7.

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