Microsoft Flight Simulator – LIVE Review in Progress

This is a live review – we’ll be updating it as we play the game. The most recent updates will appear at the bottom of the article…

Posted 17th August 10:46am

Microsoft Flight Simulator was a series that was one of the most detailed and accurate flight sims available. More serious than any of the war-based flight sims it allowed players to fly from a huge number of real world locations as accurately as PCs would allow at the time. According to particularly frothy-at-the-mouth news reports it was also allegedly used by the those involved in the 11th September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre as a training tool ahead of that terrible fateful day.

Following the events that unfolded in 2001 the game had a few further updates culminating in Microsoft Flight Simulator X in 2006 and then the series went on an extended 14-year hiatus. However Microsoft have relaunched the franchise with a new release that hits shelves today and promises to be as close to reality as you can get. Using data from various sources – including real aerial photography, the satellite data used by their Bing Maps tool and data from weather service providers the game is almost photorealistic – not only in terms of the terrain and cities depicted in the game but also in the aerial weather effects that range from beautiful blue skies to the most ferocious storms.

Providing a full review of a game like Flight Simulator 2020 is nigh-on-impossible. Every experience of the game is going to be different and the game will evolve over time so rather than try and provide a verdict we’re going to be treating this review as something of a live blog that will be updated with our thoughts and experiences as we play.

Developed by Asobo Studios in France, there’s one thing that instantly jumps out – this is a polished product, it also needs a weighty PC to get the absolute best experience; especially in locations that are as detailed as some of the world’s biggest cities. The average mid-range PC will struggle when flying in to somewhere like New York if sensible graphics settings haven’t been arranged ahead of time – we’re talking very low framerates; which when guiding in a massive passenger plane to land is possibly the difference between life and death of your passengers and crew! However there is a huge range of options that allow you to find the best performance/appearance balance for you.

Unfortunately so far I’ve experienced a few crashes – but all during the install process which seemed to fail silently while I was away from the computer. When it’s not a small install – 127GB of required space for the Premium edition of the game – it’s not an enjoyable experience.

It’s also NOT a quick game to get started – even on an SSD it takes a fair time to get all of the data unpacked on loading – with it taking around 7 minutes from desktop to cockpit in our experience so far. But once you’re there it’s impossible not to be blown away, even as you sit there on the runway getting ready to take to the skies.

Today I’ve spent a good few hours with the game trying out various graphics and performance options and have resigned myself to the fact that my gaming PC just can’t cut it in 2020 – between this and Death Stranding it’s clear that a Ryzen 5 1600 + GeForce GTX 1050 Ti just isn’t a combination for top tier gaming. That said even on low settings at a sub 30fps framerate the game impresses. The vast nature of the world below is instantly obvious and it’s still thrilling to fly over landmarks that you know as you explore the game.

The frame rate issues can creep into your enjoyment some of the time and sudden drops to single figures on my rig aren’t rare – and have at least twice led to complete pauses and even a crash landing. While the game is detailed the buildings at ground level in medium and low detail levels are never more complex than, for example, those in Cities Skylines and I can’t help feeling there is room to improve performance significantly in the coming weeks.

Controlling smaller aircraft can feel a little ‘skittish’ – at least on the Xbox One controller with tiny stick movements leading to sudden changes to pitch or roll. While it’s possible to achieve finer control with practice it does take some getting used to. The effects are far less pronounced on the larger airliners and the difference in feel between aircraft is actually apreciated.

There are a number of training scenarios – maybe not enough given the complexity of the game, but it’s well worth running through them before you take off on your own planned flight. There are lots of areas that aren’t fully detailed and one would hope that Asobo Studios work on beefing up the introductory side of the game ahead of its release on the Xbox One. There are times where the novel-sized instruction manuals of the past really should still exist and this is one of them. Despite this the game is still welcoming and post training you’ll have no trouble jumping into any of the game’s aircraft and taking to the skies – knowing the basics is enough to have fun but the amount of depth means that there’s always something new to discover.

Our hope right now is that Asobo and Microsoft manage to improve performance for those of us on lesser rigs and that a patch is forthcoming to help boost the frame rate a little. I can appreciate the game at less than 20fps in low settings but I would love to be truly blown away by it.

Posted on 19th August 1:22pm

I’ve finally managed to get the game playable at 30fps by dropping down the rendering resolution while retaining the actual output resolution. This wasn’t too bad with anti-aliasing enabled and actually makes the game both look nice and playable even in low settings.

Now I’m able to actually able to fly the plane at a frame rate that makes the game playable I am going to start practicing more – my landings haven’t been particularly successful as you can see above as I fail on my third loop and plough straight into the runway!

Colin Polonowski Colin Polonowski

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

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