Microsoft Flight Simulator Review — On Cloud Nine
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 not only offered me a breathtakingly immersive experience, but it also helped with my fear of flying.
When I think of Microsoft Flight Simulator, the first memory that enters my mind is sitting in my cousin’s bedroom in the 90s and begging him to let me play his plane game. Taking control of the joystick and zooming through the skies with a huge grin on my face whilst being told to “Get off, you’re going to crash!” is probably one of the best gaming memories I have. This is not only due to the nostalgia attached to this memory, but also because I was obsessed with the notion of being as free as a bird without having to leave your seat.
Thankfully, many years later, that feeling hasn’t subsided and in the trying times we’ve all found ourselves in right now, being able to feel mentally unchained in such a restricted world has never come at a more perfect time. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is how Microsoft Flight Simulator helped ease my fear of flying while also allowing me to experience one of the most accurate and in-depth gaming experiences I’ve ever come across.
For those who feel a bit out of their comfort zone when dealing with a flight simulator or maybe have never taken on a sim like this before, I’m here to reassure you that no matter your skill level, developer Asobo Studio has you in mind. If you need extra guidance or pointers throughout your gameplay, they are all there at the touch of a button. Regardless of your skillset when it comes to flying games, my advice would be to jump straight into the Microsoft Flight Simulator’s training mode that will either refresh your previous knowledge or offer a clean slate for newcomers. In this mode, players will be taken through all the ins and outs of the game. This includes learning the instrument panel buttons, taking off from the runway gracefully, flying in a crosswind, landing, and many more features that will aid you to have an enjoyable flying experience.
Whether you want to jet across the globe in a small propeller plane, a jet, or a Boeing 747, the choice is completely up to you. In the premium edition of Flight Simulator that I played, I had the opportunity to take my pick of 30 airplanes — three turboprops, three airliners, two jets, and 22 propellers — and 30 hand-crafted airports with hundreds of smaller airports, too. Naturally, depending on which one you decide to jump in, they will fly differently with each handling elements like wind, turn speed, taking off, and landing in correlation with its size and maximum speeds. Once you have picked one you feel most comfortable with — I personally loved the Textron Aviation, Cessna 152 due to its larger windows for sightseeing — the sky is the limit.
What I loved a lot is that you aren’t forced into a situation you don’t want. For example: If you just don’t fancy taking off from the runway, then you can spawn straight away in the sky. Or, if you wanted to give flying the boot for a while and take in the scenery, get your co-pilot to take over while you put your feet up.
Although, in saying this, I did let my co-pilot take over for a while whilst I enjoyed looking around and eating my lunch but for whatever reason, they decided that crashing in the middle of a small village was a great idea. I’m not sure if this was a slight in-game bug at that moment or if it was something wrong on my end, but from that moment on, I demoted my flying partner to remain sitting on their hands for any further journeys.
Thankfully, I found a much easier way to take pictures while also flying (and not plummeting to the ground) and that’s by using a feature called Active Pause. When Active Pause is, well, activated, it allows the plane to stay still in the air while the world carries on around you. You’ll see clouds moving, cars going past on the highways and byways below you, other player’s planes shooting through the sky, and one of the best features – it’ll allow you to change the weather.
Microsoft and Asobo Studio have put together an astonishingly realistic weather system that truly captivated me from the off. No longer do you have to put up with blocky clouds or skies that look so out of place and bland that it breaks up that feeling of being completely immersed. Rain droplets coat your plane and windows as it would in real life and if you set the temperature to cold outside, your plane will start to form patches of ice. As much as the ice build-up effect is an incredible feature, it also serves a purpose and will affect the plane’s performance if you don’t take care of it and de-ice it. You’ll also experience a true day/night cycle and, let me tell you, watching the sunrise or set while gliding through Microsoft Flight Simulator’s skies is honestly a breathtaking encounter. Also, being able to fly in real-world weather conditions with live air traffic due to the game’s Bing integration gives this simulation serious brownie points.
If you have ever wanted to fly during a thunderstorm without the feeling that you might die, Asobo Studio has those needs covered. Traveling thousands of feet into the sky and having the luxury of witnessing gigantic forks of lightning and loud claps of thunder from the comfort of your chair is mindblowing. The best part is that it’s all within an easy reach of your in-game menu throughout your flight.
One of my favorite moments in Microsoft Flight Simulator was watching the sunset over a location like the Grand Canyon or off the coast of Santa Monica. I had a true feeling in those moments of complete detachment from the chaos of the real world. Another beautiful feature is slowly flying over a city like New York City and setting it to nighttime to watch the lights of the buildings come to life and twinkle as the cars travel beneath them within the city’s roads.
Flight Simulator 2020’s world is crafted from data from Microsoft’s Bing maps and is then drip-fed into an Azure cloud server where huge amounts of information are pushed through to offer the player a 3D representation. The attention to detail here is second-to-none and you can even fly over your old school, childhood home, or anywhere you fancy, really.
Throughout my playtime, I tried to find as many iconic locations as possible that included the beautiful island of Hawaii, the west coastline of America, the Grand Canyon, Ayres Rock in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, The Tower of London, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and many more. Even though many of these places looked fantastic from the air, getting up close and personal to some buildings and other structures was a real eyesore. The textures were patchy and seemed like they hadn’t loaded-in properly. When flying across London, in particular, I noticed that Westminster Bridge outside the Houses of Parliament had completely disappeared. leaving all the cars to travel underwater. It’s times like this, coupled with the long loading times, where the immersion that’s so heavily implemented comes to an end for a brief period and you’re forced to acknowledge some of the downfalls of the game.
Regardless, one of the many highlights of my experience with Microsoft Flight Simulator was being able to participate in some multiplayer action. Thankfully Ben Bayliss, who is a fellow DualShockers Senior Writer, was able to jump in to give this side of the title a whirl with me. After some initial issues trying to find each other on the map and then tweaking some settings in the general options menu, we were able to meet up on the remote island of San Andros in The Bahamas. As much as Flight Simulator can be played beautifully in isolation, there’s something about soaring the skies with a friend as you experience the breathtaking scenery together. Being able to say, “Wow, can you see that sunset?” or, “Hey, noob, I just saw you crash!” is quite enjoyable. Other than trekking the globe with a friend, you can spot plenty of planes as you travel from one place to another. Other players are also easily recognizable on the map and are highlighted by a green plane symbol.
As I previously mentioned briefly, I have a fear of flying. Even though it doesn’t stop me from flying, it causes a lot of anxiety. It’s not so much the fear of being thousands of feet in the air, it’s more my lack of understanding in how it stays up there. It’s not a natural feeling for anyone to be flung into the air in a metal tube with countless strangers, but it’s the lack of control on my part if a situation did occur.
This is why I partly wanted to experience Microsoft Flight Simulator. Even though Flight Simulator is obviously a game, it offered me reassurances throughout the training that there were measures in place for incidents. By learning through guidance what certain levers and buttons were for, it actually helped to ease my anxiety in that I could actually give up control as there are so many safety nets to keep the plane in the air and it wasn’t solely down to one or two pilots. The knowledge of the inner workings of these planes and how they conquered the skies greatly helped me gain clarity – so much so that I’m actually looking forward to my next flight once it’s safe to do so.
It’s honestly hard to describe how amazing Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 feels as there’s so much to unpack, but from what I’ve experienced so far, I can truly say that this will be a game I’ll keep coming back to time and time again. From the impeccably detailed aircraft and the challenges you can participate in, to the unbelievably stunning world and gorgeous weather system, Asobo Studio has lovingly and meticulously crafted something special here that suits players of all levels and abilities. All you need is the love for adventure, the trill for escapism, and the desire to have your mind blown. I can’t recommend it enough.