I haven’t played a flight sim since the late 90s and I was never very good at it back then. My hand-eye coordination isn’t too bad and I know how to sail a boat. But this isn’t sailing, although some of the same principles apply when flying– turning is slow and you need to anticipate actions well in advance, unlike machinery that’s gripped to the road with rubber. Flying, even in a simulator, requires practice unless you’re a natural who picks up the nuances very quickly. But I’m not a natural pilot and if you’ve ever watched Airplane, you’ll know where I’m coming from.
I first came across the new Microsoft Flight Simulator (MFS) in a tech forum earlier this year and I, like so many others, was blown away by how stunningly beautiful it looked in the videos. Believe me, those teaser videos were spot-on because now, having flown several times in various aircraft around the world, it really is as magical as we were all hoping it would be.
As mentioned in my previous article, Here’s Why I Bought XBox Game Pass, I signed up on the day before release,when Microsoft Flight Simulator became available for preload. And it’s a big download at nearly 100GB, so make sure you have plenty of space and a good Internet connection. Since there’s a lot of disk access when running the sim, I installed it to an SSD and made sure that my video drivers were up to date.
Depending on whether you’re a seasoned sim pilot or a novice like me, you can choose to either jump straight in by clicking on the world map or select flight training. I chose the latter because frankly, my piloting skills are hideous, added to which I would be flying with a keyboard and mouse which, while certainly not ideal, is entirely possible. The flight training holds your hand and guides you through the essentials as if you were flying a real aeroplane and takes you through takeoff, navigation, and landing in a Cessna 152. I managed several uncomfortable scenarios, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend being a passenger in one of my flights if you value your life.
All The Options
There’s a bewildering array of control options for keyboard, mouse, and controllers. The keyboard section alone has hundreds of key combinations, so much so that I had to print out a crib sheet because it’s impossible to remember them all.
It’s important to remember that much of the world detail is being procedurally generated from the cloud as you fly so choosing the correct graphic details is very important. It’s graphically very demanding and even on medium settings, I’m lucky to get an average of 40FPS. Here are my specs, which at build time were pretty darned respectable:
- Ryzen 2600X 6 core 12 thread CPU
- Asus Crosshair Hero VII motherboard
- 32GB DDR4 2400Mhz RAM
- Asus ROG RX580 8GB GPU
- Water-cooled with NVMe and M.2 SATA
- 100Mbps fiber optic Internet
Having said that, flying at 40-50 FPS is perfectly acceptable and I’ve been having a wonderful time in the skies with very little in the way of glitches. If anything, the only time the sim degrades is when the Internet connection suffers through overload, but that isn’t happening very often.
So Many Choices
$1 for the first month of Game Pass gets you the standard version of Microsoft Flight Simulator with twenty planes including two passenger aircraft — a Boeing 747 Intercontinental and an Airbus A320 — a private jet and several propeller aircraft are also included.
That’s more than enough to start off with, especially if you’re still learning to fly. The deluxe and premium deluxe editions give you more airports and planes, but start to get very expensive.
As mentioned earlier, I started off at flight training in a Cessna 152 and once I had completed several successful landings and takeoffs, I felt confident enough to spread my wings and there was no stopping me. However, piloting a 747 is a very different experience because the big plane takes a long time to slow down, so I’ve had to make several landing re-runs, but then that’s all part of the fun and learning curve.
Get Yourself A Joystick!
Controlling an aircraft with a keyboard is not very accurate at all, especially when turning and frankly, this was beginning to impinge on my enjoyment of the sim. My mother would have said, “A bad workman always blames his tools“, but what she forgot to mention is that the workman, or pilot, in this case, needs to be in possession of the right tools in the first place. That’s why I splashed out on a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro and since then, my flying experience has been smoother and much more enjoyable. Mind you, I still wouldn’t recommend buying a passenger ticket on my airline, at least not yet anyway.
The Flying Experience Is Real-time
When you look at the world map above, you can see the weather happening in real-time and not only that, the planes flying around the sky are real as reported by ATC and wherever you go, it’s a very real representation of the world as seen in Bing Maps. The amazing thing about this flight simulator is that everything is customisable and you can tweak it depending on your preferences. Lowering the realism will often give you better performance as well.
Talking Of Tweaking
Microsoft Flight Simulator is very mod-friendly. In fact, a community folder is created upon installation for this very purpose, and already new plane models, liveries, and airports are available for download completely free of charge. I’ve already installed an FA-18 fighter jet and am crossing the Atlantic at very respectable speeds.
An excellent source of information is MFS Addons where you can find all the liveries, planes, and other mods that you could ever wish for because after all, variety is the spice of life. It’s constantly updated and even has a forum if you need some help. In fact, I’m currently working out a flight plan with Norwegian Airlines to recreate my cancelled flight which was due to leave next Monday 7th September from EZE Buenos Aires to LGW London. I even have the Norwegian livery, but instead of an Airbus A320 (which they don’t fly from BA anyway, but use a 787 Dreamliner) I’ll probably go for a 747 for the extra legroom.
In any event, there is no Norwegian livery for a 747 because they don’t fly any, which gives you an idea of how accurate this sim really is, so I opted for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a plane I’ve actually flown on several times already in real life. I then lodged a flight plan with ATC at EZE Buenos Aires who allotted me a 0645 departure time. We were finally going to escape and were going home.
(Ed note: To see more of Marc’s entertaining videos, visit his YouTube Channel (Rufinoman).
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a monumental achievement by anyone’s standards and what stands out for me is that what was promised in the initial teaser videos has been delivered and so much more. The level of detail is simply astounding and it wouldn’t be stretching a point to describe it as a labour of love.
I’m pretty much a layman in terms of flight sims, but even I can see the level of accuracy that has been so painstakingly put into this. Developed by the French Asobo Studios for Microsoft, this is a project that in many ways is way ahead of its time, much like Crysis was way back in 2007– not many machines are capable of running it at absolute maximum yet.
Minimum system requirements:
- Processor: Intel i5-4460 | AMD Ryzen 3 1200
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 770 | AMD Radeon RX 570
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 150 GB available space
Provided you have a machine that meets the recommended requirements, I would urge you to give it a try. Heck, why not just sign up with Game Pass for $1 and give it a whirl?
Microsoft Flight Simulator is available from: