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First thoughts on MS Flight

There has been lots of talk about this latest installment by Microsoft in the “flight simulator” genre with lots of back and forth on whether or not this should be labelled a flight simulator or a game. For anyone who uses FSX or FS2004 I don’t think it’s possible to try MS Flight and not make some comparisons. They do share some similarities but they are clearly different beasts. My intention was to give it a try and put down some thoughts about my experience.

Installation and Configuration

MS Flight is only available as a download so the first step is to go to http://www.microsoft.com/games/flight/ and click on the “Download and play free now button”. This will download a relatively small installer file which you must then execute to commence downloading the actual game file which is a rather large 1.4Gbs.

After the installation is finished you are presented with the opening screen, it is here that the journey into the world of MS Flight begins.

One thing I ran across with my installation was that it never created a shortcut to launch the program. I uninstalled and reinstalled the application several times and always with the same results. I use Win7 and have full administrator rights with UAC turned off and have not run into this problem with any other applications. My solution was to create a desktop shortcut to the program’s exe file. I had a look on some forums and didn’t see anyone else comment on having this issue so it may have been an isolated incident.

Documentation

If you are looking for a manual, there is none.

The Game

The opening screen presents you with a number of choices; Play, Buy Hawaii, Options, Live, About and Quit. Looking through each I can say that they are pretty much self-explanatory. The ones you are likely to use the most I think will be Play and Options.

Options Menu

The page you will likely go to first is the Options page and it is from here you can configure the game to best suite your personal preferences. The pages available are: Graphics, Gameplay, Audio, Game Controls and Aircraft Controls. I’ve included screenshots of these pages so you can see just what is available.

Graphics options are similar to what we have in FSX; you are looking at visual quality parameters such as resolution, shadow quality, sharpness, texture quality and so on.

Gameplay options is where you will look at items that affect realism or the ease of play like Auto mixture, Increased stability, subtitles and Heads up display.

Audio allows you to select volume levels for categories such as Music, Sound effects and Dialog.

Game Controls look at game events such as eye points and camera views. You can assign these events to a keyboard or an attached controller.

Aircraft Controls allows you to configure options for aircraft, such things as control surfaces, brakes, doors, etc.

As you go through these various categories in the Options menus anyone familiar with FSX or FS2004 will see that there are many similarities.

Controllers

I ran a cross what I consider to be a significant issue while I was trying to set up the game. I have a number of different controllers; Saitek rudder pedals, Saitek X52 joystick and Saitek Yoke and throttle quadrants. My goal here was to see if the program would recognize them and also to see how well they could be integrated into game play.

Each was recognized by the program and listed as a controller however I found that when it actually came time to configure them my options were very limited. I could program certain buttons and axis but not all of them were configurable. Most notably was the throttle, no matter what I tried I was basically limited to assigning the throttle control to buttons which I thought was unrealistic especially when I had multiple devices that could provide me with that capability.

The lack of controller recognition and configurability was a huge let down. I hope that future upgrades or service packs will address this short coming.

Aircraft

“Out of the box” you get one aircraft; the Icon A5. It is easy to fly so it is great for the novice pilot and being amphibious it is also well suited for the Hawaiian scenery area.

Looking at the manufacturer’s website and comparing that with the in game aircraft I have to say that they seem to have done a very good job in recreating it both inside and out. Overall the level of detail is pretty good, the aircraft is very simple in design with clean lines and minimal instrumentation.

I found it to be a very easy aircraft to fly but then again I had my settings to the default values. I have no idea what this plane is like to fly or how it manoeuvers in the real world but I  suspect that some of the things I had it doing while attempting the challenges would not be possible with the real world aircraft.  Not being a flight simulator I will expect that most people using this program would not be concerned with realism but more with the enjoyment factor of flying it. Looking at it from that perspective it was a fun plane to fly.

Something I noticed and that I found interesting was that as I flew around and my perspective to the sun changed the shadows would move and the lighting would change in a very realistic and subtle ways. I thought this was extremely well done.

There is a hangar feature where you can check out the specifications and pick a different colour scheme. Several were available but only one of them was unlocked.

The Boeing PT-17 Stearman is the other aircraft available for free but it must be downloaded via Windows Live. I did not download or install it.

Scenery

Unlike FSX where you had the entire globe available to explore here in MS Flight you are restricted to one small area, the island of Hawaii.

To be honest I hadn’t really paid much attention to the information that was coming out during the product’s development but I had assumed that there might be some interesting and significant visual enhancements to be had with this latest title. Sure it does look good but beyond the improvements I saw within the cockpit nothing really struck me as noteworthy. The water looked better and the runways and buildings looked more realistic but the autogen behaved the same, the airports were devoid of any other aircraft and the roads were barren of any moving vehicles. I was disappointed in that I was expecting to see more in the way of some evolutionary improvements.

Playability

Selecting Play gives you a number of sub menus: Activities, Free Flight, Hangar, Pilot Profile, Multiplayer and Main Menu.

Play is where you will go to make choices that determine what you will be doing in Flight. Free Flight and Activities were the menu two items I spent the most time.

I’ll start with the Free Flight option which has similarities to the Fly now option in FSX. As the name implies you get to choose your aircraft, start location and other items such as weather, season and time of day. The constraints imposed by the lack of choice in aircraft and available scenery area made this an option that I tried and quickly moved away from. The scenery although very nice to look at wasn’t enough to hold my interest. I found that the overall landscape lacked diversity and the landscapes all started to look very similar.

Missions, Challenges and Aerocache Hunt; these are the areas where MS Flight shines and this is where the game wants to take you and without these there really isn’t much going on in my opinion. Perhaps as the game matures and more aircraft are released and the area available to explore increases that may change but for now this seems to be the main focus.

You can choose different missions such as landing the Icon A5 on a runway or trying to master a challenge course. They have varying degrees of difficulty and locations to choose from in this part of the game. This is also how you can learn to handle the aircraft. I have to admit I found these to be entertaining, for the most part they were engaging and depending on the particular challenge or mission sometimes difficult. This is where the game has purpose and can show its true colours. It was while flying these challenges and missions that I really missed not having my controller, having it would have upped the realism and immersion factor.

Another game play feature is your Pilot profile. It is through this series of menus that you can see how you are progressing in your career as a pilot. Things like points earned, awards and achievements.

Multiplayer

The game does include a multiplayer aspect but I didn’t try it out.

Final Thought

I spent enough time in MS Flight to come to the conclusion that this was clearly meant to be a game and not a flight simulator. You get a single aircraft, are restricted to a small flight area, you cannot fully configure flight controllers and the main focus appears to be challenges and missions. Is it a fun game? It can be. Is it a flight simulator? Definitely not!

Something different with MS Flight is that you also now need a “Live” account in order to be able to log in and gain access to any program expansions or to partake in the multiplayer feature.

One final thought about this program. There is something vastly different between MS Flight and previous titles such as FSX and FS2004. That is the time honoured tradition of allowing third party developers to add to the program’s environment, currently this is not an option. Microsoft has basically closed the door on this feature clearly choosing a different path for MS Flight. Only time will tell how that will work out.

Test System:

Intel i7 960 OC @ 4.2 Ghz, 6 Gb RAM, ASUS 480GTX w/1.5Gb video, Win 7 Ultimate 64, FSX w/acceleration, Ultimate traffic 2, REX Overdrive, GEXn, UTX, AES, GSX.

 Richard Desjardins

31 comments to First thoughts on MS Flight

  • Jirayu Tanabodee

    Hi, Personally I think Flight is very good. Sadly it has no addon. And the FLIGHT whole world is still in our imagination.

  • Flight is such a huge letdown to be honest.
    Even as a game only it does not offer that much.

    Better to stay with FSX/FS9 and give X Plane 10 a go which I find to be quite interesting.

    X Plane 10 is just as equal a simulator as fsx but better in the area of simulating what the winds does to an airplane.
    Only need some addons for it.

  • Ian P

    I was asked to look through this before it was published, by our illustrious leader here at the sF network – basically to look for typos and check the grammar before publishing. As ever with Rick’s articles, I didn’t find any massive problems with it from that perspective.

    I did offer to fill in a couple of the gaps regarding multiplayer and the lack of mention of DLC/not trying the Stearman, which I’m sure a number of people have noticed, but then decided not to – this article is Rick’s opinion, not mine, and in quite a few areas outside of those, we actually disagree quite a lot in our opinions on the product.

    “Flight” is a flight simulator, not a game, insofar as the definition of a ‘flight simulator’ is ‘simulating flight’. It doesn’t need ATC, IFR, the entire world or anything else to do that. FSX can actually be ‘dumbled down’/’simplified’ (take your pick) as much as Flight can, but people choose to ignore that and direct ire at Flight for being a “game”, while FSX’s flight model is somehow “superior”… Not out of the box, it isn’t, but that’s another place that Flight falls down. 3rd Parties can’t fix Flight’s dynamics where they are lacking. Likewise, I can accept that MS really did close the MSFS line down and that Flight is not part of it. It’s aimed at a different audience, but unfortunately I think it misses them as well as the people bemoaning it as being the ‘death of the line’ – which happened well before Flight was released.

    Flight is a phenomenally restrictive flight simulator, one that doesn’t hold the vast majority of peoples’ interest for long and for all the Microsoft mouthpieces’ words about how pleased they are, it looks and smells like a complete flop to me – which will only get worse with the snail’s pace of add-ons that they are promising/threatening (again, delete as appropriate).

    In spite of Rick and I starting from different places and going through different routes to get there, we end up with the same result. Can we recommend Flight to anybody? No.

  • wings

    Is it a fun game? It can not be.(take on helicopters… there are many many real fun games…) Is it a flight simulator? Definitely not!

    • Ian P

      So what’s your criteria for being a flight simulator then? Are you saying that Flight Unlimited wasn’t, that AeroflyFS isn’t?

  • Thomas A

    I am also afraidFLight will be a flop.
    There a lot of stuff to like about it. Lighting, improved flight model, certain ground scenery features. For example flying low along the coast is a lot more beautiful than what FSX can offer.
    However the lack of new things to do, be it new planes and scenery will make this a flop I think. I enjoyed the first few weeks but now I am getting bored.

  • Matthias

    Hi everybody,

    I think with flight, MS made one of the biggest mistakes in it’s history.

    If they did not let the FS series go, MS flight would be nice as a little game for kids.

    But they let the entire flight sim community down with nothing.
    Well, just with a little game named MS FLIGHT.

    MS you S.CK!

    Hope Bill read’s this ;-)

    Greetings to everybody

    Matthias

  • Mohamad

    i was really sad from having a very bad product after all this waiting , really it drew a big sad face from the ms flight and what was not expected from it .
    For sure ill stay on the MFSX with the third party addons . never ms Flight .

    Regards.

  • Thank you Richard for the detailed, honest review of the new ‘Flight’. I found it quite informative.

  • Michel

    I am also in agreement with those who feel MS Flight being a flop. And I do not understand how can someone finds it appealing or entertaining…

    Flight is as advertised, it is clearly a commercial fast money making coup from MS. It does not have the same “sincere” development scheme MSFS titles had.

    Did you ever see a game engine being stripped out of the graphic and animation features it had more than 6 years ago? Game engines evolved radically from what they were two or three years ago as for MS Flight engine, based on FSX, it lost all the animation and dynamic world features… A boring no man’s land can’t be attractive in 2012… But the reason is simple, this is the only way they could make the game/engine run smooth without investing time and money evolving and optimizing it…

    So when I hear people saying, Wow MS Flight is so smooth compared to FSX I wonder how they could miss the boring static island and the deletion of all the performance demanding elements FSX had…

    Unfortunately MS Flight is clearly a cheap commercial tentative from MS to sell DLC, make money fast and fast enough before the lack of customers interst…

    Or to make a hopeless move in the future and lunch it to the sim community with SDK etc…

    • Ian P

      They’ve not ruled out an SDK, but it’s “three plus years” away.

      They’re also aiming to publish an aircraft a month and a new scenery every three months.

      How do they expect to keep peoples’ attention with that, when they’re targeting it at the casual market, who expect a new GAME every month for >US$5?

      As a money grabbing exercise it’s an even bigger failure than it is as an attempt to engage serious sim users!

  • Owen K.

    Thanks for the review. I will not even try Microsoft Flight, so I was interested in what you experienced. Thank you again. My opinion is that Microsoft is in the money saving mode with this game. No DVD install option makes it cheaper for Microsoft. Personally, If I want a game, I can think of much better options than Microsoft Flight. But, I do not want a game. I want a flight simulator. That is why I believe that FSX and the new XPlane 10 will be our new platforms. XPlane 10 is already showing some improvement and will continue to do so as developers produce new addons for this sim.

  • Burkhard

    Thanks for that nice review-
    There is one good news to all Flight Sim Fans – the ESP code is in very good hands with Lockheed Martin, and with Prepar3D we have a successor to FSX that contains everything missing in Flight – just it is not free.

  • jose monteiro

    FLIGHT does have a Manual and a Reference Card for main controls, both in PDF.

    As a pilot, RL, and although I only fly gliders (since 1980) but have had lot’s of chances to get hands-on experience on various GA aircraft, and also because I am a long time simmer, I must say I am really enjoying FLIGHT and consider it the closest to real sensation of being there I ever felt from a PC-based flightsim. Is it a Game? Of course it is, just like MSFS, XPlane, many others and even PS1 and PSX will be! Can a Game be used for serious trainning, proficiency? I think it can, provided it includes aspects that may turn it into a good learning platform. IMHO FLIGHT does.

    Loving FLIGHT!

  • I would rather play with my twenty years old die-cast 747 model which I received as a birthday present instead of playing this crap! Microsoft is out of my good books, permanently! Hello X-PLANES!

  • Jet

    I really liked the Big Jets and Helicopters and changing weather and Storms in Flight !! and the tons of Aircraft and their effects and all the moving Animations and the Air Traffic Control too. The Aircraft all have Virtual Cockpits and passenger cabins as well. and all those A.I. Aircraft too flying around made it even better !! OK ~ Now, I just woke up, must of been a Badd Dream which turned into a Nightmare – Flight doesn’t have any of this, what a Nightmare !!! I’m goin back to Sleep !

  • David Holland

    Now you know why I have not downloaded Flight and am staying with FS9 for as far ahead as I can see.

  • Matthias

    Hi Jet,

    Help me!!!!

    I just had the same nightmare!!!!
    How did you survive? ;-)

    Greetings

    Matthias

  • Johan

    A fair review. Biggest MS mistake – not allowing 3d party add-ons.

  • Dillon

    Mistake???

    Sadly they still feel their right on point with their decision.

    • Ian P

      Of course they do. If they’re giving the base package away free then the costs of development have to be recovered from DLC – there is no other way (short of selling in-your-face advertising or similar within the software).

      If they want to sell a Maule for fifteen bucks and someone has done a freeware Maule for zero bucks or is selling a 3rd party Maule for ten bucks, which will people use? Hence if you’re entirely reliant on after-market sales for your income, you can’t allow third parties in.

      Remember that accountants, not gamers or simmers, control large software companies (all of them).

  • Dave Jones

    I’ve found Flight to be very entertaining actually. I knew what Flight was about because I had actually read the messages from Microsoft (PC Pilot and others) and not assumed we would be getting another product in the FS franchise. Flight is fun and will expand over time. Also I see the product evolving so the sim side could grow also.

    For Ricks review. I thought it was really awful. Preconcived ideas, lack of an impartial view or understanding of the marketplace which Flight fits into. You couldn’t create a desktop shortcut, you can’t find the manual, didn’t bother downloading extra content and based the review off a free download. Unwilling to accept the simulation aspects i.e. pretty good startup shutdown procedures, DLC content performance improvements, didn’t notice Microsoft patch which could be indicative to a better support model and increase the likely hood features could be ‘reinstated’ at a later date.

    Flight is not Microsoft Flight Simulator so shouldn’t be judged as such. Ian P had a better impression of Flight and I agree with his assessment, but it really is a different beast which could evolve and I just get the impression because this is largly an enthusiats website, because Flight doesn’t have what it’s core customer base wanted (me included actually) the product is rubbish when really it isn’t. Just give is a bit of time and enjoy FSX or X-Plane for the ‘other’ aspects of simulation.

    Cheers,
    Dave.

  • tony

    Sure why change what the guy said if its what some people want to make flight look like . its a game like all the previews versions of Flight simulator they were all a game. he should off talk abit about the detail on some parts of the scenery compared to what we had in hawai out of the box with FSX , the maule and the rv6 . We can now use the comm radios like in any real aircraft when in multiplayer you can transmit to everyone or just dial a freq on your com radio and only people in that frequency can hear and talk to you . the stearman maule and rv6 have some small new details a working hobbs meter .il stop here i dont want to upset some people .

  • Hannes

    Flown with Flight for 3 hours, I do not believe, that it has any future. I’m bored by its simplicity. Flying for most simmers is more than just beeing in the air.

  • Michel

    I do agree with Ian on the fact that SDK can not be distributed with DLC strategy in mind but I do not agree that MS Fligth is entertaining now that it is released and the DLC strategy is set…

    Yes true that MS Flight is different from MSFS and true that it is aimed at the global gaming market and true that MS would not allow SDK if it has a DLC concept because it won’t sell against free stuff or better designed commercial 3rd parties etc etc etc.. All this is clear and I have no prob with its actual concept

    And I have no prob if MS decides to take Flight to the light and entertaining global gaming market but there is a question one need to ask:

    If MS is really and sincerely targeting the gaming market why didn’t they push for a full eye candy living environment in Flight? Wouldn’t that attract gamers who are used to and like bells and whistles in their games worlds?

    How could the static world of Flight compete with the super realistic living and animated worlds of actual games engines?

    Well again the reason is clear as I mentioned above… less money possible in the dev process… Strip FSX from eveyrhing that can create performance head-ache, no innovation or evolution in the game engine… Just some DX Shading capabilities…

    Therefore the result is that Flight is not a technical simulator like MSFS and does not even look like a amde in 2011/2012 game that equals the living worlds of other simulation or action or whatever 3D games of our times…

    All in all if Flight ended up being the concept that is now + sincere evolution in the eye candy and engine graphic features

    • Michel

      Hehe I sent it before finishing my text :-/

      … I ment: All in all if Flight ended up being the concept that is now + sincere evolution in the eye candy and engine graphic features then one could give it a smile of respect for being a really clear shift toward the big and great world of games and entertainment…

  • biker red

    The only positive that i can take from Flight is that it may encourage the under 10’s, whom after all are the only people who will play with this game, to advance into the flight sim fraternity and install a good product such as fsx or x plane

  • Ian P

    Always nice to see another posted whose preconceptions weren’t met, so they stick with them anyway. Thanks anonymous!

    Michel: There are actually a vast amount more than just “shader tweaks” in Flight if you bother to look below the surface – in one case literally, as the interface between land and water is vastly better in Flight than it is in either FSX or X-Plane. Oddly, considering what they have done with it, P3D doesn’t have particularly convincing beaching capability either.

    The flight models are still far from perfect, but mixture works better, turn co-ordination is better, spins and sideslips from a default aircraft are possible, which automatically adds a 100% improvement there.

    I can but presume that those still attacking it as a “kids game” are either too lazy, or too set in what they demanded they should get, to actually bother looking deeper than the surface.

  • maddog

    It is a limited game for players who have little commitment to flight simulation as proven by its total failure once released on Steam.

    Only weeks after its release on the largest gaming network in the world it has disappeared from the Steam top 100 played games with only around 80 MS Flight! users actually “in game” at any one time.
    Football Manager 2009 has more players and it is ancient in gaming terms.
    Normally we would expect the interface between land and water to actually have some waves and movement, in Flight! it is static just like the rest of the landscape.

    In P3D you have possibly the best modelling of water in any simulation to date, so good you can actually go underneath the ocean.

  • Ian P

    It is a limited FLIGHT SIMULATION, yes. But it’s only a “game” if you also class FSX as one as well.

    You’re right in terms of marketing – Microsoft have seriously let themselves down in terms of both marketing and content (which is their own stupid fault). One of the biggest problems is that most of the improvements are hidden behind the paywall, because you have to either specifically go looking for them, or have additional content for Flight to “introduce” you to them.

    P3D has modelled water, yes (I’d disagree with “any simulation”, but would agree more with “any flight simulation”) however the behaviour of a floatplane in P3D is still just as completely incorrect as it is in FSX. There is also still a big step change between water and land, which causes an amphibian to physically jump between the two states – unless this has been completely rewritten prior to the latest release, which I strongly doubt. Flight does not suffer from this step change. Although the Icon still behaves nothing like the amphibian I flew, particularly during landing, the Maule was on floats, not a flying boat, so it isn’t a direct comparsion.

    You say there are 80 players on Steam – a quick attempt to find someone in multiplayer on the MS LIVE! system (which I hate with a passion – multiplayer in Flight is abysmally handled) reveals many more. So maybe Steam just isn’t the preferred platform? The number of people using Steam-based multiplayer, anyway, is completely irrelevant regarding the level of simulation present.

    Edited to add: I’ve never used Vehicle Simulator, linked earlier in this thread, but have used earlier purely aquatic sims by the same author, and they had much better modelled water than P3D in terms of how a hull interacts with it.