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.
If you are looking for a manual, there is none.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
The game does include a multiplayer aspect but I didn’t try it out.
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.
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.