It’s hard to believe but I used to be a hardcore flight sim fan…or rather space sim. I basically grew up playing Wing Commander and the X-wing / TIE Fighter series…clocking some serious mileage in both. I’ve played a bit of the older Microsoft Flight Simulator series but I’ve always been turned off by how unrealistic the terrain looked with 90s hardware.

Well…it’s no longer the 90s and gaming visuals have come a long way since then.

Nowadays, games can even be so good they’re mistaken for real pictures!

So…does that bode well for the game? Find out in my review!

What is Microsoft Flight Simulator?

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a flight simulation game for the PC (with an Xbox version planned in the future). It’s developed by Asobo Studio with publishing duties handled by Microsoft.

Right off the bat, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, Microsoft Flight Simulator looks gorgeous. It’s insane how sharp the game can look. That is if you have the hardware for it.

I’m running the game on the Aorus 5 SB (and you can get your own via this link), with an Intel Core i7-10750H, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti and 16GB DDR4 RAM. For more information on this awesome notebook, you can read my review of it here.

On this rig, I can play the game on Ultra at 1080p with mostly no issues, though there can be a bit of stuttering if you’re using the cockpit view.

Even with this relatively powerful rig, Microsoft Flight Simulator is demanding. The notebook’s cooling was pushed into overdrive, with hot air blasting out of the vents. Ironically, it does add to the immersion, as the laptop sounds like an aircraft is taking off with all the fans running at top speed!

Overlook that for one moment though and you’ll find an amazingly visual game. Microsoft Flight Simulator uses Bing Maps textures and topographical data to make the locations you fly in as accurate to life as possible. That means it replicates the real world in-game. Damn impressive no?

The accuracy’s a bit hit or miss though…Choosing to fly around Singapore, I noticed that normal HDB blocks aren’t correctly rendered.

Instead, they’re replaced by generic models. I flew over my house to see that it’s basically unrecognizable from the air, as the block’s been replaced by a basic apartment building. In fact, the data’s not all that accurate too, as it shows the surrounding area still unoccupied, when in reality, other HDB blocks have been erected.

So while you’re technically flying over the map of Singapore, the buildings populating it aren’t the real deal. That is apart from prominent ones.

Landmarks like the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands are lovingly detailed for you to fly past. It’s damn cool to see them represented in a huge game like this…especially more so when you’re flying past them in a propeller plane.

Despite the word simulator in the title, flying around in the game is much easier than you’d expect.

Sure, you can ramp up the simulation factor as high as you’d like but for dummies like me (who just want to jump in planes and fly around), you can dumb down the sim aspects with CPU assistance that takes care of most of the complicated tasks.

I just use an Xbox One controller to play, with the default settings…and it suits me just fine. I’m not a pilot and I don’t know anything about flying a plane. I just want to fly and Microsoft Flight Simulator lets me do just that.

Finding the fun and enjoyment in it is all up to you though. At its core, Microsoft Flight Simulator is just a toolbox. You’re the one who’s supposed to utilize it to find the fun.

There’s no campaign mode, not even cutscenes…nothing that you’d normally find in games. The only thing that even remotely resembles structure are the challenges you can attempt. These give you tasks (usually on landing your plane) with handicaps to make things…challenging.

Challenges are fun and give you something to attempt but I largely forgot about them and just flew around instead. With COVID-19 putting a damper on holiday plans, Microsoft Flight Simulator is just what I needed.

The Bottom Line.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a return to form for the series. Its new tech and visuals gives it a far superior feel that its predecessors. It’s not perfect though. The game does a lot of things right, but there are still some kinks that should be looked at.

Map data for example, can be outdated. Somebody should definitely look into getting updates into the game in a timely manner. It’s just not as fun flying over locations that aren’t like in real life, no matter how accurate the topographical data is.

Another irk are the generic buildings used to replace local architecture. Buildings not looking like the real deal is a big bummer. I understand that it’d be next to impossible to do every building to match real life but it’s still a major issue.

If both issues can be addressed, it’d make the game much more immersive and enjoyable.

As it stands, Microsoft Flight Simulator is still awesome but for those who aren’t hardcore flight simulation fans, there’s not much to offer once the initial thrill of flying in locations you’re familiar with (or have always wanted to visit) wear off.

For the hardcore, this is the sim you’ve been waiting for.

TLDR:

An awesome flight simulation game that everybody can play, though there are some issues.

The Good.

  • Huge world to explore.
  • Awesome visuals.
  • Good selection of planes to fly.
  • Fun for beginners and hardcore players.

The Bad.

  • Buildings different from real life.
  • Map data may not be up to date.
  • Needs powerful hardware to run well.

Sal's been in the industry since the early 2000s. He's written for a ton of gaming and tech publications including Playworks, Hardwarezone, HWM and GameAxis. Recently, Sal served as a juror for the Indie Game Awards at Taipei Game Show 2020. A geek and hardcore gamer, Sal will play everything, on any platform.