Microsoft Flight Simulator review: a truly remarkable and beautiful aviation simulation

By Sean Carey,
When I was young, I remember staying over at a friend's house. We stayed up late, and at about 3 AM, my friend's dad came downstairs, so we pretended to be asleep. I expected a telling off for being too loud, but instead, he sat at the computer, flicked on the monitor and proceeded to land a plane before turning everything off and quietly going back to bed. It turns out, my friend's dad was seriously into aviation and Microsoft Flight Simulator. He would align flights in the sim with real-time flight schedules and wake up in the early hours of the morning just to set down the aircraft. I was amazed at his dedication and a little bewildered. After playing numerous hours of Microsoft Flight Simulator, I can now somewhat see the appeal.

Microsoft Flight Simulator review

The Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise has never really been on my radar as something I'd like to play. It's a game for enthusiasts, but with developer Asobo Studio claiming that you can fly anywhere on Earth and land at over 37,000 different airports, who wouldn't want to check that out?

What Asobo has managed to achieve with Microsoft Flight Simulator is nothing short of astounding. Using satellite data from Bing Maps, the developer has managed to recreate the entire globe to a high level of accuracy, which is something I've never seen before in a game. The curated data from Bing has been used to recreate everything from roads to hills and elevation. The game's engine fills in all the tiny intricacies of 3D buildings, trees, water and even traffic on the roads. The entire world is fully explorable from city landscapes such as New York, London and Paris, to natural wonders of the world like the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest — it's all here and waiting to be discovered. The Standard Edition of the game includes 30 handcrafted real-to-life airports, while the rest have all been procedurally generated, but manually edited to ensure a somewhat close likeness.

This also includes your house. The first thing I did when firing up the game was set out to find the village where I live and my home (I'm sure many of you will be doing the same too). Completely ignoring the tutorials, I decided to take a flight from Heathrow towards Southampton. This turned out to be a mistake as I had no idea what I was supposed to do to get the plane off of the ground. It was only after 20 minutes that I realised I had to take off the parking brake to actually get my little Cessna moving. After crashing numerous times, I eventually resorted to the settings and helpfully found an assistance mode, which allows the AI to take over some of the more complicated controls of the plane, and prompts the player to perform certain actions. This is extremely helpful for a novice to the franchise. I was soon up in the air and flying over where I lived, and I was amazed. Roads, rivers and parks were all so accurately rendered I could easily follow them to my house. Although the game does fill in buildings with pre-made generic-looking models, they were still pretty close to the real thing with the majority in the right location.

Microsoft Flight Simulator review

Thankfully, Microsoft Flight Simulator has a few decent tutorials for new pilots like myself. There are eight training lessons to help rookies familiarise themselves with the fundamentals of flight. I personally found these invaluable. While they don't tell you everything about flying a plane (including the big airliners), these tutorials are just enough to get you understanding the instruments, taking off, navigating and landing. The final tutorial is a solo flight in a Cessna that lasts for about 20 minutes. It was such a thrill to be left to my own devices and fly across the Arizona desert, taking in the sights and watching the sun go down. I still don't understand half the air traffic control jargon that's being shouted at me by air traffic controllers (at one point I had to ask a friend who worked in the industry what a bunch of abbreviations and things meant), but the more time I've spent with the game, the more I've picked up. The numerous amount of assistance options also help with things like ATC commands, which can all be virtualised if needs be.

The world is your oyster in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and it can be a little overwhelming: especially since you can pick any point on Earth to drop in and fly, with the ability to fine-tune weather conditions, time of day and air traffic. The game does feature multiplayer, and other players will be flying around in your world unless you turn the setting off. For those that want nothing but pure realism, the game also has a setting for live weather and live air traffic. If you want to fly over Tokyo at night during a violent thunderstorm, you can. You can pretty much live out any flying fantasy you could dream of, and it will look visually stunning too.

Microsoft Flight Simulator review

At times, the game looks photorealistic. Flying over tropical islands in the Bahamas, you can see the pure white sandy beaches, lush vegetation and varying shades of turquoise coloured water beneath. Flying over New York while it's being peppered in snow, or across the Atlantic in a thunderstorm, it all looks fantastic. Speeding through dark clouds while being pelted with rain and seeing a large flash of lightning followed by a crack of thunder close by is exhilarating. The planes themselves have also been recreated to an incredibly high level of detail. There are 20 planes in the Standard Edition to choose from ranging between single-prop planes to huge airliners, each with its unique cockpit filled with dials, buttons, instruments and levers. Nearly everything inside the cockpit can be played with or pressed. I had no idea what half of the stuff did, but for the hardcore enthusiasts, rest assured that every detail, instrument and switch is accurate to the plane you're flying.

However, in my time spent with the game, I did come across a few graphical glitches. Ground textures would sometimes be wrapped around tall buildings; trees would be sprouting from the water and rivers would also be running over the top of roads. When you get down really low, it's clear to see that a lot of the map is based on satellite imagery. Some of the boats in rivers and the sea appear as a flat texture and look as if they're underwater. All of this can be forgiven when the entirety of Earth is playable. I did also suffered from several big frame drops when flying into the larger cities, as well as a number of crashes when loading up the game. Although my PC did meet the recommended specs, and I was playing on medium settings, it was a bit disappointing at times to stutter my way into Paris and Sydney.

Microsoft Flight Simulator review

Realism is, of course, the big draw of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Some simulators can fall into the trap of being quite dull or lifeless, and Asobo could have made something similar; however, thanks to its visuals, this game is packed with atmosphere. Sunsets, either over a city or a mountain range are so glorious they almost feel real. There is still everything in the game for the hardcore flight sim fan such as realistic aerodynamics and weather, fuel consumption, ice, damage, plane stress, licensed aircraft and many other intricate details and features. The hardcore sim fans will have a blast, but the more casual players can also get involved and experience life at 30,000 feet.

Microsoft flight sim review

If you're looking for something more than flying from point A to point B, there are several challenges to attempt. Landing Challenges are a lot of fun — you need to land a plane under trying conditions or on a short runway, and are scored on your landing performance. After numerous failed attempts of trying to land a Boeing 747 at New York's JFK, I finally touched my plane down for a score of 1,970 points. At the time of writing, the current world leader has a score of 1,173,600 points — clearly, my piloting skills could do with some more work. There's also Bush Trips, which are long-distance trips across remote locations that will test your navigational skills. Bush Trips are set along scenic routes and offer some fantastic sightseeing.

Summary

Asobo Studio has created something special with Microsoft Flight Simulator. For the die-hard sim fans, the game has so much to offer in terms of gameplay and customisation, and it will keep you busy for hours on end. After some practice, getting familiar with the controls and the basics, even a casual player can get involved and experience sunkissed vistas or some of the world's most famous landmarks from several thousand feet. It still boggles my mind that you can explore pretty much anywhere on Earth, and although I probably won't be setting any alarms to land a plane at 3 AM on a Wednesday, I for sure will be playing a lot more of the sim in the future. With the game's Standard Edition included in Xbox Game Pass for PC, Microsoft Flight Simulator is a must-play even if you aren't into hardcore simulation games. Who doesn't want to fly over their house in a Boeing 747?
4.5 / 5
Microsoft Flight Simulator (Win 10)
Ethics
The reviewer spent around fifteen hours failing to get off the ground, gawping at sunsets and getting numerous overspeed warnings. In that time he earned 5 out of 43 achievements. The game was played on a PC consisting of an i7 7700k, GTX 1080ti and 16GB of RAM. A code was provided by Microsoft for this review.
Sean Carey
Written by Sean Carey
Hey, I’m Sean! I joined both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies as a staff writer in 2019. I’m a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid series and love a good narrative adventure. Most evenings you’ll find me failing to get a win in Call of Duty: Warzone.