OPINION

Looking Forward – MS Flight Simulator

I’ve played all manner of games since I first had a go at the age of six. It was a blocky tank game on my brother’s Grandstand in 1980, which was essentially an Atari in all but name.

The gameplay of the aforementioned tank game was extremely basic, the visuals were also basic, but it was a great deal of fun to play. And now, several decades, computers and gaming consoles later, I’m looking forward to something that is far from basic and blocky.

Take to the skies

The new Microsoft Flight Simulator is different to what came before. I’ve been tempted to play its predecessors, but either lacked the technology at the time, or the incentive, due to other gaming commitments. But the steady flow of content that has been released showcasing the newest iteration of the Flight Simulator series has definitely caught my attention. Put simply, it looks absolutely gorgeous.

That city in the background is more than just window-dressing

Now, you might be thinking this is a shallow viewpoint. That jumping on the proverbial bandwagon at this stage is simply because of the visuals. And that’s partly true. But I’ve always enjoyed flight-related games, and open world titles, where I can explore to my pixelated heart’s content. From a Harrier Jump Jet game on the Spectrum 48K to Apache/Havoc on the PC, and a host of others, I played my fair share of flight or combat sims. With the Xbox this desire was sated through Grand Theft Auto releases, or Halo. And no, I’m not a fan of the Ace Combat games either. Having some 80-odd air-to-air missiles seems a tad… unrealistic. And that’s the thing. I appreciated realism. And that brings me to Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS).

Just as Major Nelson commented upon the press release back in September 2019, a major test of a title proclaiming to map the world would be to fly over my house. Previously, I’ve been unable to do this, mainly because my current hometown of Leeds isn’t featured in Halo, Grand Theft Auto or any of the other military based sims I’ve played. But that’s all changed in MSFS. The entire world and every airport on the planet has effectively been mapped into the game. And not just the buildings, either. Football pitches, weather, parks, woods, roads, traffic and even individual blades of grass are now featured. The attention to detail, and the way this is presented is nothing short of sublime.

Don’t believe me? Look for yourself

Technology

MSFS achieves this by harnessing Azure Cloud, and a combination of collected satellite and aerial imagery. And don’t be concerned about having a slow or intermittent internet connection and not benefiting. When your connection drops altogether or you decide to play during peak time, everything is adjusted to allow for an enjoyable experience. Though there will be limits to that, especially if you plan on flying a few thousand miles over heavily built up areas. But if your connection is fast and stable, everything is streamed via Azure in real-time. And there’s also the option to choose real-time weather in the location you’re flying over, which will correspond to the weather in the real world.

And don’t just think that the ground and the aircraft are hogging all of the attention here, either, because the skybox also plays an important part. From cloud changes, and variable weather to humidity, rainbows and shadows, the sky scenery aims to please just as much as what you see on the ground. All of this adds up to a much richer experience, day or night. What this all means is that navigation by VFR (Visual Flight Rules) is possible. So if I really wanted to, I could grab a plane at Heathrow, fly to Leeds/Bradford airport, change into something smaller, and then fly over my house. But this game isn’t just about keeping things local.

To truly enjoy and appreciate the level of detail available here, why not fly over the Grand Canyon, or take in the glory of the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn? You can also visit the Great Wall of China or venture to the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands. The choice is yours, and the options are seemingly limitless, only constrained by your imagination.

Play with friends

Multiplayer

There’s also multiplayer, allowing for open play with complete strangers, or with a closed group of players of your choosing. So you can have as much fun or take things as seriously as you want. These styles of player are set out in specific modes of play. Live play means flying by the rules, much as pilots would do in reality. All Players is pretty much anything goes and involves all players that are currently online. You can fly in whatever conditions or style you want. And groups allows for a more curated experience with the players you want to play with. For multiplayer numbers, the game shows and allows you to interact with the nearest 50 players.

While the PC specs have since been released, to fully enjoy the experience you’ll need something pretty powerful. Information on the available aircraft and if anything military flavoured features within has not been confirmed. I’m also wondering whether or not the mysterious Area 51 is a viable option as a destination. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing more and getting some hands on experience.

Let us know what you think of MSFS 2020. For more information, head over to the MSFS website: https://www.flightsimulator.com/

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