Microsoft Flight review
Time to break out the joysticks, 'cause it's flight sim time.
We’re talking about Microsoft’s newest edition of its flight simulators, Microsoft Flight, which recently debuted to the world on February 29th. The best part about the whole thing? It’s free!
After heading to the Xbox Marketplace (really) and downloading the game itself, I strap in to my pilots seat and tell the missus I’ll be back after a quick jaunt in the air. Alright, you got me, so I just install it and hit ‘play’.
After a mild introductory set of flying missions to get you accustomed to the controls scheme in Microsoft Flight, you are free to pick your way through the game. Free flying, missions, challenges or multiplayer are all immediately available.
I was able to jump into the Icon A5 (a modern light ‘sport’ aircraft) or the Boeing-Stearman Model 75, a World War II era biplane, and test my flying ability in these two aircraft. After a quick tutorial that is neither boring nor monotonous, I pop into the job board to see what I can do.
There is a variety of missions to choose from, though unfortunately most of them require me to be higher level, so I have to grind out some challenges and landing skill tests. I never thought landing an airplane could be so fun.
The flight controls are smooth and solid. I'm using an older Logitech Attack3 joystick, and I'm not seeing any major issues except for having to remap most of the buttons. The default elevator controls were off on one side, making it a little weird at first, but configuring all the buttons made the experience better.
Most of the time, it seems like Microsoft wants you to fly in chase view. The airspeed, altitude and bearing indicators are in an easy to view upper screen interface, and switching between joystick and mouse to navigate the virtual cockpit is a chore. Maybe flying with the mouse would actually be better in this game? Absurdity!
The experience point system, of which I was hesitant at first, is actually pretty fun to play with. I now have a numerical gauge to determine how well I land or perform aerial maneuvers. This XP system integrates with the PC version of Xbox Live, Games For Windows - Live.
The game is free and supplemented by a marketplace where you can purchase airplanes and locations through micro-transactions. With the base version containing an area around the island of Hawaii, a fairly small area for a flight simulator, it’s no surprise that the marketplace is where you are able to buy more locations.
Pick up the P-51 Mustang (I'd say it won us the war), the Maule M-7, or some extra island scenery to fly over. $15 for a virtual airplane seems a bit much, and I'm hesitant to call these micro-transactions. If you want them, though, and if you've ever bought anything over Xbox Live or Steam, it follows all the same standards. Go to town!
Another gameplay option is to search for 'aerocaches', which Microsoft has conveniently used as a marketing tool for the Bing search engine. The game prompts you to do an internet search before heading out on a aerocache mission to help find the hidden caches, akin to looking for geocaches. Use the real-world locations as clues to the cache location in game.
Speaking of the internet, multiplayer is simple to find and join, and is a great way to meet other flying enthusiasts. Or you can try to show off by doing stunts (and failing miserably) like I did.
The game itself looks pretty good for a flight sim. In fact, it reminds me of Wings of Prey from Gaijin Entertainment, only with worse ground detail. I found few performance hits during play, and only ran into any framerate issues around cities with the settings at maximum. My decidedly lackluster video card probably has more to do with it than the software.
One thing to note is the way Microsoft Flight handles screenshots. Why Microsoft, must you insist on bitmaps? They are huge bitmap files at that: 7-8MB in file size for a 1920x1080 image. Come on, use some decent image compression.
Microsoft Flight is a great way to let off some steam, especially because at its core it is a free-to-play game. It might not attract the most hardened flight sim fan, but for those looking for some casual flight time, this definitely would be some software to keep around on your hard drive. It’s fun, relaxing, and, yes, at times a bit challenging. It fits in a nice middle ground between an ‘arcade flyer’ and Digital Combat Simulator. Just remember that this is not Flight Simulator X, and is intended for a 'broader market'. A lot of the more challenging simulator-type features are absent. There's a reason they took 'simulator' out of the title.