Simplification can be Beneficial
Simulators are great ways to have experiences that you will probably never be able to have in your day-to-day life, and creating those experiences is where they really shine. I could go on all day about how much I love highly detailed cockpits that make you go through endless checklists to take off and land, and realistic flying mechanics that put you into a stall at the slightest movement of a stick, but at the core of every flight simulator is the idea that flying is fun. Whenever you talk to a pilot that really enjoys what they do, they will tell you about the ‘bliss’ of flying, and really, reproducing that feeling is the best thing that a simulator can do. Microsoft Flight does an excellent job of mimicking the extraordinary feel of flying without all the technical baggage, and in the process, has made itself far more accessible. While I certainly appreciate that they got rid of so much of the periphery for new players, I appreciate even more that you can still take control of the minutia if you want to, allowing newcomers and genre veterans alike to enjoy it.
Flight introduces a bevy of assists similar to the ones found in modern driving simulators, making just about every aspect of flying easier. Just like a driving simulator, you can disable every single assist if you want to have the authentic experience, or mix them up for differing levels of automation/difficulty. Leaving automation at a high level also eliminates the need for a flight stick, and makes it far easier to play with just the keyboard/mouse or a Xbox 360 controller.
The most difficult part of so many flight sims, getting into the air, has been greatly simplified by default as well. You can now just press a button to make the computer go through the pre-startup checklist for you, but if you want, you can go through the checklists manually, reading them on the side of the screen and going through the motions. Flipping the switches feels just as well as it has in the past, as the cockpits remain as detailed as they ever were, with a noticable graphical update, and every switch and knob is still adjustable from inside the cockpit view. Along with the control and start-up assists, by default there is a very detailed HUD that pops up telling you everything you need to know without ever making you look at the instruments.
In addition to all the simplifications, Flight Simulator X’s conceit to people that wanted more of a “game” returns in the form of more structured missions, putting you through the paces of precision flying in the form of acrobatics, which serve their purpose of teaching people how to fly rather well. Flight also does a great job of acclimating you to each new plane, as each different aircraft has its own set of ranked landing missions, which allow you to get a feel for each individual plane quickly and easily.
Along with the structured missions, Flight also introduces an excellent new feature called Aerocache Hunting. Aerocaches are small icons that float about at different points of interest around the world, waiting to be found. The Aerocache hunting system gives you a few hints then encourages you to use Bing to search for where you might find the location in real life, so that you can make your way to it in Flight. You don’t have to specifically hunt for these Aerocaches to find them however, and you’ll stumble across tons of them as you just fly around. While I will concede that soon enough there will be maps on the Internet of where every Aerocache is, Microsoft seems dedicated to constantly removing old Aerocaches, each of which has its own expiration date, and introducing with new ones over time. Of course, only time will tell if Microsoft follows through or not, but as it stands, Aerocaches give players a great reason to go sightseeing and just enjoy flying.
Somewhere between the heavily structured missions and extremely unstructured Aerocache hunting lies the ‘Job Board’, where you can do menial, extremely dull point to point flights. Point to point flights of course, were always the main activity in Microsoft Flight Sim games before they began adding a mission structure, and you just sort of did whatever you wanted.. The only difference this time is now these flights have vague ‘objectives’ and tend to have an extremely annoying passenger. You’ll do everything from taking your agitating “friend” out to eat at another airport to taking an excitable tourist on a sightseeing voyage around the island, all while they babble incessantly in your ear. The strange thing about these missions is that they give you the option to skip the flight between the two airports, completely eliminating any experience you would have had along the way, and making the missions essentially only about taking off and landing.
Are there problems with Microsoft Flight? Absolutely. For hardcore sim players, Microsoft Flight will seem too forgiving and unrealistic, even with all the assists turned off, and the limited amount of space that the islands provide will likely feel restrictive. On the other hand, if you’re new to sims, the Free to Play model that Flight uses will seem a bit pricey. The free version that you get with the initial download only comes with two planes and mainland Hawaii. There are only two additional planes you can purchase as of this review, one selling for $8 while the other is $15. You can get a third plane along with the rest of the Hawaiian islands for $20, but even after paying that, you’re still only getting what amounts to a tiny sliver of the massive world that you had to play around with in previous Microsoft Flight Simulator titles. This lack of physical space is made up for by the sheer density of things to do, and to be completely honest, if you are new to the sim genre, the entirety of the Hawaiian islands is likely more than enough room to get your feet wet.
If you’re an experienced flight sim fan looking for a hardcore flight simulator, Microsoft Flight certainly isn't the place. However, if you’ve been intrigued by the idea of flight sims but intimidated by their complexity, Microsoft Flight is an excellent starting point, and the real genius lies in the highly customizable nature of the assists. It's extremely easy for a new player to slowly acclimate themselves to flying, slowly turning off assists one after the other, until they are flying at a much higher skill level than when they started. What I find the most interesting about Microsoft Flight is who I have found myself recommending it to. I’ll hesitate when I think about recommending it to my flight sim buddies,and then attaching tons of qualifiers if I decide to recommend it. However to my friends that aren’t as interested or well-versed in sims, I will recommend it in a heartbeat. As an introduction to the flight sim genre, Microsoft Flight is great, a wonderful ‘gateway drug’. People that live and die by flight sims will find less to like here, but it still manages to capture the pure bliss of flying, and to me, that is the most important thing any simulation can do.