It’s been more than a year since Microsoft announced the return of its incredible Flight Simulator for both PC and Xbox. It’s finally out on Xbox and this is my review.
At Long Last
More than a year after its announced return, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 was back in the Microsoft store and available on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Gold. In June of 2019 a sneak peek of the game was announced at the E3 gaming convention ahead of a (then) unannounced 2020 release date.
Microsoft indicated the game would be available on PC and XBox but didn’t offer dates. The PC title was released in August of 2020 but word about Xbox’s version wasn’t made until December of the year. It was released on XBox in July of 2021 for Series S and Series X consoles.
Like many others who were awating the launch on Xbox, the late announcement and long wait has meant more than two years of anticipation, much of that time without any indication as to when it would release. I welcomed its arrival with open arms.
From light planes to wide-body jets, flying around the world is nearly as if you were sitting in the captain’s chair. “Test your piloting skills against the challenges of night flying real time atmospheric simulation and live weather in a dynamic and living world.”
What makes Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 a great game is that it can serve all levels of experience. For pilots that just want to hop in and go flying, there’s an easy setting for that. For advanced airline pilots, every switch, lever, and control is available which can create a daunting task to fly an airliner properly, but accurately. For amateurs, wide-body jets fly highly technically or as easy as a touch of the joystick and clicking a few buttons. Planes with unique flight characteristics like seaplanes can add an extra challenge but open up a new world.
I find myself using some of the set scenarios. I like the ability to “create your flight plan” stopping in places and flying routes that are personal to me or undiscovered.
This is a very long video that shows the gameplay experience with an Airbus A320-NEO at Los Angeles International (LAX.)
Video games have come a long way and this generation of Microsoft Flight Simulator might be the most advanced video game ever created. Using satellite imagery and Bing Maps (not the best but great for this purpose), some 1.5 billion buildings are loaded into the scenery. The company has said it before but with the latest world updates, it’s true that the entire world is at your fingertips. Loading times have been brief in my experience and never interrupted gameplay.
My one complaint about the graphics is that satellite images are mostly top-down (though they have other angles spliced in too) meaning that tree-lined streets don’t really exist in the same way they would on Google Street View. Trying to navigate to my parent’s house and land a Cessna on our old street was impossible because anything below the treeline is invisible to the game despite having accurate height surveys that would put you on the road.
There are some other notable glitches:
The game’s ads show jets fly highly detailed routes under and through Tower Bridge in London, just don’t try it in Pittsburgh (the City of Bridges) where a wall appears underneath the bridge to the water. In fairness, there would be over 400 of those in the Steel City but one would think they would have at least cleaned it up around downtown.
For those curious about Xbox Series S (about $300) vs. the ($500) 4k Xbox Series X performance, I really had no issues on my Series S and found it without fault. However, the marketing people at Microsoft that chose the naming convention should be terminated immediately, here’s why. This is the Xbox system name in order of release:
- Xbox 360
- Xbox One
- Xbox One S; Xbox One X
- Xbox Series S; Xbox Series X
I originally bought the wrong “S” which was extremely frustrating. Eventually, the game will come to XBox One S/X according to sources at Microsoft but it will likely need to be a lesser version due to the hardware load. The space required for just the standard version is 103 gigabytes, but a required update pushes it over 130 gigabytes in total.
As a newbie to Xbox but a collector of just about every gaming system the controls were easy to play but took a little time to get acquainted. The standard Xbox controller is a little touchy and I prefer the flying experience of a joystick. Luckily, Logitech makes a number of “H.O.T.A.S.” joysticks that can be purchased to use instead of the controller, but this adds to the cost of course.
One real problem is that there are simply too many switches back and forth between screens and systems to effectively fly the highly detailed and accurate aircraft. For example, when using moderately advanced modes on the 787, setting the autopilot, without losing sight of the sky is a daunting task; making adjustments at critical times like landing renders those advanced controls nearly useless and you switch to hand flying and guessing.
The game is available for sale from $49.99 to $119.99 depending on your membership with Xbox Game Pass. If you hold Game Pass Gold ($9.99/month) or Game Pass Ultimate ($14.99/month), no additional purchase is required. However, if you want to play the deluxe and premium versions with more planes and more detailed airports, you’ll need to purchase it. Pro tip: new game pass holders can sign up for a $1 first month trial, and purchase the game at 20% off.
For those who want to take advantage of the other offerings (more than 100 games in Game Pass) the subscription model may hold more value.
I would have liked to see more airliners and a wider variety. The basic version offers the A320-NEO, the 747-8 but you have to get all the way up to the Premium Deluxe before adding the 787-10. Other models are available on the store constructed by developers outside of Microsoft but they lack obvious quality.
I am excited about an expansion pack offered in conjunction with Top Gun, but a release date for this has not been announced yet.
I don’t doubt the PC version is easier to play due to a number of additional controls and peripherals. However, for those who want to play the game without sitting in front of a PC, the Xbox version offers realistic gameplay on a dynamic device.
What do you think? Have you tried Microsoft Flight Simulator Xbox or PC versions? How has your experience been?