Pilot’s uniform on, check! Buckled in the cockpit seat, check! Engines ready, check! Oh boy, it can only mean one thing – it’s time to take to the skies with Microsoft Flight Simulator from developer Asobo Studio, now released on Xbox Series consoles for the first time after its initial release on PC last summer.
I’ll start by stating that Microsoft Flight Simulator is my most anticipated game of the year. This is largely because before the birth of my daughter, nearly four years ago, I was a keen traveller. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of the world including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking for four days to Machu Picchu, spending a week in the Borneo jungle, having a cultural tour of Egypt, and doing my University research project within the Pantanal of Brazil, to name but a few places I’ve been to.
I love seeing the world and experiencing all that it has to offer but of course, this had to be put on hold while I took the initial steps into fatherhood and now has been hampered by the restrictions due to the current pandemic. Even though I can’t presently pack my hiking boots and jump on a plane to an exotic location, I can at least do it virtually with the release of this game; and with it, the whole world is literally in my hands.
From the offset, I will be clear in stating that this is my first ever experience with a flight simulator game or in fact any type of simulator game. I’ve not played the Microsoft Flight Simulator PC release and have only played this title on my Xbox Series S and thus have not experienced this game to its full graphical potential. As a newcomer to the series I was apprehensive as to how accessible the game would be and whether it would be too complex and technical, and therefore potentially have a frustrating experience with it. Thankfully, my concerns were instantly erased with my very first flight.
The world is my oyster, I can go anywhere and see anything I wish, so of course, my first flight had to be to a small town in the middle of the English countryside to visit my house! Before the release of the Microsoft Flight Simulator, I had heard all about how the game integrates ground satellite data and Microsoft’s own Azure AI into the simulator’s engine to generate near-photorealistic scenery and locations. The game offers 37 thousand airports, 2 million cities, 1.5 billion buildings, real mountains, roads, trees, rivers, animals, traffic and more, but can it get the layout of my town, specifically the location of my house, right? I of course wasn’t expecting it to be perfect and knew my house wouldn’t look how it should, but would it be clear enough for me to locate it with ease, and did it even exist?
To find out, I loaded up the game and after a few accessibility and assistance options, where you can choose how realistic you want the plane to handle, I was able to choose from four flight options on the main menu; ‘Welcome’ screen: Discovery Flight; World Map; Flight Training; and Activities. World Map offers the ability to do a free flight from a starting location of your choice so this is immediately where I wanted to start. Training could wait, surely I could wing it (pardon the pun) and get the plane off the ground and hopefully keep it in the air long enough to visit my house?
Opening this mode my eyes widened as I saw the world map littered with airports that I could begin my journey from. Using the left and right analogue sticks on the controller, I was able to guide a cursor around the world and simply press RT to zoom into the nearest airport to my house, which is Sywell Aerodrome. I honestly didn’t expect this tiny aerodrome to even be within the game. I’ve spent many a weekend there watching private planes and helicopters coming and going and enjoying the air display shows and events that they periodically offer. After choosing my departure airport I then chose which airport I wished to land at. I chose Leicester Airport, another tiny airport, that would ensure I have a route which would fly near to my town.
A brief loading screen later and I’m rewarded with a camera panning the airport and my small Textron Aviation Cessna 152 propeller plane. Already, I was marvelling at the high level of detail and authenticity of the plane, even the scenery was instantly recognisable as the actual aerodrome itself. Now all I needed to do was get the plane in the sky without any idea on how to do so and with complex flight instruments before me.
A moment later, on the right-hand side of the screen, an ‘Objectives’ pop-up appears that gave me some simple prompts on how to initially get in the air. Press left on the D-Pad to release the parking brake and then press A to increase the throttle. The plane’s engine roars to life and I see the engine speed dial increase to max and I’m moving forward down the runway! The prompt then tells me to stay in line down the runway and to gently move the left analogue stick back to take off. Before I knew it, I was in the air and actually flying a plane, however, I soon learnt that I was going in the wrong direction!
I saw the controller layout on the loading screen, it stated that LT and RT manage the rudder axis – this helps to steer, right? I give it a go and press RT and hold right on the analogue stick to start turning my plane to the right, however, an alarm starts ringing and now I think I should have definitely started out doing some flight training first, but I was just so eager to jump straight in. Panic begins to rise in me as I get a stall warning and the plane starts to turn into a nose-dive. I think I have turned the plane at a far too tight of an angle, but I’m no pilot, not even a rookie, and curse myself for being so gung ho.
All is not lost though as thankfully the auto-pilot assistance kicks in and supports in levelling out my plane and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. I very quickly learnt to just slowly tilt the left analogue stick either left or right to turn my plane, and in doing so I managed to guide my plane in the right direction onwards to my hometown.
Now that I’m safely up in the sky I can relax and absorb the absolute visual beauty of Microsoft Flight Simulator. The lighting effects with the sun’s beams bouncing off the perfectly formed clouds look so gorgeous. It’s like I’m watching a flight video rather than playing a video game. Even playing on the Series S, without the extra graphical power of a Series X or high-end PC which can produce raytracing, the game is immensely pretty.
You really can’t help but marvel at the wizardry Asobo Studio has achieved with this game. Microsoft Flight Simulator brings the most realistic experience of scenic nature environments and is complimented with its live real-time weather including accurate wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, rain and lighting. When I first experienced the weather changing towards a storm and a rainbow appeared in the sky, I admit, I got a little emotional and it made me realise just how much I had missed travelling.
The visuals aren’t perfect though and with the grand scale of the game, I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be. There is noticeable texture pop-in at times, and while you are up in the sky everything down below on the ground looks great but the closer you get to the ground some textures of the landscape look blurry and buildings can look a tad disjointed. In all, this doesn’t hinder the experience as you spend most of your time high up in the clouds and the most famous cities and airports are excellently detailed.
Back to my very first flight, to locate my house, I could see markers appear for the towns all around me. I was heading off course for the airport I was meant to be landing at, but I was on the right route to my hometown. I even learnt of some small towns and villages that I didn’t even realise existed so close to my home. Moments later, the marker for my town popped up and as I drew closer, I could already see the road layout of the town was exactly the way it should be. I followed the main road right through the High Street of my hometown, and would you believe it, I could see my house right where it was meant to be! I was in complete awe, so much so, I nearly crashed while circling around to get a better look!
I spent a further 20 minutes flying back and forth over my town, soaking it all in and trying to identify any landmarks I saw. I spotted my old secondary school and GP surgery; however, the prominent water tower to the north of the town wasn’t there. Obviously, I knew that it would be impossible to map absolutely everything across the world, the fact it even had the correct layout and road system of my small town totally blew my mind. When I had finished exploring, I headed in the direction of Leicester Airport to finish my trip.
What I soon learnt was landing a plane was a darn sight harder than taking off. I managed to get level with the runway but was coming in way too fast. As you can imagine it didn’t end well, and my very first flight concluded with a crash landing. Note to self – do the flight training first!
While exploring the World Map game mode a little more, I found that you don’t have to choose to start and finish at an airport as I first thought. You can simply pick anywhere on the map as your starting destination and then after pressing the ‘Fly’ button and you will be automatically sent to that location, already in mid-flight. Absolutely perfect for dipping in and out of the World to visit points of interest, however, I was a little disappointed that noticeable landmarks, such as The Great Wall of China or Machu Pichu were not predominately featured.
Returning to the main menu ‘Welcome’ screen, I finally decided to explore Flight Training. Microsoft Flight Simulator offers a total of 22 flight training lessons across four categories – Basic Handling; Take-off and Landing; VFR Navigation; and Airliner Training. I was very impressed with how the lessons were presented in a concise manner and narrated with clear instructions throughout. Each lesson is graded A-C based on how well you handle the plane and follow the instructions, and there is a leaderboard so you can compete for the best score against other players too. It’s a good idea to have these systems in place as it offers replayability to see if you can improve and hone your flying skills.
As a newcomer to the series, the Basic Handling lessons helped to teach me about the instruments of the plane. I now know that the steering column is called the yolk and how this operates the aileron/elevator, along with the rudder when required, to turn the plane. Lessons further cover power settings; altitude; how to maintain straight and level flight; and each training category finishes with a solo flight lesson utilising all the skills you have just learnt.
The Take-off and Landing lessons, obviously, cover take-off, which is easy to do, but then there are a variety of lessons on different landing techniques. These focus on either using the yolk or throttle to land your plane and how to follow traffic patterns and prepare for landing. I learnt that, for my small propeller plane, it is essential that my airspeed is at 65 knots and that I reduce the throttle to 1400 RPM to effectively land the plane. This does differ depending on the plane you are flying but the techniques learnt transition over and only if you are flying the very large planes – Airbus A320neo or Boeing 247-8 International – do they require different take-off and landing techniques, which are also covered in two additional lessons under the Airliner Training category.
Unfortunately, if you wish to have further Airliner training, this is additional paid content that can be found in the Marketplace tab. It’s not cheap either, retailing at £19.24, however, it does offer a further 12 challenges that are all narrated by a real A320 captain.
The last training category that Microsoft Flight Simulator offers is VFR Navigation. These lessons cover different navigation processes, such as using heading and time estimates, key landmarks, or using a runway for reference to help navigate your plane between two airports or help plan a route between different points of interest. This is really useful training in helping you use landmarks to guide you and involves taking off from an airport and using a motorway to help navigate to a golf course which acts as a reference point to then be able to navigate to the nearby destination airport.
Again, like the Airliner training, a further 12 challenges can be purchased for the same price and additionally, a whole new set of 12 IFR (instrument flight training) challenges that train you on flying in the dark or in rainy conditions can be bought for £22.49.
A nice addition for the console release of Microsoft Flight Simulator are the Discovery Flights. These flights cover some of the world’s most impressive and awe-inspiring wonders such as Mount Everest and the Pyramids of Giza or visiting famous cities like New York and Rio de Janeiro. Initially, there are 6 locations on offer that include some interesting facts about them complete with high-detailed assets and points of interest. Each flight sets you off already in motion, and in specific weather conditions, that help to show off the location in all its glory. There are a further 10 iconic locations that you can additionally download for free including London, Paris, Yosemite National Park and my person favourite – Tokyo, with the sun setting on the horizon giving a pretty pink-lit sky.
The final mode on offer with Microsoft Flight Simulator is Activities. Within this menu, I was a little disappointed that the first two categories were Discovery Flights and Flight Training which are already on the main Welcome menu. This left only two further categories – Landing Challenges and Bush Trips.
The Landing Challenges speak for themselves and offer three different types of challenges – Famous, Epic, and Strong Wind, across multiple airports. The Famous category features well-known locations such as Sydney and Nice, whereas the Epic category has challenges that include short runways, harrowing descents or treacherous terrain and weather conditions. It really is quite thrilling having to land a plane on a tiny runway in the mountains of Nepal! The final category, Strong Winds is exactly as expected. There is plenty of choice within the categories, especially when you include the free additional challenges that can be downloaded.
Like the Flight Training, the Landing Challenges also include a rating between A-C and have leaderboards so again, you can progress your landing techniques and improve your score while competing against other players. Even though there is a wide choice of airports within the Landing Challenges I was quite surprised not to see Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten as a location, as this is a pretty famous landing strip where the plane nearly touches down on top of a tourist-packed beach. It’s not too much of a big deal though as I can simply locate the airport from the World Map mode and create my own challenge.
As previously mentioned, the other activity on offer is the Bush Trips. These are long-distance journeys across remote locations that test your navigation skills – in my opinion, it’s worth doing the VFR Navigation Training beforehand. These epic adventures include Rijeka to Santorini, Breckenridge to Mariposa Yosemite, Bordeaux to Mont Blanc and Los Cerros to Cochrane and again, there are more to download for free, including a beautiful trip to explore Iceland. Each of the sizeable trips has points of interest to follow and are broken down into manageable chunks where you land at airports to save your progress before continuing with the next leg of the journey.
This is the perfect way of seeing some of the most beautiful scenery that Microsoft Flight Simulator has to offer and is a very pleasant and relaxing experience, however, do note that some planes do not have a mapping screen so you are solely reliant on following the landmark descriptions to navigate, which can instead provide a more tricky experience.
I was surprised there weren’t more challenges within the Activities game mode. As stated, you can purchase more specific training challenges, as well as new Bush Trips via the Marketplace tab, but the fact that one of the planes you can fly is Aviat Pitts Special S2S, which is a highly manoeuvrable plane that is ideal for doing rolls and loops, I would have at least expected some trials centred around this plane, where you have to pull off tricks in the air to score points. If you are an avid aviation enthusiast, Microsoft Flight Simulator has everything you could have dreamed of for a simulator, but for casual players, I do worry about the longevity of the game and therefore a few more free and unique challenge modes would help to keep people engaged.
However, coming this fall is the free Top Gun: Maverick collaboration which could hopefully add some new activities alongside the fighter jet, and for those with Game Pass, the Standard Edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator is available on the subscription service and therefore newcomers to the series can easily check out what the game has to offer without the risk of purchasing something they won’t necessarily play for a long period of time.
With so much flying on offer, there is an impressive ‘Profile’ tab from the main menu which offers a Pilot Profile that keeps detailed records of a variety of information including piloting hours, time spent upside-down, wildlife groups observed, airports landed at, failed landings, distance flown and more. There is also a My Logbook that details all flights you have made and records the date, time, place, total time of flight and more. The Profile tab, therefore, offers plenty of information for the hardcore audience to scrutinise over.
Obviously, Microsoft Flight Simulator wouldn’t be a good sim game if it didn’t offer plenty of choice of planes. Under the Profile tab is ‘My Hanger’ where there are a total of 25 planes to take to the skies in and includes, as previously mentioned, the Boeing 747-8 International which has high endurance and is perfect for those long international trips, as well as, the Skyhawk planes that come fitted with skis or floats, so you don’t have to worry about crash-landing as they are equipped to land on either water or snow. Also, if you want to do high altitude flights, then you are best choosing a Cessna Grand Caravan or a Citation, there is so much choice on offer to find the perfect plane for your liking.
My personal favourite is the Diamond Aircraft DA62. This is ideal for little trips as it has reasonable altitude, good endurance and slow cruise speed for looking at points of interest and it’s really sleek with a metallic blue or black finish. If 25 planes aren’t enough for you then you can always purchase more via the Marketplace tab where you can buy packaged bundles, that include some detailed airports too, or you can buy specific items separately.
I’ve now logged over 24 hours of flight time and in the process, I have witnessed a variety of unfortunate bugs and glitches within Microsoft Flight Simulator.
• The most annoying is, for unknown reasons, that the ‘Active Pause’ feature within the flight menu completely disappears. This feature allows you to pause your plane in mid-flight which can help while you navigate the different menus, and is also perfect for trying to get the perfect screenshot.
• During Bush Trips my VFR map had points of interest completely disappear and, annoyingly, when I hit a landing at an airport a little hard, it restarted me in a field with a lot of trees about, making it very frustrating to get back in the air without having to restart at the previous leg of the journey, which could be up to an hour of progress lost.
• When navigating the menus, I’ve often had the game slow down slightly and pause a little. Plus, on a couple of occasions, when I had completed a training challenge it froze on the screen that showed my score and didn’t offer me the ‘Next’ button to continue. A hard reset solved this and thankfully my score was still recorded. I would hope that most of these stability and performance issues will be resolved in future game updates.
I played Microsoft Flight Simulator solely through the use of a controller. This was a bit of a clunky experience, especially within the menu systems, as the game is primarily designed as a PC game for use with a mouse and keyboard, so if you have a compatible mouse and keyboard for your Xbox then it would be well worth using these instead. Alternatively, if you want the true flight simulator experience then there are some impressive official flight-stick accessories that can be purchased including the Turtle Beach VelocityOne Flight and Honeycomb Alpha Flight Controls XPC. I’ve not had the opportunity to use a flight-stick for Microsoft Flight Simulator, as they are way out of my price league, but for an avid flight enthusiast, this would be the most authentic experience on offer.
Microsoft Flight Simulator offers the most detailed, realistic and impressive flight simulator package which is also an absolute marvel to play on Xbox consoles, whether it be the Series X or less powerful Series S. Asobo Studio should be congratulated for their accomplishment in bringing this game to consoles, especially with the fact that the game offers the whole world to explore, including real-time mapping and weather systems.
For newcomers to the series, that may initially find the thought of a flight simulator daunting, you can be assured that the accessibility and assistance options, along with the flight training challenges, all help to offer an experience that is enjoyable whilst still feeling authentic. For flight enthusiasts, you don’t need me to tell you that Microsoft Flight Simulator is an absolute must-buy!
Microsoft Flight Simulator£59.99
- - A whole world to explore with real-time mapping and weather
- - Incredibly detailed and realistic simulator
- - Interesting and well-produced tutorials
- - Designed not only for hardcore flight enthusiasts but casual players and newcomers too with a plentiful of accessibility and assistance options
- - Plenty of free downloadable content
- - Possible lack of longevity for casual players with minimal game modes and a lot of additional activities locked behind a paywall
- - Some famous landmarks not highlighted within the world
- - Bit clunky playing on controller at times
- - Various bugs and glitches but nothing game breaking