I now have about 20 hours of flying time in the new Flight Simulator, so I thought I’d share my thoughts. Spoilers: it’s pretty amazing.
But first, a little backstory.
I used to be pretty obsessed with flight simulator. So obsessed, in fact, that I largely attribute the degree that is currently hanging above my head to my experiences with the game. Back in 1998 I was rummaging through my dad’s study and found an unopened box with an awesome picture of a Learjet taking off on the cover. Microsoft Flight Simulator 98. As Real as it Gets, the tagline read:
I don’t really remember what my relationship was with airplanes at the time. I know that around that time, if not prior to finding this copy of the game, I loved flying to visit family or go on vacations and sitting just behind the wings and watching as the flaps and ailerons moved throughout the flight. My favorite part was always watching the spoilers deploy on landing because you could see all the wires and flap screws and actuators on display.
I installed that copy of Flight Simulator and took to the skies over Chicago and was immediately blown away. I was flying a plane! It was so cool!
I could go on for hours about how much this game changed my life. By the time FS2004 came out I found online communities, frequented forums, learned about airplanes, made liveries, and literally flew around the world multiple times. Flight sim and the community around it made me into an aircraft recognition expert, boring everyone around me as I observe from miles away the differences between a 737 and an A320.
More importantly, flight simulator made me so deeply interested in airplanes and how they fly that I decided to become an aerospace engineer. Years after taking my first flight in 1998 I went to work at one of the manufacturers whose product I’d racked up hundreds of virtual hours in.
Now a whopping 22 years later a new sim has finally come, and my goodness is this one truly living up to the tagline of the version that introduced me to aviation. As Real As it Gets.
Flight Sim 2020 is hands down, no questions asked, the most realistic looking game I have ever played. Go back and watch that trailer for ‘98 and compare. “Amazing in cabin surround views” the narrator said. I remember those views, they were neat. But amazing? This is amazing:
It’s been interesting to watch the reactions to this game. Everyone acts shocked that their home towns are so detailed, yet we know it’s generated from satellite imagery. But it’s truly stunning to be able to visit familiar places and navigate off of landmarks you know. Or to visit unfamiliar ones and see things you may never see in person
As far as gameplay goes, there’s a lot of potential even if there are some issues right now. The flight model takes some getting used to, and it feels very much as if the developers were highly focused on smaller general aviation aircraft than the larger iron. The various high wing Cessna’s and low wing Diamond’s all fly great, but as you go up in size things get a little funky. Landings feel floaty and controls feel over sensitive. The two Citations have bugged fuel burn drastically reducing their range from their real life counterparts. Systems are complex yet simplified, sometimes missing basic functionality and other times seemingly missing real functions, like true RNAV autopilot in the Longitude. Of course it is a simulator, so it’s entirely possible there’s a bit of ‘user error’ at play here.
There’s a joke going around that this is the new Crysis, the machine melting software that looks great if you can run it, while no one can. While it’s certainly a hog, I’ve been able to get a pretty solid 40 FPS on High / Ultra as long as the scenery has fully downloaded off the web. For veterans of this franchise, a smooth 40 fps is great - back in the FS2004 and FSX days I was happy to hit a locked 25 frames, and needless to say the game didn’t look anywhere near this good.
But for me, honestly, very little of that matters. This is the return of a franchise I was convinced was never coming back. A significant memory, a nostalgia trip, a moment in time. Yet here it is, and in the most surreal way it includes an aircraft that I actually worked on. An aircraft that’s so detailed I can see the actual designs I drew visible in the game.
The gaming world seems excited about this sim, and I can hardly express in words how excited that makes me. When I first fired up FS98 I didn’t know where it would take me. By the time I’d installed FSX, I was convinced I was going to change the world. Design airplanes that would inspire future generations like myself to appreciate aviation with a similar wonder and deference for what it has done and continues to do for humanity. And now I can see hundreds if not thousands of people taking to the virtual skies for the first time like I did 22 years ago, but now in a plane that I helped build.
Flight Sim 2020 is likely to go down as a masterpiece. No, it’s not the best game ever, but the ability to visit literally anywhere in the world with fairly high fidelity scenery and real weather is unmatched in the gaming world. And as it is fairly high demanding on PC’s rewarding users with high quality screenshots, it will certainly be a benchmark for future generations of hardware. If you have a decent computer give it a try, and remember to keep the blue skies up.