It’s not often that Microsoft gets it exactly right but this is one product which has received almost unanimous praise from developers and game players. Simulator X is Microsoft’s much improved follow-up to Flight Simulator 2004. Compared to X-Plane, it’s certainly got far more graphical detail, presentation and playability and gets very close to the real thing.
Firstly, be warned that this is a big download – 636.2MB to be exact. Once the five minute installation is complete, you’re presented with three choices – dropping flour on targets, introductory test flight or Caribbean landing. The first involves a simple bit of target practice whilst the others involve getting to grips with the basic controls and mastering landings.
Whichever you choose, you can take control of anything from ultra-lights to Cessnas, commercial airliners and even helicopters. However, to make it more interesting, Simulator X also features 50 different missions to stop you falling asleep at the controls. The missions come as an urgent update from Air Traffic Control and can be fun or serious. Due to a runway closure, you may be asked to land the plane on top of a moving bus or, due to an explosion, you might get asked to rescue workers on an oil ring before they burn alive. Other missions include search and rescue, “Area 51” missions and even one where you have to pick-up film-stars.
In the full version, there are 24,000 airports from around the world to choose from and chances are you’ll be able to fly from your local airport. The realism is impressive, including fuel trucks, luggage belts and walkways being extended from the craft to the airport. If you should get too close to the ground (i.e. crash land), you’re treated to the sight of wildlife running around the fields and amongst the wreckage, proving that Microsoft really have gone to extremes in trying to recreate a virtual world. They even claim to have mapped the accurate positions of the stars according to location and time of year. You can also fly according to the current weather conditions in certain zones by connecting to an online server. Otherwise, you can set the weather according to your wishes to see how the plane handles in a storm or blizzard.
For those that want the real deal, options include a full pre-flight briefing where you discuss the flight conditions, weather predictions and other factors that might affect your flight. If you want a bit of drama, you can also pre-program the plane to malfunction during the flight. See how your co-pilot reacts when he realises that the undercarriage is either jammed or dropped off somewhere over Denver.
Another unique feature in the full version is the possibility to add another person to the cockpit. If you have a friend connected to the net, they can log on and come along for the ride or guide you down as Air Traffic Control.
In comparison to many other simulators such as X-Plane, this simulator is a joy because of many fun additions and the option to choose the difficulty of the flight mode. The only major problem is that its very heavy on resources and I had trouble running this alongside various other apps. This can be solved by reducing the frame-rate in the options menu but the game doesn’t run quite as seamlessly as a result.