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August 2003



- Great historical information

- A game for flight fanatics

- Surprisingly easy to learn



- You need a real power machine to get all the bells and whistles



Review: Aero Elite (Playstation 2)

Review: Sky Odyssey (Playstation 2)

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Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004

Score: 9.5 / 10


You can say a lot of bad things about Microsoft, and generally, I won't argue; but the one place that they consistently excel is in flight simulation. MS Flight Simulator that stretches back 20 years. How many titles can you think of that have had 20 years of development? I have to give them a perfect score because as flight sims go, this one has no peer.


microsoft-flight-simulator-2004-1.jpg (33081 bytes)          microsoft-flight-simulator-2004-2.jpg (27215 bytes)


I still have the first release it was couple floppy disks, and was a completely technical endeavor to play it. By today's standards the graphics suck, but back then, they were pretty impressive. This new release is a full 4 CDs, so you can just imagine how many new features and improvements there are from then to now. And maybe 20 years from now we'll think the graphics suck, but today, they are impressive.


Granted, flight simulators are not for everyone. There's a hell of a learning curve, and you really have to dedicate some time in order to get the most out of it. Learning to fly a plane, even a virtual one, requires a commitment and FS2004 is no exception it can be as serious as flying an actual plane, unlike many flight sims which are abbreviated for playability. But don't let that scare you off - the sim will actually teach you what you need to know.





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I was expecting a huge manual, but I didn't get one - and that made me a little leery of the whole package. But after installing it, I found the "Learning Center". The Learning center is like flight school; there are lessons available, and it also acts as a super help system; you ask, it answers. So your commitment to playing doesn't require you to bury your head in a bunch of books on flight. This alone is worth the price of admission.



This latest version of MSFS celebrates 100 years of powered flight, and provides nine historical aircraft. I don't know that I would have been so thrilled just hopping into a vintage plane and flying it, but the Learning Center provides some historical content, so you know what you're getting into before you hop into the cockpit. Having a little historical data made it much more exciting - it added a little Walter Cronkite "you were there" element to it. I found out that the "Spirit of St. Louis" has no windshield; you have to stick you head out the side window to see where you're going. I suddenly have much more admiration for Charles Lindbergh.


My usual flight sim is F/A-18 Hornet. I can consistently land an F/A-18 on the flight deck of a moving carrier at night - so I feel like I'm a pretty descent virtual pilot. But flight has changed significantly in the last 100 years, and I proved it by crashing the Wright Flyer about a million times; it has roughly the same maneuverability as a paper airplane (hey, it's historically accurate - see for yourself!). Even so, it was awesome to fly it. All of the controls for the historic planes look great, although some of the modern planes don't look as great (but even so, they looked pretty good).


Although MSFS has pretty low requirements for actual gameplay, it's not nearly as good as when you have a beefy computer set-up with a strong graphics card. Here's the sort of good stuff you can expect if you're using a high powered PC with a good graphics card and a net connection: First, conditions look real - you get the same weather as is at the non-virtual counterpart of your airport. That's because, thanks to your handy net connection, the weather is updated every 15 minutes - so if the actual weather gets worse, you're in for a bumpy ride. (If you don't have online access, you still have variable weather options). Sometimes, the weather is so bad, that you'll have to rely on the air traffic control, and your instruments. 


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On of the better improvements to the sim is the addition of the Garmin Global Positioning System. Using GPS allows to you to show where you plane is in relation to the airport. If you're flight path requires you to fly through "restricted" airspace (such as any airport), you'll have to contact the air traffic control to get clearance. The GPS works very well, and is pretty easy to use. There is a handy video that tells you all about it, and you can use either your keyboard or a point and click interface to use it.


After flying it for a few hours, I had to stop playing because my non-virtual life beckoned. I got this strange discombobulated feeling wasn't I just flying a plane a second ago? That's the mark of a good sim. I got totally sucked in.


One thing to note is that it claims that it will run on a 450mhz Pentium. Well, it just so happens that we had a Pentium POS system laying around, and we loaded it and tried it out. It does work, but virtually everything cool has to be disabled. So, if you're a serious flight head, a machine at least four times as fast is required, and a good 3D graphics card is a must.


(Multi-monitor support is a feature that all flight sims should have and MSFS2004 can use full 3D acceleration on all three, if you have the hardware.)


Already, third party developers are making add-ons, some of which are really remarkable. One of my favorites is Abacus (www.abacuspub.com). These guys make add-ons for all MS flight products, and have a couple of really cool ones for 2004. If your favorite plane isn't in the sim, maybe they've got an add-on for it.


In summary, MSFS is without peer in Flight Simulators. If you only have one flight sim, this is the one!


- Skiperncius

(October 11, 2003)


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