The first thing I would like to point out about this review is there is a video, so if you’re the kind of person who likes to hear the soothing tones of a strangers voice, then look slightly below, and the original format of this review shall appear before you. Even if you’re not partial to the occasional youtube viewing, take a look, it shows off the game better than any of my words ever can and will.
Ok, let me begin this review by stating that I have never faired well with any of Microsoft’s previous flight simulators. The sheer number of dials and controls, added to the fact the game would plonk you straight into a massive Boeing 747 full of hundreds of frightened passengers frightened the hell out of me, meaning the experience always ended up in fiery balls of metal and people and trees. As you can imagine I approached this game with the same apprehensiveness I would an alien holding 10 guns in my face with a vast array of tentacles. But don’t let that distract you from the game, that’s just some of my tormented childhood memories coming through (well asides from the aliens and guns).
Microsoft Flight is a free flight simulator released by, well who else, Microsoft, on the 29th Feb, followed by a later release on Steam on the 3rd April. But is the game really free? Well yes and no. It’s true, you can play for hours and hours on end with no limits imposed at the fresh cost of £0, but if you really want to enjoy this games full glory, you will end up coughing up the £14.99 to buy Hawaii. This unlocks a load more islands, plenty of extra content, and new planes, although ironically considering the title of the DLC, Hawaii is the only island you get free. Not a well thought out name that really… What this basically means is that yes you can have the game, and yes Microsoft will pretend its free, but what you get is not really a full game, and more an experiment of how tempted you will be by the carrot that the DLC dangles in front of you for the entire time. Anyway, enough about how free games are never free, onto actual gameplay discussion.
Generally there are five main area’s that can be talked about in a single-player review. Graphics, Controls, Gameplay, Story and Audio. The last two are pretty much as you would expect in the game, the audio is just the whirring of the aeroplane constantly and the occasional scream of the co-pilot as you dive towards a cruise ship (or was the just me?), and the Story, well that just doesn’t exist. What did you expect, an epic mission to rescue the princess plane for an evil mastermind plane? Unfortunately not, Microsoft retained a touch of class by omitting that.
The first thing you will come across in the game is the visuals, and well when I think back to what I used to crash into, it makes me wonder how far Microsoft really have gone to show what they can do with a graphics engine. I spent large chunks of time with wide eyes about how nice and well done the water was, only to hit land and wonder who had invited google maps to the party. Perhaps even google maps would shun the terrain for its looks, because it looks like Microsoft maybe tried a little bit, but then decided to let their children have a bit of a play around with the smudge tool. Buildings are all the same generic grey blob, trees the same generic green blob, and the excitement of crashing into something is reduced significantly when you can’t actually tell what it is you hit. But hey in all fairness, that might well not be what they were aiming for with the visuals, and instead focused all their energy on the aircraft, which as it happens are all (well the two I was allowed being a free user) very well done. It really did seem as though the designers had poured over every inch of the plane in question and had wished to make as accurate model as possible. One of the slight pities is that they seem to know they did a good job, and like to show you this by often rotating round the plane many times before you get in. Yes I know what I’m flying, I chose the damn thing. But still when it comes down to it, they did do a good job, and so if you spend enough time ignoring the land and focus only on looking at the sea and your plane, your eyes won’t hurt too much. How you do that whilst landing? I’ll leave you to work that one out…
Once you’ve got over the graphics that have no clue whether they want to be amazing or terrible, you’ll realise you are flying, and the aircraft is going up, not down rather quickly. Or at least that’s what struck me quite quickly. You start out with an aircraft called the Icon A5, which yes before you ask, does look awesome. You immediately get taught how to fly, and in this plane that is about as simple as eating and breathing, assuming you don’t try anything stupid like a loop-de-loop, but then you wouldn’t try eating upside down would you. The game gets you to use the mouse for up/down/left/right, w for faster, s for slower, and various other controls for other parts, such as landing. I didn’t check if you could bind the keys in a different way, but that’s mainly because I could actually fly the plane, what other way did I want the keys binding, C for crash? If all you serious flight junkies are thinking at this point “this can’t be a real simulator, even that moron can fly”, fear not, for as soon as I left the safety of my Icon and got into the Stearman (the yellow one for you plane rookies), I could barely tell which way I was supposed to look any more. Microsoft have done a good job of giving everyone something they want to fly, there’s the Icon for the cheap thrills people like me, and then there’s every single other plane for the people who actually want to play properly. Of course this means the learning curve is basically a brick wall, with barbed wire covering it to stop the uneducated climbing too high. There is a mission which teaches you how to land an aeroplane, pretty basic stuff. Except next mission you’re running through check-lists containing everything from rotor speed to fuel mixes, with pretty much no explanation of what to do, except DO AS YOU’RE TOLD! If you have the same problems flying as me, I seriously suggest you stick to the Icon, unless you are already a pro or liked barbed walls, in which case take any plane except the Icon.
Having covered 4 elements of what I plan to discuss, that leaves Gameplay, which actually ends up being the strongest weapon in Microsoft Flights arsenal. Previous flight simulators had very little you could actually do in the game aside from fiddle with dials, kill civilians or actually become a pilot. Microsoft have since discovered is that what actually sells well to a casual audience is game elements aside from innocent deaths. And with that we have 3 different modes to tackle. The first one is basically as describe above, free-flight mode. This is basically Microsoft saying “do whatever the hell you want”, except when you’re in a plane there’s not really much you can do that doesn’t involve fire or you’re instructor screaming in you’re ear. That is unless you find the whirring of a plane engine interesting, but trust me, it really is not. Next comes a mode actually created with a purpose, and that is mission mode. Missions can range from learning how to flying a specific plane to flying through a load of hoops to collecting as many coins in a time. These do include the tutorial missions, but those are pretty basic, and if you fail any of those, maybe you should look what you are doing? Depending on what mission you do the difficulty shifts, but I generally found most of them to be at least do-able from the safety of my Icon. That leaves the final game mode, which is called aerocache hunt. Aerocaches are basically bright yellow triangles hidden around the island that you have to find, in the same fashion as Intel for Modern Warfare’s. Some are quite easy and sit in front of you begging to be found, whilst others require tricky manoeuvres to grab. One particular one I found required a low swoop under a bridge, which promptly earned me a clip round the ear from the co-pilot telling me I was too low over civilization. Sorry did I disturb the river trolls? And yes, there is a co-pilot who will constantly tell you what to do in her rather chilled out female tone. I had no problem with this when she was teaching me how to stay alive, but when she got me to land next to a cruise ship for a wedding she was missing, I found it a bit ridiculous, and nearly parked my precious Icon closer to the wedding than she had ever imagined.
With the game mode’s done, if I told you I still had to talk about challenges and profiles and multiplayer, you would think I had lots more to say. Unfortunately, you are very wrong. The profile is a helpful little tool, which keeps track of weird statistics like how many times you’ve stalled the plane, or in simpler terms, how many times you did badly. You can also choose a picture for yourself for the wide array of 4 chilled out looking Hawaiians, but none looked close to me, but then when do they ever? The challenges and achievements are pretty standard as you would expect with a Windows game, although saying my gamerscore of 0 was barely touched by playing this. Expect things like “you looked at a plane, well done 5G!”. Now we hit multiplayer. Also known as free flight mode but with more than one whirring engine to listen to. In the games I joined, no-one could seem to find a point to playing with multiple people, so instead went about their own merry business, sometimes even disappearing to islands I hadn’t even purchased. Overall Multiplayer is a great concept for this game, but when it comes down to it, its just a big waste of time, you would get more thrills sitting in an airport for an hour.
It may seem like I have been overly critical towards this game in places, but at the end of the day, it will always hold a trophy in my heart for being the first flight simulator where the plane flew because I meant it too. I can imagine it’s quite difficult for Microsoft to make a flight simulator appeal to the masses, whilst still keep all the hardcore fans happy, and they tried to extend an Icon shaped hand. The problem comes, not with the graphics as I may have made out, and not with the gameplay and definately not with the controls, but mainly from the fact the these days people find flying without guns very boring. But bravo Microsoft, at least you tried, although next time drop the facade of free.
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Final Score: 7/10