So often, Microsoft Flight Simulator feels like the future. I’ve been playing daily for pretty much a month now, and I still struggle on occasion to believe it’s real; dozens of hours logged in the skies and the sight of the sun dipping over the horizon, some troublesome weather bubbling over a city or the hazy dawn seen from five miles high will still have me catching my breath, fumbling for the capture button or hurriedly getting out my phone to take a picture of the screen. As a technical achievement, what lead developer Asobo has conjured here is remarkable – in a year when we’re seeing the introduction of powerful new consoles, I’d be surprised if either can yet produce a spectacle as eye-catching and awe-inspiring as something that can run without much grumbling on an aging and moderately specced PC.
Microsoft Flight Simulator can feel perfectly next-gen, but its greatest asset – and I think the smartest move Microsoft has made with this long-awaited comeback – is how it’s so firmly rooted in the past. This is the eleventh instalment in a series that’s not far off hitting 40, and it’s approaching the landmark with style; rather than some messy reinvention, Microsoft Flight Simulator leans into middle age by doubling down on the nerdy detail that’s always been at the heart of the series’ appeal. It simply serves it all up with a bit more grace.
And it is never anything other than a sim. It’s a loaded term, that, which means many different things to many different people, so let’s just say that Microsoft Flight Simulator is concerned first and foremost with authenticity. It is as accurate a representation as Asobo can muster of airplanes, airstrips and airspace, and of the act of flying. And flying, you might recall, can be dreary and monotonous – it can be about wrestling with arcane bureaucracy and calling upon vast reserves of patience with little to do but watch the scenery roll by. The tedium of travel is something that Microsoft Flight Simulator can offer you, if you so desire. Indeed, it has it in spades.