It wasn’t until I moved to Alaska that I really began to appreciate air travel. Commercial flights that felt boring and routine in the Lower 48 are dazzling in Alaska and there’s really nothing quite like flying in a small plane to an Interior village with the vast open spaces punctuated by snaking rivers.
Since I left the News-Miner, though, I haven’t had nearly as many opportunities to see Alaska’s Interior from the window of a Cessna or Piper, which is why last year’s release of “Microsoft Flight Simulator” was such a welcome experience.
Out currently on PC and coming this summer to the Xbox Series X and S, “Microsoft Flight Simulator” is the latest iteration of the company’s venerable consumer flight simulator software that brings an awesome new twist: A complete world to explore.
“Microsoft Flight Simulator” pulls in satellite images and other mapping data to build a fully rendered 3D world. You can fly over Growden Park and see the baseball fields, explore the Tanana Flats and cruise over Denali. I went and found my childhood home in Oregon, buzzed over the football stadium at my alma mater and made the cloudy approach into Juneau that I made while covering Alaska’s legislative session.
The game also pulls in real-time weather and even some real-world flight information that adds that much more of a layer of realism.
Like zooming in too close on Google Maps, “Microsoft Flight Simulator” isn’t perfect. Airport Way, for example, is a bit lumpy and some of Juneau’s satellite imagery is pretty outdated, but you’re also rarely flying low enough to really make out the difference.
But be warned, all of that comes at a pretty steep cost when it comes to internet usage and storage space that will quickly overwhelm a capped internet connection or cramped harddrive. But if you’re fortunate to have unlimited internet and a decently modern PC, then “Microsoft Flight Simulator” can be whatever you want it to be.
Want an extremely detailed simulation of everything from a Cessna 152 to a Boeing 747 where you’re even handling communications with the air traffic controllers? Then there’s a mode for you. Want something that’s more casual where the game handles most of the tricky stuff? Then there’s a mode for you. Want something in between with a tutorial teaching you the basics of traffic patterns, trim and recovering from stalls? Then, you guessed it, there’s a mode for you.
The game offers a ton of options to customize the experience to take it from a full-on simulator to a comfortable and relaxing flight around the world.
“Microsoft Flight Simulator” can be played with a keyboard and mouse or controller—which I found works best with a third-person perspective of the plane—or a flight stick and throttle, which I would recommend if you can find one (Like all electronics right now, flight sticks are hard to come by, but Thrustmaster’s basic setup can frequently be found for about $80 online).
The one knock I have with the game is that there’s not a lot of direction once you get past the tutorials. There are some daily challenges like races and short landings, but nothing quite like a system of missions. That leaves you up to make your own fun, which is plenty easy to do when you’ve got the whole world at your fingertips.
After playing “Microsoft Flight Simulator” for several months, I’m not about to run out to get flying lessons anytime soon, but I may have just picked up a remote-control plane to try out.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
IF YOU PLAY
Game: Microsoft Flight Simulator
Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X|S this summer
Price:$60 or included with Xbox Games Pass subscription
Internet usage: A lot. Seriously, it’s best with an uncapped internet
Release Date: Aug. 17, 2020