For almost 40 years PC gamers have been taking to the skies courtesy of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator games.

Now Xbox Series X|S gamers get to soar above the clouds with Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Playing Microsoft Flight Simulator on a high-end PC, complete with flight yoke and rudder pedals is one thing, but on a console, with a controller?

I’ve spent the last week doing exactly that, flying everything from the giant 747-8 to the humble Cessna 152 on an Xbox Series X with my gamepad in hand.

Fifteen years ago, Microsoft all but abandoned its long-running Flight Simulator franchise. Although 2006’s Flight Simulator X lived on and is still played by many today, the visuals have long since looked tired, despite the love and attention of a dedicated modding community.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

At E3 2019, with very little fanfare, but much surprise, Microsoft teased the next generation of their Flight Simulator games.

Even more surprising than the return of the beloved franchise was that Microsoft Game Studios and French developer, Asobo Studio, would also be bringing the game to the next generation of Xbox consoles.

 Microsoft Flight Simulator launched on PC a year ago.

Since then, the game has been continuously updated and refined. For Xbox Series X|S the game offers players the complete PC fight sim experience.

The Xbox release also includes a new discovery mode and other accessibility features that allow even casual players unfamiliar with flight simulators to easily take flight and enjoy the game.

Unfortunately, the game retains the PC version’s clumsy user interface and menu system, which is made even more cumbersome to navigate using an Xbox controller.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

As the game starts for the first time, players are faced with a rather confronting options screen. It’s poorly designed and best ignored.

The home screen allows players to select one of the discovery tours. This gets players straight into the air over iconic locations without having to set the plane type, location, time of day, or weather. Players can take in the sights over Rio de Janeiro, Paris, and Mount Everest, among others.

The above is a handy addition as aside from accessing the game’s instant action modes like discovery, landing challenges, and bush tours, the front end is a bit of a mission to get your head around.

Selecting a departure location, aeroplane, live or custom weather, AI aircraft, actual time or custom time of day is a bit overwhelming at first.

For the first few flights pressing the yellow “Fly” button will get you on the runway and you can take it from there.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

Much of this complexity comes from the vast scale of the game and the peerless opportunities it affords players. It’s a credit to the developers that the game experience can be scaled from an arcade-like sightseeing trip, in a prop plane, to an unforgiving, very serious, jumbo jet flight simulation.

Even after playing for many hours on the PC version, the newly invigorated Flight Simulator on Xbox Series X still makes me pinch myself.

It’s a far cry from Flight Simulator 98, one of the first Windows PC games I ever played and it’s incredible to think that Xbox owners can now explore the entire planet Earth in such detail.

Flight Simulator allows players to select almost any airport that exists in the real world. They can take off in one of a number of the included aeroplanes from jumbo jets to single-engine prop planes. Flights plans can be set, with the weather and time of day adjusted to suit.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

The developers have done a miraculous job of squeezing the entire planet into the game.

The world’s most amazing landscapes are just a click away. You can marvel at the scale of the Grand Canyon or take in the view of the Pyramids of Giza.

You’ll never run out of places to visit or cities to fly over.

Some cities are generated directly from aerial photography, producing 3D models via a technique called photogrammetry.

Other areas use AI to carefully match similar-looking building and roof types. The same with the extraordinary number of trees that add to the sense of realism. Some areas are a lot better than others.

It’s not always perfect, but considering the scale of this endeavour, it’s still a feat of engineering.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

Not all the information needed to create this level of realism is stored locally on the Xbox. Instead, the Xbox streams data from Microsoft’s Azure cloud servers on demand.

This means that Flight Simulator is essentially an online-only game. There is an option to cache data, but only for relatively small areas. Similarly, real-world flights and weather are also downloaded and incorporated into the game.

Even though the game is continuously downloading data from the internet, there’s still a whopping 100 or so gigabytes of data that needs to be installed on the Xbox drive.

Some additional free scenery updates need to be applied separately via the in-game Marketplace that adds around another 30 gigs to the initial download.

These add better resolution terrain and cities across the US, the UK, France, Japan, and the Nordic countries.

The result of all this fancy technology is an absolutely breathtaking game.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

The sun shines off aircraft wings showing the imperfection in the metal plates and cockpit windows frost up.

Accurately modelled landscapes disappear over the horizon or into the haze. Clouds have depth and scatter the light.

At night time the world is illuminated, roads lit by strings of lights with cities glowing in the distance. By selecting the time of day, the weather, and the location players can experience spectacular views almost indistinguishable from real life.

There’s no doubt that Flight Simulator looks amazing on Xbox Series X, in some cases even better than its PC counterpart.

There’s a lot to be said for flying around the world with a 4K HDR TV screen running at a solid 60 frames per second.

Whereas I play Flight Simulator on PC using a Logitech Flight Yoke and a few Flight panels, Xbox players don’t have that luxury.

At the moment there’s only one flight stick, the Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS One that works with the Xbox Series X. The rest of us will be flying with an Xbox gamepad.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

To be fair, Asobo has done a pretty good job mapping the basic flight controls to the gamepad.

The left thumbstick controls the elevators and aileron (to change the aircraft’s pitch and roll) with the triggers controlling the rudder.

The A button increases throttle, whilst B decreases power. X is the brakes. Down on the D-pad drops the flaps (for a bit of extra lift for take-off and landing) and up raises them.

The right D-pad button toggles landing gear and the left D-pad button toggles the parking brakes. That’s the basics that should allow players to taxi, take off, and land all the aircraft in the game.

Nervous flyers will be please to know that there are plenty of assists, to take the stress out of flying, including an AI co-pilot.

Most players should have no problem getting into the air. On the tarmac, at the end of the runway making sure your brakes are off, you first apply full throttle (the A button) and carefully using the (ever so sensitive) triggers for the rudder to keep the plane in the centre of the runway.

Gently pulling back on the left thumbstick raises the nose and you are away. The right stick allows players to look around. Pressing the menu button on the control toggles the external and cockpit views.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

It’s only when you start to tinker with the more advanced controls that the Xbox controller starts to over-complicate matters. Many aeroplane controls are not even mapped to the controller.

The game allows virtual pilots pretty much full control of most of the included aircraft’s systems and navigation aids. Radios can be set and flight paths dialled in. Autopilot options can be selected for heading, altitude, etc.

From the cockpit, the game uses a virtual mouse that activates panel switches as you hover over them. The instructions are easy to read and understand, but you are flying a plane, well, actually you are not when fiddling with the switches.

It’s bad enough on PC flicking virtual switches, with an actual mouse (hence the reason I invested in some cockpit panels).

Players wanting to get the maximum out of the game as an actual simulator are going to hit a bit of a learning curve.

The game does have a very accessible flight school for both single-engine and airliners. The lessons offer enough to get you going but do not cover all the aspects of aviation build into the game.

For that, you may find reading real flight training and aviation navigation manuals useful.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X

Microsoft Flight Simulator provides a true next-gen experience for Xbox Series X owners that up until very recently would have been impossible.

Using Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing tech, Bing maps, and the expertise of 3rd party developers, Asobo has given Xbox gamers the whole world to explore. I really can’t overstate how amazing this is.

You can fly anywhere and recognise landmarks. You can visit old holiday destinations, the place you grew up, or even the location where you are sitting right now, playing Flight Simulator.

This is going to be a game-changer, I expect to see more and more content added as the months and years roll on.

Helicopters are being added next year, but in the future, we could see trains, boats, and maybe even cars added with the help of AI and cloud computing.

I feel that this is just the start of something very special.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - Xbox Series X
Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox Series X) Review
Game details

Released: July 2021
Rating: G
Platforms reviewed: Xbox Series X
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Asobo Studios
Publisher: Microsoft

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