Wot I Think: Microsoft Flight

By Tim Stone on March 7th, 2012 at 6:01 pm.


Here at Rock and Paper and Shotgun we are committed to free-to-read Wot I Thinks. The following assessment of Microsoft’s new gunless flight sim can be read as many times as you like for absolutely no fee:

“Microsoft Flight is jolly good, all things considered.”

Enjoy that? Want more? You’ll be pleased to hear that this WIT can be extended in numerous exciting and affordable ways.

The Graphics Pack (500 RPS Points)

MS Flight has the misfortune of arriving in my life a few weeks after Ikarus skewered my eyeballs with diamond-coated orchid stamens. Panoramas that look snazzy by FSX standards, seem decidedly ordinary by aeroflyFS’ Alp-high ones. The only time Hawaii comes close to outshining Switzerland is when day is decaying into night (aerofly doesnt do dusks or dawns), or you’re skimming the rust-coloured tracks and serried canopies of one of the main island’s numerous macadamia plantations.

Activity Pack 1 (1000 RPS Points)

On reflection, my preliminary assessment of Flight’s mission content was a tad harsh. Though I still feel the timed ring collection races are sad admissions of imagination failure, and the aerocache hunts with their blunt clues and ‘Use Bing for research!’ buttons are missed opportunities, it would be remiss of me not to admit, that the higher I’ve climbed on the mission ladder, the more smiling I’ve found myself doing.

My last sortie was especially grin-strewn. I’d been hired to fly a local historian on a tour of some of the Big Island’s smaller aerodromes. The thirty-minute jaunt involved a couple of dicey landings and take-offs at tiny farm strips, some lazy low-altitude orbiting (so my companion could take snaps) and was judiciously sprinkled with some typically well-written and voiced dialogue. By the time I got back to Hilo there was dried sweat on my brow and metaphorical twigs in my undercarriage; I felt like I’d really earned my fee experience points.

Amongst the cast of incorporeal passengers, instructors, and co-pilots there are a couple of characters that probably shouldn’t have made the cut – Megadyptes’ seat-wetter springs to mind (see comments section). The majority however are decent enough company, especially when they’re talking about flying or local topography and history. If you’re going to set your sim on a few smallish lumps of volcanic basalt, then it’s important you take every opportunity to fill-in the back-story of those lumps. Chatty passengers are a perfect way to do this.

Activity Pack 2 (1000 RPS Points)

Take On Helicopters lured you from sortie to sortie with story-related revelations and the promise of new helos. Flight does it – or attempts to do it – with patronising achievements, lashings of pointless XP, and the odd mission unlock.

Frankly, I prefered the ToH approach, and am convinced Flight would have been a far better game had the devs built it around an unfolding narrative, or an Air Hauler or Farming Simulator-style economic core. They’ve made a half-hearted attempt at the latter (Purchase the Maule and you are able to fly a choice of dynamically generated cargo flights) but without meaningful rewards – the chance to expand a fleet or improve a home strip – the motivations for dogged contracting just aren’t there.

Perusing the list of 106 possible awards is as depressing as it is motivating. The thought that someone might achieve or strive to achieve a Hardcore Pilot award (Accumulate 5000 hrs of total flying) makes me want to heave my PC off the highest sea cliffs in the world. No game is that good.

Activity Pack 3 (300 RPS Points)

There are hints in that achievement list that jets, smuggling, and air-sea rescues may be on the way via DLC. I’d love to see Flight shake off some of its family-friendly soppiness via a few edgier add-ons. If a spot of contraband porting, and the odd foul-mouthed fugitive in the passenger seat, means 18 ratings, then so be it.

Realism Pack 1 (1200 RPS Points)

Paragraph XXIViii of The Flight Sim Reviewer’s Handbook states that flight modelling assessments should always be preceded with a statement along the lines of “I’ve never had the good fortune to pilot a real (Aircraft X)…”.

Bollocks to that.

I, T. Stone Esq, have flown all 17,814 aircraft types thus far fashioned by the hand of Man. My personal aviation collection includes a dozen Hawker Hurricanes, eight ekranoplans, two Concordes, the Wright Flyer, and the last remaining example of a 1937 Vickers Vagina. If you gaffer-taped 68 peregrine falcons to Reg Mitchell, Chuck Yeager, and Austin Meyer, the resulting aero-entity still wouldn’t know as much about flight dynamics as Yours Truly. Bear this in mind as you read the following paragraph.

Although stalls are seriously anaemic, the effects of turbulence and wind disappointingly understated, I find the flight behaviours of Flight’s four plane types, essentially plausible. I suspect many of those claiming FMs are newcomer-flattering tosh, haven’t a) deactivated all the flight aids, or b) attempted to land at some of the pocket-handkerchief tree-hemmed rural strips at night in a crosswind

One thing I would like to see, is an option to mouse-fly without automatic rudder and trimming. In my experience, linking yaw and roll controls actually causes more accidents that it prevents. An opportunity to set flight stick null zones, and use TrackIR would also be most welcome.

Realism Pack 2 (100 RPS Points)

Currently there’s no ATC, prototypical navigation, or AI aircraft.

Accessibility Pack (500 RPS Points)

I challenge anyone to try Flight and not admire the way the sim skillfully initiates initiates. The manner in which the traditional tangle of aircraft controls have been simplified then thoughtfully distributed between mouse and keyboard is particularly impressive. Scouring the default scheme for inelegance, only the flaps assigment – F5/F6 – stands out as odd. Interface features I’m going to miss on my return to FSX include a wonderfully simple head position adjustment system (Press MMB and move mouse) some great automate-able checklists a short finger stretch from the WASD keys, and the the ability to dab ‘E’ and go for a stroll (very handy when it comes to grabbing some of the more challenging low-level aerocaches).

Conclusion Pack 1 ‘Grovelling Gratitude’ (1000 RPS Points)

If Microsoft Flight was called High Times: Hawaii and was the self-contained freeware creation of some unknown Latvian studio, I suspect it wouldn’t be getting half the stick it’s currently getting in forums and sim sites.

Here’s how I see it. The lads and ladies from Redmond have provided us with a pleasingly detailed representation of a sizeable portion of the US’ 50th state, together with two high-quality aircraft (one of which – the Stearman biplane – you will need to install Games For Windows Live in order to activate) and asked in return precisely zero pounds.

They haven’t stealthily erased FSX from my HD, assassinated all my favourite MSFS add-on designers, and thrown my cat in the canal with a Thrustmaster Cougar tied to its tail.

After a painless 1.5GB download, I’ve ended up with a new standalone flight sim that’s not unchallenging, unkind on the eye, or short of replayability (I won’t rest until every rooftop and bridge, has felt the delicate rubbery tread of my icon A5).

If there’s a better free introduction to civilian flight simming available, then I’m unaware of it (FlightGear though impressive, isn’t something I’d feel happy recommending to a novice). The future for X-Plane, and, yes, FSX, has to be significantly brighter, thanks to the thousands of new simmers this wonderfully approachable air experiment will lure into the hobby

Conclusion Pack 2 ‘Mild Disappointment’ (1000 RPS Points)

It’s when the issues of modification potential and DLC pricing are raised, that gratitude threatens to turn to resentment.

Presently, adding anything to Flight without paying it for first, is impossible. For a community as creative and generous as the MSFS one, this is a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

Of the three optional adjuncts available right now, one, the cockpit and checklist-less Mustang (roughly £5), is an old-fashioned rip-off, and the other two, though competitively priced in comparison with MSFS or Train Simulator 2012 supplements, could justifiably be seen as pricy and divisive by simmers used to years of gratis greatness.

Buying the Maule (approximately £10) doesn’t only get you a natty-little STOL aircraft with a very nice virtual pit, it also lets you participate in those aforementioned parcel delivery missions. The Hawaii Adventure Pack (£14) combines extra islands with the RV-6A a nimble aerobat, and again, extra mission types.

Contemplating the effect these optional extras are having on Flight’s image, one wonders if MS wouldn’t have been better-off going with a more straightforward and transparent business model. If, from the outset, they’d made clear, that – say – additional planes would be purchase-only, but new scenery, missions, and liveries could be added by the community, I suspect feelings towards this likeable newcomer would have been far more positive.

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51 Comments »

  1. Brun says:

    Falcon 4 is the only flight sim I’ll ever need.

    • Risingson says:

      I already talked about this in other forums, but this kind of attitude is new. Back in the days (this is one of the times I feel grandpa being 34) we didn’t chose one: we kept MANY simulators in our hard disc: Tornado, Falcon 3.0, Their Finest Hour. Gunship 2000… and most of the times, even when there was a release that was a clear evolution (ef2000), these games remained in the hard disc. Always replayable. Each one with its own virtues. Falcon 4.0 is a nice one, but you can only fly one kind of plane there, don’t you?

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    • Brun says:

      There are mods and/or community versions that supported a wide array of aircraft beyond just the F-16. The version I have now (FreeFalcon 5) lets you fly pretty much anything including A-4s, F-14s, F-15s, F-18s, F-22s, B-2s, B-1s, SR-71s, AV-8Bs, F-5s, etc.

    • Lucid says:

      LOMAC is so much better.

  2. DK says:

    “In my experience, linking yaw and roll controls actually causes more accidents that it prevents.”

    Funnily enough, linking the rudder to the stick has long been advocated as being the way to make the most save plane. I recommend a read through “Stick and Rudder” as to why that is the case.

    • Brun says:

      Yaw and roll are aerodynamically linked, from a flight dynamics perspective. In a traditional aircraft it’s impossible to have one without the other, and in some configurations they work to counteract each other (also called adverse yaw/roll). Mechanically linking yaw and roll controls is a way to mitigate adverse yaw/roll – sort of an automatic compensation for the adverse effects.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The Beech Bonanza (a very popular GA plane) has a “soft” linkage between yoke and rudder pedals, using bungee cords. It can be overriden for things like cross-controlled slips into a crosswind landing, or using a slip to rapidly drop altitude while keeping the plane in normal configuration.

      Unfortunately flight sims tend to make this an all-or-nothing setting, although I think Carenado models it to some degree in their Bonanze models for FSX and X-Plane.

  3. iteyoidar says:

    I’ve been enjoying Flight so far, it’s the first flight simulator since the Flight Unlimited series that doesn’t constantly remind me that I’m flying a Microsoft Windows. It’s kind of relaxing hopping from airport to airport carrying cargo or making emergency landings so your passengers can pee behind a bush. The DLC prices are painful though, especially since they separated the airplaniest airplane (the Maule) from the rest of Hawaii.

    It also really needs some cargo smuggling missions. And a proper float plane.

  4. fleet hassle says:

    I always read Mr Stone’s work in Julian Barratt/Howard Moon’s voice, for some reason.

  5. talon03 says:

    F—— Reading this review automatically charged my credit card for 6600 RPS points would not read again.

    • BooleanBob says:

      It wouldn’t be so bad, if you could purchase them in anything other than 77-point increments.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Surely you miscounted your points when you bought them. The correct number of points on an RPS Card you can pick up at your local newsagents (next to the Lottery kiosk) is from one of the 79RPS, 271RPS, 593RPS, or 1553RPS cards on offer.

    • Premium User Badge

      P7uen says:

      Waiting for the inevitable ROTY edition.

  6. Godwhacker says:

    New Games Journalism strikes again

  7. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    I think “stalls are seriously anemic” is letting it off the hook a bit, Tim.

    I been astonished by how poor the flight modelling is around stalls, spins, and edge of the envelope flight. I’ve been repeatedly able to get the Stearman into a stall and then just watch as it carries on on a perfectly stable ballistic trajectory with no prop torque, no prop wash, no effects of wings being dragged through the air, no nothing. It’s like the plane becomes a point of mass adjustable by thrusters, with no wings, spinning props, control surfaces… It just doesn’t seem to want to model anything when the plane leaves 100% safe, dull as porridge flight.

    Just try it. Stall the Stearman on full power – even better, keep applying rudder until the plane starts going backwards – and wonder at how a mass of airflow, spinning props, prop wash and control surfaces, just continues on like a tennis ball thrown through the air. Under completely normal, safe flying the Stearman doesn’t do anything odd, and that amphibian’s control rates seem too slow to let you do any manouvering ant notice it, but if the game’s going to all be about small, light propellor aircraft, then all of the interesting flying will be contained within stalling, spinning, battling prop wash and torque effects – flying on the limit when you try and land on something ridiculous. Like I said on the other thread, having a sim about light prop aircraft that doesn’t know what prop wash is is a bit like having a Sim City style game that doesn’t know what roads are.

    And somebody’s going to disagree, and I’m going to have to download the sodding thing again to try it and prove to myself that I wasn’t imagining it.

    • Walsh says:

      Umm, I can spin the Stearman consistently. What I haven’t been able to do is real back end of the power curve slow flight.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Just got in it now, free flight with the Stearman, nosed back until it stalled and kept the stick back when it did. The nose dropped to just above level, the plane came to a complete halt and dropped vertically to the ground. No torque effects as it did so, no prop-wash effects, and the wings stayed completely level all the way to the ground. But somehow – despite the fact that I was falling vertically and no air was going over the wings – I was still able to make entirely effective aileron inputs. That’s a plane falling out of the sky – a bunch of aerodynamic surfaces losing control, an enormous spinning mass at the front blasting air unevenly over the wings – in as level and controlled a fashion as a parachute specifically designed for the task. That’s the same quality flight modelling for what happens when a plane loses airflow over the wings as you got in “Stop The Pigeon”. More troublingly, it’s worse than it was for the light GA singles in FSX.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The screen shot of the Icon A5 landed on a rooftop also says something about stall performance, I think. Stall speed on the real thing is supposed to be somewhere around 45 kts. Maybe the brakes are just really, really good….

      I know it’s fun to land in inappropriate places. I used to do it all the time in early versions of FS, and still do it in X-Plane by taking big planes like a DC-3 into tiny airstrips where they really shouldn’t go, or be able to get of again (I have more success with the former, than the latter!). It’s a blast to push the edge of the envelope. But it’s a lot more fun — for me, anyway — when the envelope means something, and isn’t just someone’s fantasy idea of how it works. Or worse, a model made by someone who does know how it works, and chooses to dumb it down.

    • darkmouse20001 says:

      The FM is terrible – true, stalls do kinda happen, but buffet, wing drops and spinning are non-existant. I judge flight models against the IL2 ‘does it feel right?’ yardstick. And this does not. My other credentials include flying for a living with plenty of aerobatics and spinning (both erect and inverted) on an almost daily basis.

      On the other hand I think FLIGHT has a good future – I never really enjoyed FSX other than in short bursts with some good looking scenery. If FLIGHT lets some of the talented scenery makers aboard to concentrate on other small but highly detailed landscapes, puts a bit more effort into the FM and addon planes, and ups the mission ante I think it could be a winner!

    • iteyoidar says:

      “The screen shot of the Icon A5 landed on a rooftop also says something about stall performance, I think. Stall speed on the real thing is supposed to be somewhere around 45 kts. Maybe the brakes are just really, really good….”

      It’s called a headwind :-)

  8. Skabooga says:

    . . . and the last remaining example of a 1937 Vickers Vagina.

    You very nearly tricked me into looking that up on Google.

    • Premium User Badge

      Man Raised by Puffins says:

      Well indeed, you’d find precious little on the web as it never made it past prototype, the RAF opted for the Fairey Fanny instead.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Ha! And thanks to the nature of crap inter-war British aircraft, I have a very clear mental image of both the Vickers Vagina and the Fairey Fanny.

    • choconutjoe says:

      *raises hand*

      I googled it.

    • Antsy says:

      The de Havilland Dildo was a non starter prone to nose diving and so was really only used as a trainer.

      The American’s had some success with the Lockheed Labia and the WW1 stalwart the Curtis Clitoris. Then there was the Sopwith Camel Toe…

  9. djbriandamage says:

    Although I’ve greatly enjoyed Flight in beta and now in gold, I do agree with Tim’s assertions about the missions not quite being sufficiently compelling. It’s as if Microsoft is telling us that the flight itself should be its own reward, which of course it should, but the sim would benefit from a little more cohesive “gamification”. Arbitrary achievements and XP feel like something your grandmother would assign you for washing the dishes, assuming that would be enough of a motivator for kids with ADD.

    If this game had an overarching narrative as Tim suggests I feel that would give Flight that essential push, graduating it from sandbox to game. The disjointed missions as they stand seem like a miscalculation of the desires of the purported demographic.

    I’m not bored with it yet, though. The flight itself really is its own reward and, for me, succeeds in reaching me as a more casual gamer with inklings of interest in a simulator. It’s a bold step in the right direction and it interests me personally much more than Flight Simulator XI would have.

    I hope this experiment brings Microsoft much success so that they can iterate. This wonderful game engine deserves to be exploited to its fullest.

    • Walsh says:

      Don’t say this in a flight simmer bar or else they will ask a real pilot to tie you to a propeller.

    • djbriandamage says:

      Based on many of their comments about this game I don’t think the bouncers would even let me in the door of a flight simmer bar. They’d simulate kicking my ass.

  10. nyarlathotep-88 says:

    I wanted to try this game, but for some reason I cannot even start it. I keep getting “Failed to initialize Games for windows” error everytime. I tried uninstalling the game, re-installing it, uninstalling games for windows, re-installing it, and even downloading and launching from games for windows directly, and still it won’t load past the splash screen. Very irritating. If anyone encounted this and was able to fix it, let me know cause I would like to at least try the game.

    • PearlChoco says:

      Same problem here.

      I blame GFWL.

    • Khemm says:

      Is the Windows Live ID service running?

    • djbriandamage says:

      Have you tried removing GFWL and installing the latest version from the web? Some of my friends had similar problems to yours when trying to run recent games with an older version of GFWL installed.

      I hope this works for you – it’s a fun game and the price is right.

    • PearlChoco says:

      @djbriandamage :

      You mean it’s worth nothing?

    • Arglebargle says:

      After my wonderful experiances with GFWL, I don’t play games/sims infected with it, even if they are free…

    • nyarlathotep-88 says:

      Yup, checked and verified that the ID is running, and even downloaded the latest version from the web both game and windows live client, and get the same proplem.

  11. SurprisedMan says:

    Just pirated this review. Was pretty good.

    • ThTa says:

      So did I, I’m not all too pleased about the day-one DLC, though. So even though I enjoyed it, I’ll refrain from buying it. To make a stand against greed, and all that.

  12. Zenicetus says:

    About this idea:

    ” The future for X-Plane, and, yes, FSX, has to be significantly brighter, thanks to the thousands of new simmers this wonderfully approachable air experiment will lure into the hobby”

    This isn’t just one hobby, it’s a hobby with branching lines. Some people like to shoot at things while flying, some people want realistic long-distance navigation, some people can only stay interested if they’re constantly motivated by a mission structure (the Take on Helicopters approach).

    The first barrier a newcomer will hit, going from MS Flight to FSX or X-Plane is the lack of structured missions and activities. There are add-ons for this, and also virtual airlines and air cargo games like FSEconomy. But you have to seek them out. They’re not apparent in the core sim.

    The second barrier is a difference in flight models, and a reduction in first-impression scenery before you start picking up add-ons. But that’s probably not as significant as the first barrier — “Okay, I’m here. What do I do now?” Having fun in the more traditional flight sims has always been a self-directed thing. It requires a certain personality that doesn’t need to be led by the nose through activities in the sim.

    I think that’s what will prevent MS Flight from being some kind of gateway drug to other civilian flight sims. It’s not really preparing people for how to approach a more open flight sim environment. And why would they, when they can keep them in the pay-for-everything world of MS Flight?

    P.S. if it hasn’t been mentioned here yet, the next big scenery add-on is Alaska (or parts of it):

    https://news.microsoftflight.com/blogs/news/archive/2012/03/05/dlc-sneak-peek-journey-to-alaska.aspx

    • MastodonFarm says:

      FSX has some missions built in, and some decent (but not great) guided tutorials to introduce the newbie to the flight controls and physics.

  13. Bhazor says:

    So how much Plane would you get for the traditional cost of the latest Microsoft Flight Sim?

  14. Icyicy9999 says:

    This was my first Flight Simulator and it just made me want to try FSX instead. It’s so limited by default.

  15. MD says:

    I don’t really play flight sims, or any sims, but hooray for Tim Stone! More of him please.

  16. Premium User Badge

    bear912 says:

    It’s like a choose-your-own-review!

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  18. JBantha says:

    How many RPS points did it earned at the end? Also: whose line is it anyway?