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Wot I Think: Microsoft Flight

Up, Up And A Way To Monetise The Game

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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