Flight Unlimited III
|a game by||Looking Glass Studios, Inc.|
|Editor Rating:||7/10, based on 1 review|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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Welcome to Seattle, Washington, my hometown and, as it just so happens, the setting for Looking Glass Technologies' Flight Unlimited III. All of the environs of Seattle and vicinity await you as you pilot any one of more than a dozen available planes in this latest installation of one of the most ground-breaking titles in aviation sims. The details will amaze you: buzz over recently-opened Safeco field and you'll see details down to an accurately modeled scoreboard in left field; take a turn over Microsoft and you'll see Bill's fountains and ever-growing empire -- in fact you can even do a fly-by of his new digs over on Lake Washington for a much closer look than you're likely to get in real life. All in all, some of the details of Flight Unlimited III are all but guaranteed to wow anyone who has ever wanted to fly a plane.
Ah, but you will note that I said some of the details... there are some notable shortcomings in Flight III as well. For one thing, unlike in the original Flight Unlimited, the scenery and flight area in Flight Unlimited III is quite restricted. One of the great joys of the original was being able to quickly jump between upstate New York and the desert Southwest. In Flight Unlimited III you get Seattle, north to Mount Baker and south to Mount Rainier, and that's pretty much it. Yes, we know, explain the people at Looking Glass, but you'll have to understand that to accurately model more than a couple hundred square miles we'd have to sell the game on 50 CDs. Okay, true enough, but the big catch is that they've done such a nice job with some details like the ones I mentioned a moment ago, that everything they've left out becomes that much more glaring. Also, the inability to fly over starkly different terrain is a huge drawback in this version so far as I'm concerned. Sure, I like getting a bird's eye view of a beautiful area like Western Washington, but I really miss the ability to see some other (virtual) areas of the country by air. In truth, Flight Unlimited III should be called Flight Limited III, as the limitations that the designers have consciously imposed feel restrictive and frankly like a bad decision given this title's predecessors.
There is also, unlike in the earlier Flight Unlimited titles, a much more selective feel to the scenery you do see; certain things are modeled in great detail, while others seem very flat and featureless, particularly as you close to lower altitudes. Again, I realize the limitations on terrain modeling and storage space, etc., but there is much in Flight Unlimited III that seems like a showcase of important landmarks at the expense of an overall balanced look and feel to the environment. I mention it because it became so apparent after an hour or so of flying that it began to really detract from the overall experience. I have written with high praise about earlier titles in this series, but sadly this latest installation is really only an adequate entrant, especially given the time and technology that has passed since the original Flight Unlimited.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Flight Unlimited III is very much on par with its contemporaries in terms of flight controls and sophistication. . . as with most modern flight sims, there are at least as many keyboard combinations to remember as there are keys on the keyboard -- not a criticism really, flying a plane is complicated, just a note to any of those reading this who are new to flight sims. Despite a "quick flight" mode, you will still need to figure out what flaps and ailerons do or you will crash repeatedly. I actually enjoy the complexity and realism of this and other flight sims -- it makes succeeding at takeoffs and landings more satisfying. In addition to the keyboard, for maximum enjoyment of this sim you'll also need a good flightstick/joystick. I have a Wingman Digital joystick that retails for around $30 and it was more than up to the task.
The interface in Flight Unlimited III, that is the between-flight UI where you pick your airplane, home field, etc, is one of the worst designed, most annoying interfaces I have ever seen. There are a ton of icons, many of which seem like they should do one thing when in fact they do another. Eventually you will figure out that there are roughly three times too many things to click on in the main setup screen and learn to leave most of them alone lest you reset something you just spent 15 minutes trying to set up in the first place. Again, note to the Flight Unlimited III team: go back and look at your original version of Flight Unlimited for how to do this right.
Since I already covered most of the graphical issues with this sim in the overview, I'll stick to how Flight Unlmited III stacks up with the competition. Overall, the quality of Flight III's graphics are better than Microsoft's latest Flight Simulator, but not quite as good as Fly -- they are perfectly adequate, allowing you to pick out landmarks fairly easily, but are not the revolutionary, jaw-dropping sort of graphics that the original featured four years ago. Good use is made of the Voodoo3 3dfx video capabilities, but it seems that the real optimization in Flight III was set for an altitude of about 2,000 feet -- much above or below this and you get either a fuzzed out blur or a grainy, loss of detail look respectively. Sure, I know they had to made concessions to fit it all on the CD, but again, if you're used to the graphical quality in action titles, you'll probably be a bit disappointed
The in-flight sounds, particularly the radio chatter and control tower instructions add a welcome degree of realism to Flight Unlimited III. And, if you happen to actually know how to do what they're telling you to do or go where they're telling you to go with your plane, so much the better! There were a lot of times when I realized too late what the control tower was trying to get me to do... at least it's only pretend flying.
Minimum: Pentium II 233 Mhz processor or better, 32 MB RAM, 4 MB video card with direct-draw capable driver, 4X CD-ROM, Windows 95/98, DirectX-compatible soundcard, DirectX 6.0 or later, 300 MB free hard disk space, and a Windows-compatible mouse and keyboard.
Recommended: Pentium II 350 Mhz processor, 64 MB RAM, 3D accelerator card, and 2.1 GB free hard disk space.
Flight Unlimited III is a solid choice for a flight sim -- if you are an aspiring pilot, you'll likely get a great deal of enjoyment out of this package; if you're a Flight Unlimited veteran, as I am, you may be a bit disappointed that more progress hasn't been made between versions. All in all, Flight Unlimited III rates a 77 for a middle of the pack flight sim -- competent, but no longer a benchmark title in this genre.