Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000
About every two or three years since 1980 Microsoft has released an updated version of the most successful flight simulation program of all time. My first experience with this series was with Flight Simulator II in 1983 on my Atari 800. It was actually programmed by a company called SubLogic but Microsoft had a financial interest in them at the time. Fortunately, one of those two companies is still in business today to bring us the eighth generation of the product, Flight Simulator 2000 (FS2000). I’m sure most readers can claim some experience with the Flight Simulator series since no other flightsim has come close to Microsoft’s in terms of sales and popularity. The dominance however is not automatic anymore; with the competing products of Flight Unlimited III and Fly!, Microsoft’s reign at the top of the civilian flight simulator is in jeopardy.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Those familiar with more recent versions of the flight simulator series will recognize the same old drop-down menu system in FS2000 -- from here it is very easy to change any selection from the multitude of options. FS2000 has a rather unique flight training process. The manual includes 15 detailed tutorials that walk you through the basics of flying and instrument reading. Your goal is to earn various certificates, ranging from the Private Pilot Certificate to the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, that will show you have completed and passed the lessons and final checkride. For example, your first goal is to earn your Private Pilot Certificate. There are a series of lessons that you can practice such as landings or VOR navigation. Once you feel you have a good understanding and ability to complete these tasks by the book, it is time for your checkride. In your checkride, you will fly with an examiner who will give you audio instructions to complete various tasks that you should have learned from your prior lessons. If all goes well and you pass the test, you will be awarded the Private Pilot Certificate that can be printed out and is suitable for framing.
One of things that separate FS2000 from the competition is the tremendous selection of aircraft to fly. There are two new flyable aircraft: the Boeing 777-300 jet airliner and the Concorde, which is capable of speeds twice the speed of sound! You can also fly the Cessna 182S and 182RG, Learjet 45, Boeing 737-400, Extra 300S stunt plane, Bell JetRanger III helicopter, Schweizer 2-32 glider, and the classic Sopwith Camel. Most of the flight models seem to be pretty accurate but I really had a difficult time with the Learjet and the helicopter. It seemed like the controls were overly sensitive but I can’t be too critical of this since I have no experience flying these beasts! The damage model is very interesting. For example, if you land on a wing, the wing will break off into a hundred pieces but if you are like me and have a tendency to nose dive straight into the ground, then the nose of your plane will stick into the ground like a lawn dart but there will be no damage to your plane!
FS2000 has even more things going for it. Six highly detailed cities include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Paris, and New York. More than 20,000 airports are available for landings and take-offs worldwide plus you can easily download the real world current weather conditions for your area. A GPS, easy to use flight planner, and a moving map make it easy to keep track of your location and get to where you are going. The Microsoft Flight Simulator series has always been well supported with third party add-ons and a large Internet community that allows you to download new planes, scenery, and many extras free of charge.
FS2000 supports online play and is featured on the MSN Gaming Zone. A multiplayer session can host up to eight players at a time; however, since you are not actually playing a structured game here such as Deathmatch or Capture the Flag, it is really up to your imagination to organize some kind of competition such as an air race, hide-and-go-seek, follow the leader, or maybe some kind of formation flying contest. Maybe just the fun of flying around town with a friend is enough online excitement for one day!
FS2000 offers six high-resolution cities to fly around but I was very impressed with the accuracy of the non-high-resolution areas. One of the things that bothered me about Fly! and Flight Unlimited III was the total lack of detail in areas outside of the featured high-res cities. The cloud and weather effects are okay but still not as good as the weather in FUIII or the clouds in Pro Pilot 99. You can be flying with 20 miles visibility one moment, and the next moment be in zero visibility. The overall 3D scenery is excellent, however you may need to be prepared to turn down some of the graphic options because FS2000 is a monster of a program that will tax your system to the limit. I tested FS2000 on a 450 MHz Pentium II, 850 MHz Pentium III, and an Athlon 700 MHz system. The Pentium III and Athlon systems ran at full graphic detail at a very acceptable frame rate but the Pentium II 450 MHz was very choppy and I had to turn down many of the graphic options to fly at an acceptable frame rate.
The lack of any Air Traffic Control in FS2000 was the most disappointing aspect for me. Air Traffic Control interaction is a key element in flying and should have an equally large role in a flight simulator such as it does with FS2000’s competitors. This is really a shame because there is so much air traffic going on at the major airports. If Microsoft intends FS2000 to be a serious simulation of flying civilian aircraft, it can’t ignore this oversight. Hopefully, a future patch will remedy this problem to an acceptable level. With that said, the rest of the audio features are adequate. The engine sounds of every aircraft from the Cessna to the Concorde seem to be right on and you can hear the thunder flying through an electrical storm.
Windows 95/98/NT 4, Pentium 166 MHz (all graphic options off) or faster, 32MB RAM (64MB recommended) or 64MB RAM for Windows NT, 350MB hard disk space (430MB recommended), Quad speed or higher CD-ROM, Super VGA 16-bit color monitor required, Mouse, Joystick or flight yoke recommended, and a DirectSound 7.0 sound card.
Optional: Direct3D 7.0 compatible 3D graphics accelerator with 4MB video memory, SSE or 3Dnow instruction set microprocessor, and DirectX 7 force feedback peripherals.
Requirements for multiplayer play: 28.8kbps or faster modem, local area network with TCP/IP or IPX protocol, or null-modem cable required for connection to other systems.
If you can recall from Flight Simulator 98 days, Microsoft failed miserably in the manual department. This time around Microsoft has gotten back on track with a nice 238-page manual that includes an excellent tutorial section that will walk you step by step through many different flying situations. Also included is a nice little rundown of every aircraft that you can fly in FS2000 however the manual only offers general flying instruction but doesn’t offer any advice on how to fly the individual planes.
Microsoft also decided to publish a "Professional Edition" of FS2000 that contains a few extra features but at a substantial cost for the "serious enthusiast." These extra features include two additional planes, the King Air 350 and the Mooney Bravo and six additional high detailed cities including Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, Berlin, Tokyo, and Rome. Also included are two high-resolution, IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) instrument panels, a flight dynamics editor and instrument panel editor, and a bigger manual.
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 is without a doubt the most balanced of the three general aviation simulators currently available. It offers decent flight models, scenery, instrument panels, weather effects, and an impressive selection of airports and aircraft. If it weren’t for the lack of Air Traffic Control capabilities, I think FS2000 would be the outright best simulator to choose from but until that problem is fixed there is no clear leader. If you are looking to buy just one of the three available products, you will really need to weigh the pros and cons of each simulation to make your decision.