Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000
So, the latest version of Microsoft's flight sim operating system has arrived. Some history. With Flight Sim 95 and 98, Microsoft pretty much had the field to themselves. Sure there were some (extremely) specialist alternatives out there, but ask the man in the street to name a flight sim without guns and Gates's baby was the answer they'd give. Hence Microsoft got lazy. Rant on...) Why bother with attractive front-ends or setup screens that made sense. Key configurations? Hell we'll just assign keys to various functions at random. Who's going to know. Sure throttle controls could be on the + and -keys like everyone else, but we'll stick them on the... Function keys! Yeah, that'll work.
Today it's a different story. In the last couple of years the civil aviation genre has exploded (not literally, that would be taking the realism aspects a bit too far). Sierra's Pro Pilot, fly/from Terminal Reality and, of course, Looking Glass's Flight Unlimited series have served to both attract newcomers to the genre and make things more presentable. Have Microsoft learned from this with their latest title in the series? Have they fu**! (Rant off.)
I Can't Do The Accent
First up, what's new? Fans of the series will be pleased to note that this time round Microsoft have thoughtfully included a manual with the game. A big one too. Over 300 pages, crammed with tips, flight lessons, aircraft descriptions, sectional maps, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Which is nice.
Also improved are the navigational options (you can generate flight plans based on VOR to VOR, GPS and commercial flight routes), on-board GPS systems (although the one in Fly! was better), the number of airports, the initial bank of planes (fly the Concorde!) and, of course, the graphics. Although here we hit the first of-the game's problems.
Flight Sim 2000, as we mentioned in the Tech Specs panel, is ridiculously processor-hungry. It you don't have a minimum of 128MB RAM and a Pill chip then I would seriously hesitate before recommending you should buy it. You'll be getting frame rates of 1-5 per second at best, which makes smooth flying only possible if you're over barren, icy wastelands and makes landing impossible. There has been a problem identified with the simulation of the gyroscopic attitude indicators. Apparently they're too accurate and have been hogging the processor. A patch is being worked on, but this isn't really the only problem since disabling the instruments still led to jerk-filled flying - especially over heavily populated areas.
The biggest problem facing Flight Sim 2000 isn't simply a bug in the instruments though. It's Microsoft's seemingly lazy attitude towards the gamer. Because they've forced themselves to rely on the preexisting Flight Sim architecture in order to be backwards-compatible, they've ended up with all of the same basic presentation problems that were inherent in the previous versions. Change the view and you have to wait ten to twenty seconds while the game pauses and reloads all the cockpit artwork and the background scenery and the weather patterns and so on. Everyone else seems to do virtual cockpits, why not Microsoft? Want to set up a flight plan? Unfortunately you have to wait for the game to load in all of the parameters for the default flight (which can take anything up to ten minutes on low-end machines) before you can access the menus to change the settings. Why not put this on the front screen like everyone else?
I could list examples like this for ages but the bottom line is that until Microsoft make the game friendly to the novice, the Flight Sim range will only ever look an attractive proposition to its existing audience.
Attack Of The Anorak
Luckily, that audience is a pretty sizeable one (at least in the US, over here I'm not so sure), but the big question remains, 'does Flight Sim 2000 offer enough to warrant an upgrade from your existing version?' The answer is a hesitant yes. Visually it's better, but not by that much. Textures are more defined and the terrain elevation data does mean that mountains, hills and valleys are a lot better. City areas still look pretty ordinary - just flat blurry texture-maps with buildings thrown randomly on top. There's no sense that they belong to the landscape, no feeling of cohesion.
The core to civil aviation sims is how they fly and, yes, Flight Sim 2000 flies very well (as long as you have the hardware). Unfortunately it doesn't fly any better or worse than the rivals. They each boast that their flight models are the most accurate you'll get yet they all pretty much feel identical. To test this, I flew identical routes from London X. to Manchester in both X. FS2000 and FS98 and other than having slightly more detailed graphics, it could have been the same game. I had added navigation in FS2000 (which is a boon), but that was about all.
Because the flight models are all about as real as they're going to get, all you can judge these games on is how well they present themselves to their audience. FS2000fails on this count, but its existing audience aren't going to care. They're willing to put in the necessary hours and buy the necessary hardware to make it work. They'll even enjoy themselves all the more for it. (Each to their own -Ed) In summary, FS2000 is still the most realistic flight sim, if not the most enjoyable.
Download Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
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.