Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002
Flight enthusiasts have been using MS Flight Simulator for years and have watched it evolve from monochrome line graphics up to graphics so real that when you land and leave the room, you could be surprised you aren’t actually at the location you flew to. With a ton of new features, new airplanes, Interactive Air Traffic Control, computer-generated air traffic, multiplayer options, improved graphics and effects, as well as plenty of other stuff, Flight Simulator is back and better than ever!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Well, if you’ve played any recent version of Flight Simulator then you already know what to expect for the most part. The general flight controls when used with a good flight joystick (I used a Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro) feel nice and respond just like I’d expect in a real airplane. I did run into one anomaly with the rudder, though. Whether I was using a joystick or not, the plane’s rudder seemed to be stuck just slightly off to the left, which made taxiing more difficult than it should’ve been and not all planes have a rudder adjustment (or at least that I could find) to fix this. If you don’t have a joystick or flight yoke, you can also use your mouse and the keyboard, although I couldn’t find the "Mouse as Yoke" option anymore (this option let you control the plane with your mouse in previous versions). The options for the game allow you to specify the sensitivity of all the controls and controllers separately, so you should be able to find a setting that suits you. Extremely detailed and complicated controls, dials, and gauges litter the screen just the way you’d expect to see them in a real aircraft. Fortunately for those of us who aren’t real pilots, there are ToolTips that show up when you place your mouse pointer over the control. Certain controls in the cockpit view are interactive with the mouse as well as the keyboard, whereas others are accessible only by keyboard. It’s helpful to keep the quick reference around until you get used to all of the controls. But since this isn't the real world you can do whatever you want, which makes flying as simple as pushing the throttle knob in and taking off. You can maneuver the plane however you wish without the FAA revoking your license or the air traffic controllers telling you to knock it off. Or can you…?
A new addition to Flight Simulator 2002 is Interactive Air Traffic Control (ATC). The chatter adds quite a bit more depth and makes the game seem more real than ever before. It also makes me realize just how little I know about talking to the tower -- especially when they tell me to clear the runway since I shouldn’t be there. Fortunately a somewhat thick manual that tells you how to use ATC is included. I found it can be a little distracting trying to find the appropriate keys to press on the keyboard while also trying to steady the plane, but it wasn’t all that bad. Just because the option for ATC is there doesn’t mean it has to be used, however. In addition to ATC, you can also have the game generate both air and ground traffic at and around the airports. True enthusiasts or student pilots will probably appreciate this feature most.
There are also a few new planes added, depending on whether you have the Standard or Professional version. Of the additions I found the most interesting to be the Cessna Caravan Amphibian which, you might be able to tell from the name if you don’t already know the plane, lets you take off from and land on land or water. This allows you to land on or take off from lots of places that were otherwise impossible in previous versions of the game. All of the different aircraft in the game are widely ranged -- everything from Cessnas to Lear Jets to biplanes to World War II fighters to stunt planes to helicopters and even a few Boeing jumbo jets. If it has wings and exists in real life, it (or a similar one) is probably in this game. And should you happen to not see exactly what you’re looking for, Flight Simulator can support additional plane add-ons. Likewise, if your hometown doesn’t seem to look very exciting on screen, perhaps there’s a scenery add-on to make it seem homier or maybe you can just turn up the graphics detail to take advantage of Flight Simulator’s new Auto Generated Scenery feature (see Graphics section below).
If you don’t know your ailerons from your elevator and haven’t a clue as to what IFR means, the lessons are for you. There are lots of lessons that take you from square one all the way up to learning how to utilize ATC, traffic patterns, and everything else involved in flying a plane. World renowned flight instructor Ron Machado vocalizes each lesson to you while you’re in flight. At some points he’ll have control of the plane and other times he’ll give it up to you. The one thing I noticed is that sometimes when you have control, it doesn’t always seem to work right. For instance, during a landing lesson when I was supposed to have control I was drifting off to the left and the game wouldn’t always let me turn back right (it seemed related to that rudder problem I mentioned above).
When you’re comfortable flying by yourself, feel free to embark on any one of dozens of different pre-planned flights over all parts of the world and in all different kinds of weather. Don’t like any of the flights available? Create a new one. Don’t like the weather or season or time of day? Change it. Flight Simulator is full of so man y options it could drive you batty but more likely it will just enhance your flight experience, since they allow you to do pretty much whatever you want, whenever you want. The options also allow you to select which airport to go to, which aircraft you want to choose, simulation speed, ATC options, realism settings, and numerous graphics, sound and control options. There’s even an option to slew, which allows you to freely move the camera around to anywhere in the world so you can see your favorite sights from any angle without having to actually fly there.
One seemingly minor detail that I feel needs to be mentioned is that you no longer have to be set at Meigs Airport in Chicago by default when you start. You can now create a flight starting at any airport and set it as the default. This is a feature that was long overdue in my opinion and I was very happy to see it.
You can set up or join a game on your network via TCP/IP or an IPX connection. Alternatively, you can join Microsoft’s Internet Gaming Zone and join in with plenty of other pilots (just be sure you note where they are flying since you’ll have to reposition yourself there -- the game won’t do it automatically). The game plays exactly the same in multiplayer as it does in single player mode except you can see other aircraft and talk to other pilots. I found it to be a pleasant addition to the game as it was kind of fun to watch some people show off (or do a little myself) and play some cat and mouse type games.
It seems with each new release of MS Flight Sim the graphics get increasingly more detailed and Flight Sim 2002 is no different. There are so many graphics settings that depending on the computer and video card you’re running this game can look anywhere from gorgeous to "hey, how long have you had that EGA card anyway?" (Sorry Dad, but it’s time to finally upgrade that dinosaur…) I was pleasantly surprised to see that when I turned up all the graphics options as high as they would go and checked everything I could that, while the game did run visibly slower and a little choppy, it was still quite playable. I also went out and got an additional 256 MB of RAM for my system and noticed with the graphics turned up I did see an increase in my performance.
With the graphics settings on high, the ground looked photo-realistic and lots of new little buildings, such as houses or small office buildings, appear when you get close enough to the ground to see them (this is a new feature called Auto Generated Scenery). All the major buildings are still there as well as some new ones too (this is the first time I’ve seen the Experience Music Project building at the foot of the Space Needle in Seattle -- it’s the funky multi-colored blob in case you aren’t familiar with it). When flying over forests, you’ll see actual trees rather than just green ground and the detail of the water is wonderful. I also flew very close to Mt. Rainier and it looked incredible.
In the past, Microsoft Flight Simulator’s sound has been pretty much limited to the hum of the plane’s motor, the flaps and landing gear moving up or down and other airplane or helicopter noises. While Flight Sim 2002 is no different in that respect, the new ATC chatter makes you feel even more like you’re really up in the sky. The ATC speech has that "radio" quality to it and sounds just like what you’d hear on a headset in the sky. I found that the speech in general seemed to have a low volume and I didn’t see an option specifically for this, but it wasn’t too bad.
Pentium II 300 MHz equivalent processor, 8MB 3D hardware accelerated video card, Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP (95 and NT not supported), 64M RAM, 650M hard disk space, SVGA monitor supporting 800X600 resolution in 16-bit color, DirectX 8.0a (included on CD), joystick or flight yoke recommended, mouse, sound card, and a 4X CD-ROM drive.
Reviewed on: AMD Athlon 850MHz, 384M RAM, nVidia TNT2 Ultra (32M RAM, using nVidia’s reference drivers), Creative Sound Blaster 64, Windows 2000 Professional, and a Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro.
Note: The version I reviewed is labeled "Marketing Copy" with photocopied documentation, so the actual docs in the package may be different.
Flight Simulator came with a seven page Quick Reference guide, a 32-page "Before You Fly Handbook," and a 70-page manual called the "Air Traffic Controller Handbook" that tells you how to interact with and use the new ATC features in the game. The game’s general help and other instructions can be found in an online help file within the game. And if you’re wary of the technically documentation, there are plenty of videos of flight instructors to help you first-time flyers.
Once again, Microsoft has built upon the previous version of the game to make everything look and feel even more real than before. The addition of several features and planes, such as Multiplayer, ATC, Auto Generated Scenery, and the Cessna Caravan Amphibian certainly make the game much more interesting than previous versions. I ran into some minor control issues with the rudder, but that’s really about the only thing I could find wrong with the game (and it may just be a setting I’m missing). And speaking of settings, the game has so many that it can be played by almost anyone at any skill level. Flight Simulator 2002 seems to be an all-around nice update to the series, which is why I’m happy to give it a score of 87.