Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.0
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|8.7/10 - 3 votes
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Gaining a real life pilots license is a pretty expensive business, as youll no doubt be aware. First of all youve got to join a flying club (a clever con which sets you back about too quid), and then youve got to actually pay for the lessons themselves, which cost about 80 quid a shot. Considering that you need 40 or more lessons before youre ready to take the test, youll be forking out somewhere in the region of (er, intense mathematical computations in brain)... blimey, over three thousand quid. Microsofts Flight Sim 5.0, on the other hand, costs under 50.
Oh yeah? So whats the combat like?
No, no, no - youre missing the point already. You dont shoot anyone down in Flight Sim 5.0. Its not that sort of game. In fact, to be perfectly honest, its not a game; its a simulation so deadly serious itll make your eyes sweat and your forehead go all crinkly. Let me put it another way: you dont get back home from the pub at midnight, slump in front of your pc and say to yourself/your partner/your dog: Hey, Ill just have a quick blast on Flight Sim 5.0 before crashing out.
What do you do with It then?
Ah. Now theres a question. Well, basically - as I heavily hinted in the prologue - you can learn to fly. Like for real. This may sound a trifle far fetched, but believe me, its true. Ill tell you a story. A couple of years ago I did a feature on Flight Sim 4.0 (the prequel). The idea of the feature was as follows: I was to do some basic groundwork on the simulation and then, when confident, would book in for a few real lessons and see what transpired. And it all went rather well... in fact I found the real plane was actually easier to fly than the simulation model (unrestricted views, better graphics etc). To cut a long story short, nothing my instructor threw at me, from dodgy trim settings to incorrect power/pitch scenarios, posed a problem because Id done it all before on the computer. Now, this next bit may sound like some sort of obnoxious boast, but I need to mention it to illustrate the overall success of the experiment and therefore the accuracy of the simulation: my instructor decided that 1 was proficient enough to land the plane on my first lesson. Unaided by him. (Actually it was a boast, but it's still true.)
I couldnt give a toss
But the brilliant thing here (regardless of whether or not you care that I landed on my first, I repeat yet again, first real life lesson), is the fact that Flight Sim 5.0 (like Flight Sim 4) mimics the mechanics of genuine flight to a remarkably accurate degree. For instance: (l) If you land a tad heavily with your throttle too far open, your plane will bounce: (2) If you lower your flaps while flying through turbulent air, the buffeting effects experienced inside the plane will be magnified in direct proportion to the amount of flap deployed: (3) You lose height in tight turns: (4) Flying inverted (at low level) is a complete nightmare and will definitely result - if you dont flip back over pretty damn sharpish - in a crash; (5) As your altitude increases and weird things happen to the air pressure, so the aerodynamics of your aircraft subtly change, meaning youll have to set your trim controls. (6) And the list goes on and on and on. Take just about any aerodynamic fact (or even mechanical, such as carburettors freezing), and you can be 99 percent certain that Flight Sim 5.0 has implemented it. (I hedged my bets a little with that figure of 99 percent just in case someone has an aerodynamic or mechanical ace up their sleeve.)
It looks pretty bloody brilliant...
Indeed it does look pretty bloody brilliant. And thats really the main difference between this latest Microsoft Flight Sim and the last: the spanky graphics. This time round its a Guru shading extravaganza in which rotating bitmaps and texture mapped buildings battle to the death in an orgy of 256 colours (svga if youve got it). Now might be a good time to have another squiz at the screenshots. Go on, I know youll have given them a thorough going over already, but this time imagine them moving. Imagine the 3D sense of being there you get from the effects of parallax. Imagine the sense of altitude that comes with detailed bitmapped field patterns way down below. Imagine the buffeting of the wind rocking your plane back and forth. Imagine the sampled engine noises droning away. Imagine the whir of your flaps going up and down because you got bored just flying in a straight line for a zillion hours and felt like pressing the f6 key. Get the picture? Yes, taking off from A and flying to B in Flight Sim 4 gave you the feeling of being in control, but was a bit crap when you peered out of the window. Flying from A to B in Flight Sim 5.0 still has you in total control, but youll be far more ready to sightsee. In fact, believe it or not (but take note that this is for seriously sad people), theres actually an option in Flight Sim 5 to take a photo of the scenery, whenever you feel like it. Pull down the relevant menu, select said option, and click - the screen is saved as a pcx file on your hard drive. At a later date whoever actually uses this feature may want to invite some of his or her equally pathetic friends around to partake in an excruciatingly unabsorbing DPaint slideshow. Thats Paris at night. Really? Yes, look, theres the Eiffel Tower. Oh yes, I can see it now you point it out. I was running a little low on fuel when I took it, you know. Really? fuel when I took it, you know. Really? How interesting. Yes, and in this next one - landing lights at Chicago Midway runway 4R I call it - the oil temperature was running a little high. Fascinating. And so on.
Tell me more
Okay, so weve ascertained that the graphics are fab, but as we all know, fab graphics often induce Jerkovision - and the bad news is that in Flight Sim 5.0 Jerkovision is most definitely in residence: especially when every single detail toggle is turned on and the object densities are turned to mega. However. Yes, a full stop, a pause for breath and Ill say it again. However. With a bit of thought you can lose certain details and not really notice theyve gone. For instance, I turned off the texture mapping on the buildings - and to be frank actually discovered that I preferred the plain vectors left behind anyway (the bitmapped wrappings were always a bit ostentatious). I also turned off the animated propeller graphic on the Cessna (its ridiculously oversized and makes the plane look very silly indeed). And that, on a 486 dx 33MHz, just about did the trick. Then I did my simulate a 386 sx 33 trick, and turned off the turbo. Blimey, not as bad as Id have expected was my first response. Then, after turning the scenery complexity down a tad and simply losing the bitmapped registration markings on the side of the plane (no big deal), things were fine. I mean, Im still not talking exactly fluidly smooth here, but you know what I mean: its perfectly liveable with. (Unless youve got a 286 12MHz, in which case you may as well go and top yourself right now.)
Map area? How big? Tell me now!
How does North America sound? Like Flight Sim 4, there are going to be squillions of add on disks so that youll eventually be able to have the entire world squeezed onto your hard drive, but with the main game you get 40 different us airports, some big some small, scattered liberally around Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. More than enough to be going on with as Im sure youll agree - especially if you dont use the new time compress feature - because do you know how long it takes a Cessna Skylane to fly from Chicago to la in real time? No? Bloody bastard ages, thats how long.
You mentioned weather in the intro...
Oh yes, the weather. Flight Sim 4 owners will be familiar with this, and its the ability - from one of the many pull down menus - to create your own weather. Winter? Sure. Freezing cold but getting even colder at night? Go ahead. Wind? Set the speed and the heights. Clouds? Go crazy, why dont you. Once youve created your conditions you can even save them to disk so you dont need to faff about next time. (Or you could just let Right Sim 5.0 hit you with its own random weather conditions, whatever.)
So theres a Cessna Skylane?
Yes, but, as you may have noticed from the screenshots, its not the only choice. Theres a Learjet for instance: stuffed full to overflowing, 1 like to think, with fat bourbon-swilling American businessmen. Fly these imaginary fat-cats into areas of extreme turbulence... and then pitch forwards on the stick so your money grabbing passengers can experience the eyepopping wonder of pushing negative two Gs whilst drunk. Dont want to go up in the little Cessna? The Learjet doesnt tickle your fancy today? Then take to the skies in a Schweizer Sailplane instead. Try your hand at catching thermals, or at ridge soaring. See how high you can get, and then test yourself by seeing how far you can fly. nfi? Then take up the Sopwith Camel and buzz about in a leather hat and goggles. Whatever lights your candle.
Are there any, er, missions?
Missions isnt quite the word here, but there are certainly some preset scenarios to load in and try your hand at. runway approach during a thunderstorm in a Learjet for instance. Or hangar buzzing in the Sopwith. Or Golden Gate bypass. Or land on an aircraft carrier in the Cessna. And many more. You can mix n match the various scenarios with different planes, too. And as well as the scenarios, there are also flying lessons, from basic to advanced to aerobatics. You have an instructor (scrolling text) who shows you what to do, then lets you do it yourself, and finally comments on your performance at the end. He even shows you graphs of what happened, but as far as I was concerned the graphs may as well have been beamed down from the planet Zong... didn t understand a single squiggle.
So whats the verdict overall?
Its really hard judging something like Flight Sim 5.0. because, as I've been stressing all along, its not really a game. More of a utility really. Okay, so you can set up your own scenarios and have some fun with crosswind landing approaches, barrell- roll-on-takeoff-and-then-land-again-before-reaching-the-end-of- the-runway style stunts (Laurence Scotford, Dep Ed), or anything else that takes your fancy. But, at the end of the day, youre going to have to be a slightly odd person to actually love Flight Sim 5.0 to bits and never want play anything else again. Its a bit like a dog really: a commitment for life, and not just for Christmas. Study the complicated maps that come with the packaging. Work out how to use the fully functioning radio navigation aids. Fly 900 miles from A to B. Experience a minor fault in the engine en-route. Refuel. Fly from B to C (15 squillion miles). Marvel at the fact that you occasionally see other air traffic in the distance. Drink 200 cups of coffee. Pay an actor to hide behind your sofa and occasionally say things like Victor Charlie Foxtrot, Victor Charlie Foxtrot, this is air traffic control, we have you vectored, my old man s a dustman, over and out, and so forth. Hmmm, so what more can 1 add? Well, I suppose the most obvious thing is that Flight Sim 5.0 is now the definitive civil aviation simulation, while its older brother, Flight Sim 4, has been forced into retirement due to its rather shonky graphics. At the end of the day Id also better hammer home that Flight Sim 5.0 will be a highly valuable (to some) learning aid with beautiful graphics. The fun may not last for long, but then again seeing as fun is such a subjective experience, maybe itll never stop. Or maybe fun shouldn t enter the equation in the first place. Horses for courses. Different strokes for different folks. One mans meat is another man's yes, but its a bit boring. You know whats what by now though, so decide for yourself and either up or down the score as you see fit.