Microsoft Flight Simulator 98
So you've had a rough day. The boss is on your case, the kids are whining and the car's making that noise again. You want to sit down at the good ol' computer and play something relaxing to ease your mind, and challenging to test your skills. Yet for some reason or another, traveling two-thousand miles an hour trying to blow up enemy planes and overthrow foreign governments doesn't quite seem to be as relaxing as you'd hoped. Hmmmm, what to do?
Well, if you're a sim fan who enjoys just flying for the sake of flying, then you might want to give Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 a try. Flight Simulator 98, Microsoft's newest edition to its fifteen-year tradition of flight simulators, seems to fulfill its purpose quite nicely. It will give veteran flight sim fans just enough of the new to hold their interest, and give the newcomers plenty to do; be you an experienced pilot, or a rookie out for your first flight.
As I said before, in this game you will not be blowing anything up. There are no enemies to kill, no military bases to destroy, and nobody is trying to turn you into coyote fodder as you plow through their air space at mach 2. Some of the more die-hard combat sim fans find this boring. However, a lot of people just want to fly, and find all the combat going on around them nothing more than a distraction.
Those of you who have played Microsoft Flight Simulator for Win95 will find the interface to be very much the same. Your instrumentation is controlled with your pointing device or keyboard, and the plane itself is controlled by your joystick (or any other controls you may have, e.g. rudder, pedals, etc.)
For the veterans, there are three new aircraft added. You can now, among other returning craft, choose from a Bell 206B JetRanger III helicopter (it takes some getting used to, but it's a blast to fly), a shiny new Cessna Skylane 182S, and at long last, a Learjet 45.
With these aircraft you can do a wide range of things. If you are new to the world of highly realistic flight simulators, you can go to flight school. You can find lessons on everything from a basic flight, to performing nighttime landings in less than favorable conditions. Even some of the most experienced pilots can find something to sharpen their skills.
After you get the hang of things there are a number of "Adventures" you can fly. These are basically pre-planned flights. They are nice to fly, but when it comes to the real fun of the game all the veterans know that the only way to fly is to make your own flight. I suggest doing a long flight in the new Cessna. One of the really nice things about this sim is that it has over 3,000 airports from which you can depart. I must say it was cool taking off from an airport that is only two miles away from my house.
If you have a 3D accelerator or MMX, Flight Simulator 98 offers support for both. Basically, you get some more colors out of it, and a bit more texture, but if you lack these things it does not take away from the game very much. Microsoft played up their new virtual cockpits quite a bit. They do show a slight improvement over previous versions of the sim, but aren't anything to write home about. Generally the graphics are well done; however, I would have liked to see more detail put into the ground and some of the surroundings. Most of the big new graphics appear in the "out of the window" views you can use during flight. I think that the developers of the game put more effort into major landmarks than they did to the rest of the surroundings in the game, and it shows. When it comes right down to it, though, the graphics don't significantly take away from or add to the feel of the game.
Microsoft has put a great deal of work into the audio scheme of this game. Everything from engine noise to radio transmissions come in loud and clear. Each craft has its own set of newly improved sounds, and on the right speakers they can really add to the total experience of the sim. However, in my opinion one of the nicest things about a sim is that you don't have to put up with the roar of the engine. You can shut the sounds off and listen to a good CD instead. Either way you play it, the audio in this game is good.
OK, let's all stop kidding ourselves. We all know that a sim lives or dies by how realistic it is. This is becoming more and more true as we move into an era of massive simulation environments that more accurately duplicate flying in all of its forms than ever. So how does Flight Simulator 98 stack up?
Bill Gates once said the best way to keep up with the competition is to stay on top of it. Well, that philosophy clearly applies with this sim. Microsoft Flight Simulator has always been one of the most realistic flight sims available. Flight Simulator 98 caries out that tradition wonderfully. How so? I'm glad you asked. Forget all the fancy graphics; the real question is: How does the simulator compare to real flying? Well, for right now it's impossible to duplicate the rise in your stomach you get as you take off or the rush when you pull off a really nice bank. However, Flight Simulator does a very nice job of duplicating some of the challenges of flight. If you set the conditions properly, you can land in heavy winds, bad weather, ice, rain, darkness, cloudiness and all that great stuff. The best part is you can crash ( and in some of those conditions you will crash) and not worry about killing yourself. While I'll admit there's no substitute for the real thing, Flight Simulator 98 is as close as it gets on a PC.
Even though it is not a combat simulation, Flight Simulator 98 offers excellent multiplayer support. You can play via direct modem, LAN network, or Internet. Microsoft has an Internet gaming service called The Microsoft Gaming Zone (www.zone.com), which is the largest on the Net. It provides free support for this and many other multiplayer games.
While there is no combat, you can still have a great deal of fun flying with other people. You're now thrown into more realistic situations like air traffic and formation flying. The first time I tried formation flying, I collided with another plane. It definitely adds a new dimension to the game, and a pleasant one at that.
This is where the game lost big points in my book. While previous editions of this sim have come with a massive instruction manual, Flight Simulator 98 comes with nothing more than a skimpy manual with almost no instructions. They give you a page and half of how to install and run the game, with no troubleshooting tips should you run into any technical difficulties along the way. Then Microsoft gives you three and a half pages of what's new in the game. The rest of the book is basically flight charts and maps, which are not as extensive as they should be considering the number of airports and beacons in the game essential for successful navigation.
It is true that there is a lot of instruction and training built into the game, but I like to have a hard copy for reference while in the sim. Microsoft most definitely could have done a better job with the documentation they provided. It was perhaps the game's biggest disappointment.
486DX / 66MHz or higher processor (Pentium recommended), Windows 95 or NT 4.0 or later, 8 MB RAM (16 recommended), 100 MB of disk space
Flight Simulator 98 is a well-executed sim that is a lot of fun to play. It adds some new features and graphics that enhance gameplay, but don't alter the true-to-life feel of flying that this sim has always had.
The big question is whether or not veterans of the game will find the new stuff worth shelling out fifty bucks. I say that if you're a pilot and flying fan you really should get this one; if not for anything else, get if for the multiplayer features. If you have other versions of the game, you're one up on everyone anyway because you more than likely have a lot of the charts and maps they don't provide. In the end, the game is definitely worth adding to your collection; so have fun and good flying.