Why is it that Microsoft always has direct competition to claim the title of a definitive application? They always seem to be tangled up in one contest for control or another. There’s Navigator vs. Explorer, WordPerfect vs. Word, and Excel vs. Lotus 123. The latest contest comes not on the application frontier, but rather on the gaming frontier.
This time the challenger is Sierra’s Pro Pilot. Sierra is claiming this is the best game in its genre, which is a big claim for any game to make. Sierra is also challenging the longest-running, best-selling flight sim in history. The game does outperform in a few areas; however, it eventually falls short of its intended mark.
Let’s start with the good. Sierra obviously put a great deal of time into its flight model, because the instrumentation panel and flight display are second to none. It looks a little cartoony, but the flight display is every bit as real as can be for something on a computer screen. Before takeoff, you will be required to do all the standard pre-flight stuff, everything from radioing the tower for clearance to choosing which fuel tank you’re going to be using first -- all are represented splendidly by this unusually detailed flight model.
Sierra also gives you a choice of five planes to fly. They are the Cessna Skyhawk 172, Beechcraft Bonanza V35, Beechcraft Baron B58, Beechcraft King Air B200, and Cessna CitationJet 525. This selection of planes does a nice job of offering different skill challenges; there’s something here for everyone, from the novice pilot to the seasoned veteran.
Pro Pilot also offers a lot of in-flight information coming in from other airports and aircraft; however, this program does not offer fully interactive communication. Keep in mind that all this is going on inside the cockpit; there's still the little matter of how the planes actually fly. Unfortunately, this is where the game suffers the most. The handling of the aircraft simply doesn’t cut it, everything is super rough, and doesn’t feel at all natural. There is currently a patch out that helps quite a bit, but the planes still don’t feel as intuitive to fly as they should. I’m not sure if this is due to a poor in-flight physics model or poor programming, but the game doesn’t measure up in this particular department.
Here is another area where Pro Pilot fell short. The graphics in this game aren’t nearly as sophisticated as in other sims. The game doesn’t offer 3D support, and the graphics suffer for it. The graphics up close look very pixelated and unnatural, and trying to spot an airport or beacon off in the distance can be a real chore. Things just aren’t as clear as they should be. I won’t say the game completely lacks nice effects, but a 3D patch is sorely needed.
The audio in Pro Pilot is well done. The effects are realistic and do a decent job of submerging you in the simulated environment. For the most part the voices of control towers and other pilots come in loud and clear. There’s nothing worse than not being able to hear a vital instruction or piece of information, only to have it blow up in your face later.
Although Pro Pilot lacks in some areas, documentation is NOT one of them. This program comes with a top-of-the-line instruction manual that covers so much more than the basics. It also provides quick reference keyboard and instrument cards that come in handy when you’re flying late and are too lazy to look up what you want to know in the manual. I really can’t say enough about the documentation here. It is one of the game's shining glories, and is the one place where it completely, totally, and undoubtedly demolishes Flight Simulator 98.
Pentium 90, 16 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, 30MB hard drive space, sound card w/DAC, SVGA 256-colors, 640x480, mouse
How big of a flight sim fan are you? That’s probably the question you need to ask yourself before you buy this one. There are certainly better products out there, but if you have them and you’re really antsy to get another, then you’d probably want to give Pro Pilot a shot. If you’re just a casual pilot who enjoys a relaxing flight every now and then, I’d suggest investing in one of the other two big sims out there -- Flight Simulator 98 or Flight Unlimited 2.