Hands-on at CES with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator successor, Flight

hands on at ces with microsofts flight simulator successor microsoftIt wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft’s Flight Simulator was at the pinnacle of PC gaming. In truth, it was not a game at all, but a program that just happened to look like a game. The Flight Simulator series was so popular and respected, that even Air Force pilots would occasionally fire it up to keep their skills sharp in a pinch. But then the property seemed to fade away. Microsoft put its support towards its consoles, and while the PC gaming division wasn’t totally gone, it was a shadow of its former self and the Flight Simulator series disappeared.

But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it is that reboots and remakes are hot, so everything old is new again, including Microsoft’s Flight series. But there have been a few changes.

This week at CES, Microsoft was showing off its upcoming program/game Flight, the successor to the Flight Simulator series, and I had the chance to give it a go.

The first thing to realize about Flight, is that the loss of the name “Simulator” is both intentional and correct. The simulation factor is still there, but it is just a part of a bigger package. In previous Flight Simulators, the flying was basically all there was. It was exceptional flying, but there wasn’t much more to it. With Flight, there are now missions, challenges, and even a progression system that unlocks planes and further missions.

There are countless options, from landing through increasingly difficult weather to finding hidden icons that can be collected for experience which leads to further progression, as well as many other challenges. These aren’t the main focus–that still lies with the flight simulation–but they do play a major role.

The flying is a cross between realism and a carefully balanced edge of forgiveness. The original simulator was at times brutal and unforgiving (and realistic), requiring you to use everything from your flight controls to the instruments to successfully not crash and die horribly, digitally speaking. The new version is far more forgiving. There is still a very realistic feel to it, but it is also far easier to control than before, which is good and bad.

Flight can use either a keyboard or a controller, and oddly, the controller offers more realistic controls, including pitch and yaw, where the mouse has a bit of auto correct built-in which makes it easier. A joystick will still offer the best options, but a controller will make for a solid second choice.

The game was only showing off a pair of planes, and the level of difficulty will likely increase significantly with the complexity of the planes. It isn’t yet confirmed, but there is also a very good chance of helicopters being added eventually. For now though, Flight feels like a somewhat complex game more than a simulator. That may widen the appeal, but it also leaves it in something of a gray area—it doesn’t have enough to be a fun game, nor is it complex enough to be a real simulator.

The system requirements have also been announced. The minimum specs will be: a 2 GHz Dual Core processor, a 256 MB graphics card, and 2 GB of RAM.

The high end recommended specs will be: a 3.3 GHz Dual Core or better, a 1 GB graphics card, and 6GB of RAM.

There will be several aircraft available for purchase, and more will be available by unlocking them. The game will debut later this Spring, and be free to play.

Without more aircraft, it is hard to fully judge Flight. What there is, is a solid flight experience that left me wanting to try out more planes and challenges before I make a decision on it.