Getting into Flight Simulator means participating in a somewhat special experience for those who have never tasted flight simulators. An experience made up of memorable overflights views each more dazzling landscapes of a variety rarely equaled. An experience where you have to develop your flight plan in turn, follow the checklist to the letter, talk to air traffic control and spend long minutes taxiing to reach runway 13R… An exceptional experience, I promise! Seven years after the controversial release of Microsoft Flight and thirteen years after that of the last real episode of the franchise - Flight Simulator X - Microsoft took everyone by surprise at E3 2019 by formalizing a brand new version soberly called Flight Simulator. No longer having an internal team capable of leading such a project, the publisher toured its partners before choosing the French company from Asobo Studios. Based in Bordeaux in France, they hired the majority of the company's developers on the site by the way. After a few weeks with the alpha version of the game in April / May, then with the beta which allowed some guests to have a preview of the game, and the good news is I was able to put our hands on the final version for a full test.
Let's Go higher…
Almost forty years on the clock, the Flight Simulator series is one of the oldest in PC video games. It's also one of the best-known and, paradoxically, it hasn't been played by that many people. The reason is ultimately quite simple: a pure and hard simulator, Microsoft's game has never sought to win the favor of neophytes or casual air simulation enthusiasts. A characteristic that is not quite true today. Since the first presentations of the game, Microsoft has effectively decided to highlight its magnificent landscapes and its great accessibility. The publisher sells the dream in order to reach a wider audience. The installation of more than 100 GB carried out and the first load still a little long - although much less than in the beta - and we find ourselves on the detection page of the controls to discover the first factor of accessibility of the game. , on this screen and depending on the peripherals already connected, Microsoft and Asobo Studios offer us the choice of what we want to control from the keyboard / mouse pair to the most complex yoke/throttle/rudder systems via more conventional joysticks or the famous Xbox controller. We will have a chance to come back to this, but it is indeed entirely possible to play with the controller.
Then, on the home page, we discover the second asset of Asobo Studios to convince even the less experimented players that Flight Simulator is open to them. The developers came up with what they called the flight school. These are eight missions that are carried out independently of each other and offer an introduction to some of the most critical points of simulation. Thus, during the first flying lesson, an instructor takes us to the sky of Sedona in Arizona where the weather will never be an aggravating factor. You learn to manipulate the main flight controls and, above all, to show precision as well as patience. The next three lessons will go into deepening things so that we begin to understand our Cessna 152 well enough to handle trim, attempt takeoffs, and landings. The last four lessons cover slightly more advanced functions in order to better understand how aerodromes and the navigation system work. At the end, in the eighth lesson, the instructor gives us little elbow room to complete our first trip from point A to point B… solo. A first step that we greatly appreciate thanks to the remarkable pedagogy that is deployed there. Alas, it tastes like too little.
The cruising altitude, it wears me out
Note that regulars or those who prefer to learn "on the job" have no obligation to start with flight school. On the game's home page, all options are directly accessible from the first launch. Next to this training, we are therefore entitled to a section focused on the novelties of the Flight Simulator universe, a section devoted to various more or less technical challenges and to the world map, the nerve center of the game. on the latter, we must evoke the only slightly scripted thing of Flight Simulator, the challenges. Asobo Studios has named this aspect the "parts" and there are two main types of challenges. The first concerns landing challenges are divided into three categories. "Famous" invites you to discover famous airports like JFK in New York. "Epic" features airports recognized for the dangerousness of the situation. Thus, in Saba in the Netherlands Antilles, it is necessary to do this with a track barely 400 meters long as for Courchevel, it will not be possible to go around because of the surrounding mountains. Finally, "Violent Wind" hardly needs any explanation: we will have to fight against strong gusts which obviously do not make things easier. Planes and airports are imposed in these exercises which encourage you to be as precise as possible to collect as many points as possible.
The second major category of challenges is called "Bush Plane Travel" and gives an idea of what additions developers are likely to make in the future. So far, there are only three possible trips. The player is placed at the controls of light aircraft such as the Zlin Aviation Savage Cub, the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, or the CubCrafters XCub. Three aircraft whose speed is not the main asset. In fact, the routes offered are between 8 and 10 hours to reach the island of Santorini from Rijeka for example. Perfectly marked with a large number of stopovers, these flights are an excellent opportunity to enjoy remarkable panoramas. Finally, it remains for us to mention the “Map of the world” section. As I said earlier, this is actually the heart of the game. In fact, it is from this globe that the player truly decides his next adventures. Challenges have an ersatz storyline, but they're only very short missions that you don't do twelve times. On the other hand, the “World Map” considerably widens the field of possibilities. There is no longer a mission or an objective as such. Nothing other than the freedom to pick a starting point anywhere on the planet, an endpoint and complete the route onboard the plane of your choice.
The art of learning to tie your laces
Since we are talking about your aircraft of choice, it is good to make a little comment on the three editions planned by Microsoft. Flight Simulator does exist in “standard”, “deluxe” and “premium deluxe”. A nice vocabulary to make the poor understand that they will not have quite the same game as the richest one. No, dubious joke aside, the difference between the three versions is in the price (80, 100, and 140USD) and content. Microsoft has explained that the standard version will be satisfied with 20 planes and 30 airports when the deluxe will increase to 25/35 and the premium deluxe to 30 planes and 40 airports. Be careful though, this wording is not very happy and rather risks causing undue damage to Flight Simulator. In fact, the number of planes is very real and you will have a choice between 20 and 30 aircraft depending on your expense. On the other hand, there's obviously no question of dragging 30 poor airports around the world with the standard version. These 30, 35, and 40 airports benefit from special treatment. By this, I mean that they are reproduced by hand with an exemplary level of detail. However, regardless of your version, you will always have access to the vast majority of airports around the world ... more than 37,000 sites from which you can take off / land.
A clever transition that allows us to engage in the representation of the world and the level of detail that we can expect. First, I must specify that to represent the planet, Asobo Studios has been able to count on many partnerships and multiple assistance to offer us the exceptional quality that you can discover in captures and videos. For the most part, the studio used satellite maps from Microsoft's Bing. Apart from forbidden areas such as "secret defense", the entire world is also represented from two-dimensional data on which algorithms have worked in order to provide three-dimensional rendering. In some cases, however, Asobo Studios has been able to use photogrammetry which, via planes loaded with sensors and cameras, can store countless data. These are then used in order to reproduce as faithfully as possible the sites concerned ... most often cities. This is how more than 400 cities around the world are recreated in the game with an incredible level of detail for a simulation of this ilk. It's simple, absolutely never a video game - if it is still possible to speak of a game in the case of Flight Simulator - has been able to offer something so complete, so varied.
Propeller in Wonderland
If 400 cities benefit from this photogrammetric treatment, that means that all the others have to do without, and there, things are still quite uneven depending on the city, and the country. Departing from Rennes (photogrammetry), we immediately identify Roazhon Park and we take great pleasure in recognizing Mabilay at the Tour de l'Eperon. On the other hand, arrived in Nantes (satellite photo), we do not find either the Tour Bretagne or the Château des Ducs. The rendering is therefore still quite uneven and next to the exceptional of all these cities in photogrammetry, it is necessary to do with less precise, more generic things ... as soon as we make a low-cut at the controls of airplane tourism. Note that from the moment you take a minimum altitude, even these less rich, less precise areas are a feast for the eyes. However, we need to make a very small, tiny caveat about the frequency of updates. So, on a trip around San Francisco, I flew over a nice stadium, Candlestick Park. It benefits from a remarkable level of detail. It is a wonder. The problem, it has been destroyed for five years. Shaved. There is nothing left. The question that arises is therefore that of monitoring, updating the maps, but Microsoft and Asobo Studios do not see the release of the game as an end in itself, there should not be too many concerns.
Countless updates are already planned to take into account significant changes, but also to improve all these imperfect areas that we do not fail to point the finger when we know a little over the corner. Updates should also add changes related to the seasons, improve the management of vegetation. But let's come back to the current version of the game which takes advantage of other partnerships to, for example, offer weather that can enhance the graphics. Basic, and provided you are connected to the Internet when launching the game, Flight Simulator opts for real-time weather management. To make everything simple, Flight Simulator can gain access to Meteoblue, the weather information service at the University of Basel in Switzerland, with which Microsoft and Asobo Studios have partnered. The objective is of course that throughout your journey, the weather changes depending on what is actually happening on our planet: cloud formations, wind, rain, snowfall ... It is also possible to overcome this real-time management and define precisely what type of whether you want to "face". Even Better, at any time during the game, it is possible to access the weather menu in order to play with the elements.
A little closer to the stars ...
Aesthetically, the realism and immersion provided by the weather are at least as important as the pure rendering of environments on the ground. Crossing a cloud layer, watching the sun's rays pierce through a few cumulonimbus clouds, or seeing drops falling on the cockpit are the occasion of perpetual wonder. The more observant will also be very impressed by the shadows cast on the ground by the cloud cover and the differences in luminosity that this generates. It is simply stunning to be honest. Be careful, however, not to play the sorcerer's apprentice too much, especially with the wind ruler: it is very easy to trigger a real storm :) Here, we must point out that your humble servant has no pilot experience. I have certainly had many opportunities to fly, and in many, many devices of very different sizes and weights, but my feelings once in the air obviously cannot be that of an expert. Of the 20 to 30 planes offered by Asobo Studios, we can however underline the radically different behavior of the device depending on whether one opts for a Mudry Cap 10 dedicated to aerobatics and an Airbus A320 type airliner. Remember, moreover, that if Flight Simulator explains very well how to pilot a light machine, it is, so to speak, silent on larger aircraft.
Whether it's the Airbus A320 Neo or the Boeing 747-8I Intercontinental / 787-10 Dreamliner, it will take "your hands in the grease" to understand how they work. No manual, no instructions are integrated into the game and it is necessary to turn to tutorials available on the Net to progress. However, you can also learn on your own by going slowly with the deactivation of the assistance. From the outset, the game tends to take you by the hand by taking over the vast majority of the tricky stages from interacting with the control tower to taxiing between our parking space and the runway. By the way, it may be that several "simers" also use some of this assistance in order to do a few sessions of pure tourism - just to admire the view - and to simplify certain stages, especially during the long phases of taxiing on an airport. completely unknown: it is then possible to activate the lanes to be taken, as with a GPS. When setting up your trip, Flight Simulator of course allows you to choose between VFR (for visual flight rules or visual flight) and IFR (for instrument flight rules or instrument flight). It is possible to opt-in for a flight plan generated automatically by the game, to create your own or even import it via external tools.
Be at the end of the roll
We are addressing here a point that is a little beyond us, we should not be afraid to admit it, but Flight Simulator already seems ready to migrate all the “simers” which have remained on Flight Simulator X or which have been attempted by competitors. , X-Plane 11 in particular. However, it appears that larger aircraft do not enjoy the same level of realism as lighter aircraft. So, the airliners mentioned above do not have full instrumentation. Ah yes, neophytes may not know it, but on a title like Flight Simulator, the cockpits are fully functional… well, no precisely not fully. On a small Cessna 152, all switches, handles, and buttons that can be seen internally in the cockpit are clickable. This is no longer the case on large aircraft, and some "minor" subsystems or displays may not be functional. For our small level, this is more than enough, even on the 787-10 Dreamliner, but some will be a little disappointed. There is, however, nothing to worry in so far as it is not really new: JustFlight or PMDG to offer more complete models. It should be noted that a store is integrated into the game and that it will quickly fill up with free and paid content.
But back to our remarks on realism. You should know that Microsoft and Asobo Studios having decided to reach as many players as possible, a flight is likely to begin at the end of the runway when we are ready to go on the gas. It is, however, possible to start at the boarding gate for a cold and dark departure with ignition - and verification - of the systems. This is obviously the funniest method for all the "simers", but it's good to have a choice. Once in flight, we of course observe the dynamic weather forecast mentioned above… and its effects on our aircraft. So, a strong wind will gently “tease” an A320 Neo when it shakes a Robin DR-400 badly. As you go up to altitude, it is startling to see the formation of crystal ices on the cockpit windows, but also and much more serious to see that the Pitot probes can freeze up. These kinds of events are linked to the level of assistance and realism the player has opted for. During the flight, we can thus "take advantage" of more or less serious damage, but be aware that at no time will we be able to see real crashes. Whether intentional or not, immediately before impact occurs, the game literally locks you in so that nothing dramatic is actually presented onscreen.
Commander my cargo hold
Finally, note that the management of flight models is linked to the establishment of innumerable checkpoints on all planes. For Asobo, it is a question of calculating in real time the slightest impact of the pilot's decisions ... but not only. Indeed, whether management is not limited, for example, to present a nice drizzle at the gates of "Breton airspace". In Flight Simulator, it is the air masses that are simulated and their behavior with respect to the terrain. In some cases, our aircraft can literally be carried by upward winds. As I have said, I will not pretend to criticize the behavior of any particular aircraft, but the authenticity of the flight models does not appear to be in doubt. A little anecdote that says a lot about the investment of the members of the studio: several people at Asobo Studios obtained their private pilot license on the sidelines of development. It should be noted in passing that the simulation goes further thanks to an external tool such as VATSIM, a virtual air traffic simulation network. The idea is simple: rather than interacting with a control tower managed by artificial intelligence, it is a real human who dons the costume of air traffic controller to give you your authorizations.
Accessibility is required, that's how Microsoft and Asobo Studios have arranged that even an Xbox One controller allows you to practice in very honorable conditions. You have to play assistance or accept having a keyboard nearby for many controls, but it works. Of course, many more advanced controllers from the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick are being recognized and in many cases, profiles are even already available. Control accuracy is flawless on all devices, and the configuration interface has already made significant progress since the beta. Since we are talking about progress since the beta and it is necessary to finish this post well, while there is still so much to say, we would like to draw your attention to the obvious optimization that the game has benefited from. no question of making 60 fps, but with a GeForce RTX 2070, we are able to play smoothly (30-40 fps) in 4K details on high. On smaller machines, you'll have to turn it down to 1440p or even 1080p, but don't worry, the game is still impressive. I also had some concerns about loading times, but again the progress is remarkable with a division by three or four. On the other hand and we hope this is fixed soon, but we still have to do with crashes when we load a third or fourth flight.
So if you need more information regarding Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, make sure you visit the official website for more details.