Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox) Review: Clear skies ahead

Flight Simulator Xbox

Microsoft Flight Simulator on Xbox was being requested by fans before the PC version had even launched last year. To launch on a modern console is a first for Microsoft’s legendary series of flight sims. This is a franchise that predates both Microsoft Office and the Windows operating system and yet has never been available on a home console.

Why Xbox, and why now

The reasons for this should be obvious. Flight simulators are incredibly technical programs about manipulating incredibly technical hardware at a level of detail beyond the scope of regular video games. This complexity is why they’ve always found their home on the PC. Purpose-built flight sim hardware could be plugged in for added realism, and the keyboard and mouse offered enough coverage for mapping all the gauges, switches, and dials. To get that running on a controller would be a huge ask.

That was, at least, until Flight Simulator X figured out how to do it. From there, a jump to the Xbox was inevitable.

Flying without HOTAS

For the die-hard, rusted on simmer, using a controller in any flight sim will be a suboptimal experience. I don’t think that’s the audience that Xbox is courting with this release, however. Flight Simulator Xbox Edition is a hard sim, don’t get it twisted. But I think this version is most definitely aimed at the casual player rather than the dedicated simmer. You absolutely can plug your flight sim hardware into the Xbox and use those if you so desire, which is great. However, the vast majority of players will be jumping in with a pad and I feel like that’s maybe the input method to focus on here.

For most, Flight Simulator Xbox Edition is going to be about turning the game’s simulation settings down to Casual and simply experiencing the joy of flight. Viewing certain places in the world from above for a bit of fun. Players will fly home — wherever that may be — and see their hometowns from the sky. They’re going to visit faraway places they’d love to visit when the pandemic finally recedes. They’re going to let the computer handle most of the simulations, or even let the AI fly the plane while they look out the windows. They’ll never once answer a radio communique from ATC or bother to adjust their flaps after takeoff. And that’s fine. That’s lovely and wholesome and exactly what the world still needs a bit of right now.

Next-generation aviation

Flight Simulator Xbox Edition is every bit the visual and technical achievement the PC version was last year. A nearly seamless combination of cloud computing and systems integration, the effect is a stunning real-world, real-time simulation of the real world at scale. Fly anywhere, see it all. And now, because the game has been adapted to run on Xbox Series X hardware, you can have all that fidelity in 4K resolution with HDR colour. Its every bit as visually striking on the Series X as it was on the PC a year ago.

I’m told by friends who’ve played the Xbox Insider build that it puts a lot of pressure on the Xbox Series S hardware. I’ve not been able to put that theory to the test as I don’t have Series S hardware on hand, but based on its spec I’d certainly believe it. Flight Simulator requires a hefty rig on the PC. I can see the poor little Series S buckling under its weight rather easily.

In the year since launch, there have also been a number of quality-of-life improvements made to Flight Simulator Xbox Edition. The first and most obvious update is to the tutorial section. This is now comprised of a long series of tutes with different objectives and scores. It’s a much clearer and more in-depth onboarding experience than the game had at launch. If you’ve never played a sim before, it’s an ideal, step-by-step way to get started.

Final thoughts

Microsoft Flight Simulator on Xbox Series X is a bit of a miracle. It feels like something that shouldn’t work on a console — on any level — but does, and well. Considering you can grab the standard version right now through Xbox Game Pass, there’s really no reason not to check it out if you have Series X hardware at your disposal. For those with an interest in aviation, or those stuck in lockdown and wishing they could go home, your gate is now ready for boarding.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Gorgeous visuals; Skillful translation of controls to the pad; As deep or simple as you want
Lowlights: Really makes the Series S sweat; Download takes up a TON of SSD space
Developer: Asobo Studio
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC
Website: Xbox.com
Available: 28/7/21

Review conducted on Xbox Series X with a pre-release build provided by the publisher. For more, you can check out our review of the PC version right here.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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