Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is more of a technical masterpiece than just an aircraft simulator game. With its photogrammetry-based worlds and life-like aircraft models, there was no way you could have a finer flying experience on your high-end PC. Asobo Studios have, however, ported it to the Xbox Series X|S consoles and in the process, gave another reason to get the Xbox consoles and Game Pass. Also Read - Microsoft launches Surface Laptop Studio, the most powerful Surface yet
Why Game Pass? Because at Rs 3,199, the Standard Edition is spartan and it is the Premium Deluxe Edition that’s got all the bells and whistles, which itself costs Rs 6,399. The Game Pass’ price of Rs 699 makes it a lucrative deal (unless you want to own a digital copy). Don’t take this as us putting the overpriced tag; Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is a bargain if you explored the world on wings prior to the pandemic. Also Read - Microsoft Surface Go 3 launched: Not much has changed, but it is 60 percent faster
This is as good as a sim video game can get at the moment on an Xbox Series X. Beautiful vistas, stunning weather effects, realistic aircraft models, and the comfort of autopilot make Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 an escape portal for explorers and aviation enthusiasts. Also Read - Microsoft Surface Duo 2 launched, gets major upgrades over the original Duo
If you are coming from Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX), there’s no need to take a learner’s course. This is a successor to one of the easiest-to-learn flight simulator games in history. You take on as the captain of an aircraft of your choice, start the engines, and fly into virtual world. That’s it, that’s literally what the game is all about.
However, on an Xbox console, it takes a different role than just being another simulator game. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 wants you to explore its true-to-life replica of the world, something which Asobo Studios created using photogrammetry. Hence, every corner of the world you fly to will most possibly give you a near accurate impression of that actual location. And, coupled with beautiful weather effects as well as great lighting, every flight path is no less than a cinematic experience.
In order to make you marvel at the detailed airports and stunning locations, the Discover section throws you in mid-flight over tropical beaches, Mount Everest, Cote` D Azur in France, and more. With the 12TFLOPS of rendering power on a Xbox Series X, these locations fill up your TV in 4K sharpness, vivid contrasts, and insanely detailed aircraft looking their best with jaw-dropping reflections and weather effects. Just try flying a Mumbai-Goa flight in the monsoons, you will picture it better.
Keeping your aviation skills fine is a necessity to make the best out of it, and thankfully, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 lets you suit yourself. For newcomers, there is a tutorial page explaining the basics of aviation and making you comfortable with a classic Cessna 152. Those with previous sim flying experience may find the same level of challenges as FSX from the last decade, where it needs your skills to keep the aircraft pointing in the right direction.
On the Xbox Series X and Series S, you have your trusty old Xbox controller for dealing with your in-flight inputs. A controller isn’t the ideal way to fly a commercial jet aircraft but with all the assists switched on, you can rely on the precise input and the great haptics to taxi your 747 out of a tight airport and take it to the skies. Ideally, investing in dedicated flight simulator gear is a good way to get those movements closer to accuracy, which is non-existent in the console world.
On an Xbox controller, the Cessna 152 is highly sensitive to minor inputs and even in the easiest flight settings (where the system assists the complicated bits), you could be in for a jerky ride. Turboprops have more speed and stability but are equally sensitive to turbulence. There’s a lot of need to adjust trim levels and throttle inputs to stay airborne. Jets behave differently with regards to the sizes.
For example, a Cessna Citation CJ4 responds faster to inputs but loses its composure easily as soon as it hits winds. A Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental appears sloppy in comparison and is a task to move around congested airports (landing it requires dedicated flight gear and skills). Luckily, I found the Airbus A320 Neo the best of all worlds – its computer-assisted flight controls make it easy to navigate around tight glide slopes, and the short runway requirements give you an upper hand if you run out of fuel mid-flight (I learned it the hard way after ditching the 747 in a river).
That said, you can let your AI co-pilot take over anytime – whether you seek a break from the controls to enjoy the views outside, take photos of your plane, or facing difficulties while landing in tricky conditions. For beginners, it is a blessing since you have a safety net always flying alongside you. The AI pilot can even do all the complicated ATC communications and select the fastest route out of a busy airport.
The toolbar comes up with useful bits to tune the gameplay experience to your advantage. Apart form the usual camera settings, VFR map and AI co-pilot settings, the game also lets you skip to checkpoints along the way if you are in a hurry. Hence, you can take off from London Heathrow and once the ascent stage is done, you can skip the cruise and move over to the descent stage over Japan, or just before the approach. Do note that this takes away the scenes and fun of flying.
And then there’s the airport stuff. In the Free Flight mode, you can opt for the real-world aviation traffic experience by letting in real-time air traffic and live players. Suckers for realism will appreciate the endless holding patterns on the ground and waiting for previous traffic flight to clear (I now have so much respect for pilots during delays on the ground). You can even engineer failures into your flight at specific points, if you are in the mood to boast of Nat Geo-style recovery stories.
In a game that’s built for exploration, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 offers multiple ways to make it more engaging. The multiplayer modes with both real-time traffic and live players make the already diverse world more alive. Sadly, other moving aircraft in the game have low-poly textures and fake liveries, which is an eyesore since they have authentic call signs.
In fact, I was left wanting more with the aircraft situation. The Standard version only features 20 detailed aircraft and even in the Premium deluxe version, the choice is limited. Being a fan of sleek jets, I was disappointed to not see the classic Boeing 737, Boeing 777, Airbus A380, McDonnell Douglas DC 10, Airbus A350, and some vintage ones. Back on Flight Simulator X, these planes were present and you could add new ones. I was unable to find these in the store section as well.
The same goes for those quirky missions that FSX offered in galore. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 lets you experience challenges with some landing and bush flight missions, but none of them have the excitement of its predecessor. Where’s the superficial rendering of Area 51 and its alien secrets, or the challenge of losing both engines on a 737 above the Indian Ocean?
The game tries to make up for it with real-time weather tracking and letting you choose the parking bay/gate you seek for departure. You can also interact with crucial flight controls within the cockpit, although majority of the buttons and knobs are inoperative. You can also play a “weather and time” God by choosing your own settings for your leisure flights.
There’s aircraft damage but you don’t get to see any visual effects. Bumping an overspeeding 737 on the runway will damage the landing gear but all you see is a black screen and a notification.
The in-game store lets you shop both free and paid additions. Free items mostly include bi-planes and detailed airport packs of specific locations, whereas the paid ones are usually reserved for the most popular locations and some custom-designed missions/tutorials. Whether you want to pay or looking for freebies, there’s enough stuff to add.
Sadly, there’s no dedicated photo mode to get your frame right while you are flying out of Rio against the sunset. Turning off the UI and pausing the gameplay is the only way to get some bragworthy screenshots (the Share key on the Xbox controller helps).
Unless you have got a PC decked up with an Intel Core i9 processor and an NVIDIA RTX 3090 card, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 usually struggles with high-end consistent performance. I was worried about the Xbox Series X managing the whole game consistently in 4K output but the optimizations are decent.
In 4K on a large 55-inch television, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 looks sharp with no rending issues or pixellation. The graphics quality is comparable to the high settings on PC all the time. However, the performance is far from consistent and frame rates fluctuate rapidly. On a clear sunny sky, the game delivers its promised 30 fps frame rate but as soon as you encounter weather, the figures drop.
In fact, flying out of spectacular-looking Japan on a moonlit cloudy night dropped frame rates to under 15.
The current build also suffers from bugs that often disrupt the gameplay experience. Some of the landing challenges don’t register your touchdown even if you did everything right. Flying out of some densely populated airports (Los Angeles, for example) often led to crashes. The AI co-pilot often hijacks controls just before landing: all of the throttle and rudder controls have vanished multiple times, leading to a restart of the same.
I also have some nitpicking with the UI design. The game was clearly designed with PC users in mind, and carrying over the weirdly slow cursor to the consoles seems like a bad idea. In the event of an emergency manual override of the systems, I was often left moving the cursor across the screen while turbulence preys on my A320. This game is in the dire need of a quicker controller-friendly cursor system.
The biggest disappointment, however, is the game not making use of Xbox Series X|S extras. At this moment, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 does not support Quick Resume and the console’s 4K at 60 fps mode. The loading time is slow as the game checks for updates to the installed content before it lets you in the menu. Since older titles like Forza Horizon 4 and F1 2019 make use of these features, I hope Asobo Studios updates the game in the future to make the most out of this hardware.
The sadness doesn’t end as, despite all optimizations, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 takes up a lot of precious storage. After a 102GB download, I had to download the 27GB day one patch and several airport packs each worth 7-8GB on average. And I am not counting the extra storage if you choose to download a specific region of the map! Series X owners might be fine but running out of storage could be an issue for Series S owners.
Thankfully, even on a relatively modest 100Mbps broadband connection, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 was eager to load terrains and I never ran into missing textures and similar issues.
Despite a substantial chunk of issues plaguing the early builds, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 does not let go of its core mission: to let you fly and explore.
I have unknowingly spent many a weekday nights and entire weekends flying out of a hundred scenic airstrips on a sleek jetliner, just to relive my love for flying on the real ones. This virtual near-replica of our world is clearly the best thing I have witnessed on my Xbox, and those highly detailed airplanes with genuine respect for physics only make it sweet.
If you were looking for a reason to buy one of these new Xbox consoles, Microsoft might have given you a highly compelling one. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is one of the best things that has happened to the Xbox universe and you need to try it. It’s more accessible with the Game Pass Ultimate subscription but if you have immense respect for aviation, the starting price of Rs 3,199 for the Standard version shouldn’t veer you off the runway. It’s a must-have for true aviation lovers.