After a fourteen-year hiatus, the timing could not be any better for Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) to drop. With everything going on in the world and mental fatigue at an all-time high for the sensory deprived, the first entry in the high-flying franchise in 14 years expertly utilizes raw technology for aviation buffs and yet still manages to embrace the tranquility and freedom that many people associate with being among the clouds. Get ready to escape reality with realism.
A superfluous introduction? Yes. However, this is a game you will be in complete awe of. It is also fair to say that developer Asobo Studios really outdid themselves, with a photorealistic representation of planet Earth and the ability to hop into an aircraft and explore your own city from above. For a flight sim, the experience is highly accurate, although the open world is not an exact 1:1 replica. To be fair, it is quite impressive when taken in, since a lot of the important details remain intact and beautifully rendered inside and out of the cockpit. The weather is even included from overcasts, clear sunny days, and even thunderstorms.
There’s almost nowhere you can’t fly. Go ahead and take an aerial tour of Qatar, enjoy the forested splendor of Northern Europe, reach the summit of Mt. Everest or see the skyline of Guangzhou in the evening. For those committed to earning their wings, you can maintain a pilot profile and rack up flight hour and achievement. You’re still pretty much free to complete the objective or blow it off and venture out on your own thing. The gameplay structure is refreshingly lax and encourages aerial adventures, though might prove a little underwhelming for virtual pilots expecting a definable path to finish. Honestly, this would probably dilute the overall appeal here.
True to its name, Flight Simulator 2020 feels quite realistic in terms of physics and control, with the proper input device. I only had an Xbox gamepad to fiddle around with and was much easier to grasp compared to using a keyboard and mouse arrangement, it is a competent alternative, but I doubt anything could ever replicate a dedicated flight stick for those able to afford it. Fortunately, little of that will matter to most people who play this game as a means of ASMR therapy, as they virtually breeze at 30,000ft—you know who you are.
Much of the world you see is implemented through Azure technology from Microsoft. By pulling satellite imagery and terrain data from the digital cloud, and photogrammetry utilization of map data straight from Bing. This is roughly 208GB of file installation and well over two petabytes (2000TB) of real-time info needed to make this world feel uncompromisingly alive and natural. This also means that online interaction is a requirement for MFS2020 to operate seamlessly, with the skies populated by other pilots who are doing their own things when playing in LIVE mode.
However, most of this functionality will depend on what settings are enabled and how well your hardware can perform. This is where the game suddenly becomes a benchmark tester, intentional or not. Even with the best PC components money can buy, MFS2020 often strains resources to the point of occasionally crashing and needing a hard restart. Playing with settings on ultra is hypothetically gorgeous, but not even a powerful GPU like the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti will be immune to infrequent drops in frame rate to graphics randomly popping in and out; even buckling under moderate-high presets. These anomalies hardly break the overall mood, but the developer have more work to do in terms of optimization and fixing minor QoL issues. If nothing else, this will definitely be a killer app for whatever next-gen consumer graphic cards arrive by the end of this year.
I find games like Microsoft Flight Simulator difficult to review, because there is only so much you can briefly explain when the goal is unwavering realism. This has been the mantra of the franchise and status earned among the aeronautic geeks who remember their computer lab days. Microsoft has brought this long dormant genre back into the modern era and delivered a precise depiction of flight worthy of acclaim and appreciation, and not just on a technical level. Current issues notwithstanding, this is a title that the PC master race are going to brag about for a while.