Prepare For Take-Off
"Welcome to EuroGamer Airways, Flight 0001. This is your pilot speaking. Today we will be taking off from the land of Microsoft and after a flight time of 16 hours, we will be landing on Planet Earth at 2:04 am local time.
"Flaps to one third ... Adjust heading two four niner"
Bah, I just want to do loop-de-loops, and I know you do too! Microsoft Flight Simulator was one of the first PC games, and has been updated and patched in various forms for nigh on 10 years now. The MS bean-counters will tell you that it is the most popular PC game ever. Well, sold the most copies anyway.
But that doesn't automatically make it any good. So we ran the latest incarnation, Flight Simulator 2000, through the mill to find out if we should all be flying Air Gates, or taking the bus instead.
Firstly, I should tell you that I am not your stereotypical propeller-head. I'm just your average gamer, so instead of getting excited over ailerons and yolks, I'm going to see if FS2K is any fun for Mr Joe Average...
Come Fly With Me...
It's Microsoft Flight Simulator, so everyone knows that you won't get to shoot anything. This is a different kind of "fun" - a bit like the Touring mode in Midtown Madness, you just fly around for the fun of it and look out the window.
OK, so it's not as boring as it sounds. You have nine different aircraft in your hangar, everything from a Sopwith Camel to the Boeing 777, and for the first time, Concorde. But first, you need some instruction.
To kick things off, you have to earn your Private Pilot Certificate. This involves flying a lowly Cessna 182S, and getting to grips with take-offs, landings, turns, ascent / descent, stalling (you will get lots of practice at this!) and navigation.
Once you have mastered the basics you then study for your Instrument Rating. Again, hop aboard your trusty Cessna 182S and learn all sorts of silly terminology like "Radial Scanning", "VOR Approach" and "ILS" - blimey, it's like being back at school!
Complete your training and you are ready to attempt the Commercial Pilot Certificate. Unfortunately you are still stuck in the Cessna, but you are now set some Real World challenges in far away places, such as Titusville, Florida, and Richmond, Virginia.
Gaining your Airline Transport Pilot Certificate is the cool part, mainly because they let you loose on a Boeing 737-400. If you can manage a better service record than Air Korea, then you are doing well.
Of course, if you just fancy some instant action, grab a plane from the hangar, select one of 21,022 airports around the world, and hurtle down the runway. If you get bored, try taking off and landing in each of the 16,345 cities in 214 countries.
Or you can try some of the pre-defined "adventures" - fly a Boeing 737 over Hong Kong (not nearly as trouser-filling as it is in real life), fly-by the Panama Canal, or LearJet your way over London's famous landmarks.
"We're gonna crash - where's that damn safety card no-one reads!?!"
Things are a bit of a mixed bag in the graphics department - everything is nice enough, but I hardly see it as groundbreaking. Sure, there are now hills, but they are few and far between, and certainly not even close to something like Flanker 2.0
Otherwise it is just the standard flat landscape. You can quite clearly see the join between textures in large expanses of water or land, although some of the larger cities, such as London, have a reasonable attempt at photorealistic suburbia. Most of the cities look the same though, and only characterised by one or two distinctive landmarks like the Sydney Opera House or the Statue of Liberty. Otherwise you would be hard pressed to spot the difference.
The aircraft models on the other hand are stupendously detailed - which proves my theory that you can show any game from an external camera perspective and, if the models are detailed enough, the game looks like it has really amazing graphics. Never mind that you never see your own plane model, unless you check out the occasional fly-by shot.
The cockpits, though lacking a Virtual Pilot mode, are also suitably photorealistic. And for once, I can say that from practical experience, as I had a brief stint in a Boeing 747-400 cockpit on my Christmas pilgrimage to Australia. Yes, there really are that many buttons and dials (and a whole lot more!)
For the Ultra-Authentic experience, FS2000 supports Real-World Weather via MSN Gaming Zone. Simply log-in and the system will find out what the actual weather conditions are for wherever you are planning to fly, and set the game up accordingly. Which in the case of London is dark and wet usually...
The problem is, I have NEVER seen a smooth frame rate from ANY version of Flight Sim EVER! So it is annoying that even in these modern times of 3D acceleration that Microsoft have chosen not to break with tradition. The minimum specs suggested by Microsoft are nothing short of a joke - P166 and 32Mb of ram. They "suggest" 64Mb and a 3D card (optional), but I am running a PII-450, 128Mb Ram and an Elsa Erazor X 32Mb GeForce 256 card and it still jerks. With anything more than an empty horizon frame rates vary from 25 / 30fps down to a pitiful 8fps.
It doesn't seem to matter whether I set the game's resolution to 640x480 or 1024x768 - the numbers are more or less the same. The bottleneck seems to be my "lack" of memory - even with my high-performance 7200rpm hard drive the game is constantly reading from it, and jerking the display every time it does so...
"Flight EG_001 calling tower"
The sound on the other hand is excellent all round - the jet-engined craft like the 737 sound particularly meaty when you whack the Throttle to FULL, and you hear the appropriate groans when adjusting the flaps or lowering the landing gear.
The prop-planes also sound suitably authentic, which suggests that someone actually took the time to sample the genuine article. Top marks for effort!
The Instructor in the training missions pops and crackles just like the real deal, which may be authentic, but sometimes makes it a little hard to understand what exactly he said. Was that a heading of 95 or 195?
I suspect that by now you will have already decided whether this is the game for you. Games such as MS Flight Sim tend to polarise opinions - you either love it, or hate it.
For the casual gamer I would find it hard to recommend FS2K - you can only dive-bomb the Vatican so many times before it gets boring. And the high system spec required to run this game makes it even less enjoyable.
For the hardcore propeller-head, I still think you might be better looking elsewhere. There are a number of civil aviation games out now, such as Flight Unlimited III, or if you want AMRAMs with your gyroscopic attitude indicators, I would suggest Flanker 2.0