REVIEW: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

PUBLISHED: 16:11 02 October 2020 | UPDATED: 16:15 02 October 2020

White Waltham

White Waltham

not claimed

Few will not have seen a YouTube video and will share the impression FS2020 must be the ‘game changer’ it is claimed to be, but does the experience match the hype? | Words: Ian Meredith

There is too much to the new sim to cover everything in a single ‘Books & Gear’ review, but these are my initial impressions.

Microsoft has clearly learned from the past and intends that FS2020 will appeal to both the gamer and the serious user. So, is it a simulator or is it a game?

Being designed to run on an Xbox, some of the interface to load and configure it works fine and is visually appealing, though perhaps designed with an Xbox games controller in mind, it could have been more compact if only intended for mouse/PCinteraction.

The interface in the game itself is OK, but does not mirror the short-cut keys of the old FSX sim and this can be frustrating. Mouse-based view control seems great but can be tricky on a slow PC, as there is nothing worse than finding oneself stuck looking at the floor just as the stall warning sounds.

Cessna panelCessna panel

By default, the cockpit echoes the small movements of the aircraft in turbulence and attitude changes, and does so far more than it did in FSX.

The experience is more like Xplane, making it at times excruciatingly difficult to keep the cursor over a button or knob on the instrument panel.

As yet I can find no 2-D instrument views. This is a problem as it means one cannot use a separate monitor to replicate a flat instrument panel in a multi-monitor setup.

The twenty aircraft included look stunning inside and out, and all the more so for the beautiful lighting effects.

Though the simulator comes with a good selection of aeroplanes, there are no helicopters. I do not know if the flight modelling already includes support for rotorcraft or not, but time will tell.

And while Boeing 747-400, 787 and Airbus A320neo are among the airliners there is no 737MAX (funny, that − Ed).

Most instruments are good at ‘Medium’ performance settings, although the numbers and lettering could have been sharper when not zoomed in close to them.

I am told the glass-cockpit Garmin G1000 displays are not fully functional but this is just in the bundled aircraft and third party developers may take these further. External views show a useful amount of information, although it would be better still if heading bugs and the flaps could be adjusted directly on these displays.

VFR mapVFR map

FSX had a full IFR chart which could be scrolled to show airfields, VORs and NDB navigation aids etc. The new ‘VFR’ chart offers none of that and is a hopeless as a functional tool.

Moving from a C152 to a C172, the latter seemed unstable and frankly unflyable. Changing the sensitivity curves of my joystick completely resolved the issue, but I was disappointed that authenticity of control sensitivity would seem to come down largely to my own subjective adjustments.

In flight, perhaps the most compelling aspect of FS2020 is the play of light and cloud, with clouds casting shadows on each other and on the ground below.

The effect is far superior to previous sims. Yet more than this, the sky is far from only a visual improvement. The simulator models the airflow over terrain, so mountain flying becomes a whole new experience.

The terrain uses aerial imagery matched to a detailed terrain mesh, at height this is superb−and it holds up well at low level.

However, to paraphrase a Bowie lyric, when it’s good it’s really good and when it’s bad it goes to pieces. Flying VFR in the UK, church spires are always useful regardless of whether one has any leaning towards religion. As far as I can tell FS2020 has no churches at all.

Many readers will be familiar with White Waltham, so when it comes to ‘as real as it gets’, the accompanying screen grab may come as a shock.

Sure, there are buildings where there should be buildings, but ones completely alien to the reality−and when did trees cover the airfield like some kind of golf course?

Cessna 172Cessna 172

It is disappointing the developer could find no way to recognise aircraft in the texture and remove them automatically, especially when they occupy the runway in front of you!

To get the best out of FS2020 would take an extremely expensive new PC. To get it to work at all on even a good one looked doubtful from the start, and that seems to have been borne out.

Staying away from areas of dense 3-D buildings or woodland helps a lot−or overfly them high enough that detail is reduced.

I was surprised to find how usable my tower PC was once the sim was loaded, but frame rates low over London left me wondering if Canaletto might be able to paint them faster. I really wonder if the minimum requirements are over-demanding for the market.

In conclusion, FS2020 may be the start of something amazing or the last huzzah of a much-loved simulator.

In some ways it has reminded me just how good FSX was−and that for the cost of the new PC required you can buy an awful lot of extensions to FSX.

Microsoft FS 2020 Xbox & PC flight simulator www.microsoft.com £59.99

Latest from the Pilot