When I received word that Flight Simulator X had finally arrived I was overjoyed. This long awaited update to the sim that has caused many late nights and outlays of cash for additional RAM, better video cards, add on packs, etc. was finally here! I rushed home to install it on my PC.
Before I go any further I want to spell out the specs for my PC: Pentium 3.0 GHz processor, 2GB RAM, and an ATI Raedeon X850 with 256MB RAM. “Why?” you ask? You’ll understand as you read below; however it does meet the recommended system specs spelled out in Microsoft’s reviewer’s guide.
Flight Simulator X comes on 2 DVDs and is huge! It took a solid 30 minutes to install and, once finished, I waited and waited for the menu to come up. Apparently Microsoft has programmed code to optimize Flight Simulator X’s settings to your PC (graphics, scenery, etc.). When the main screen comes up you’re greeted with a menu that will look very familiar to those who have Flight Simulator 9: A Century of Flight. As a bonus there’s also a sweeping music score straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.
I checked out the 24 planes that are included in the Deluxe Edition and settled on the Beechcraft Baron 58 as I wanted to take a simple flight around Los Angeles to examine Flight Simulator X’s graphics and dynamic scenery.
After taking a much longer time to load than FS9, I finally saw the cockpit. Flight Simulator X places you in virtual cockpit mode automatically but you can still choose the 2D instrument panel view. The controls looked good; however I encountered my first problem with Flight Simulator X: the framerate. I looked to the left and right and the frame rate was rough. Maybe it was something I did while loading the game? I checked my display options and sure enough my “optimal” settings are medium-low.
I activated the chase plane view by pressing the S key — just to see what the outside of the plane looked like and the surrounding area. Needless to say it also chugged pretty badly.
I started up my little plane and received clearance from ATC (Air Traffic Control) to taxi to the active runway. Oh, no! The frame rate crapped out again! I stopped the plane and changed to a lower graphics setting. The game reloaded and the frame rate was somewhat improved yet it was still dramatically lower than FS9.
Please note: FS9 runs on the highest settings on my PC with no frame rate issues. This includes several third party add-on packs that are installed to enhance weather, add very realistic cockpits and real world AI planes.
I examined the “new” graphics and I was very let down. They looked the same as FS9 – nothing improved. Of course I am running the game at the lowest settings possible. Perhaps setting the graphics on high will improve things? I cranked up the settings and waited for all the new graphics to load. I didn’t see any improvement over FS9, so I reverted back to the lower setting.
My plane heads west towards the Pacific Ocean and the Port of Long Beach. The new water effects in the game look good and more realistic as does the weather. The cloud features are more enhanced than those found in FS9.
As I make a turn to the north towards LAX the frame rate begins the chug once again. I look down at LAX and I did not see any real improvements over FS9. Once again this is likely due to the graphics setting being “medium low,” however it is the only way I can even fly the plane without Flight Simulator X turning into a slide show.
In all fairness I paused the game and cranked up the graphic settings to Ultra High to see if that could improve the graphics. Sad to say it did little and I couldn’t fly the plane with the horrible frame rate.
Like I did with my last girlfriend, I gave Flight Simulator X another chance. Maybe I could see the active jet bridges I so yearned for, and the service vehicles on the tarmac. My geekiness was on high as the game loaded my flight from LAX to SFO on my 737-800 with both the graphics settings and scenery set on ultra high.
Once it loaded, I cried. LAX looked worse than it does in FS9. The jet bridge does appear but it did not connect to my plane despite several attempts. In addition the ground service vehicles were crudely drawn and looked like paper cutouts with cheesy animation.
I turned my graphics and scenery settings back to low and tried to fly. The cockpit of the 737-800 looks good, however for those armchair pilots with add-on packs such as Wilco’s 737 Pilot in Command, or PMDG’s 737-800/900 you will feel under whelmed. There’s no FMC (still) and the overhead flight panel for the most part doesn’t have many active switches. Oh, well.
At this point I was so disappointed I stopped playing Flight Simulator X and popped in FS9. Like and old pair of shoes it just felt good to play without any of these technical issues.
There are other things to try in the game including multiplayer. Microsoft has expanded their offering with ability in Flight Simulator X Deluxe to be an Air Traffic Controller. I tried to test out this feature however the frame rate continued to be a problem, and my VOIP was not clear at all. This could be due to my cable modem giving me problems (thanks Time Warner) so I moved along to the missions.
Flight Simulator X offers more than 50 missions including cargo runs and rescue mission. There are 20 beginner missions (introduction to flight), 14 intermediate, 10 advanced and 7 expert missions. I took a spin on the stunt-flying mission. The mission challenges you to take off in a stunt flyer and fly through gates set up on a course. It sounded like fun, however my PC couldn’t handle it. Once again the frame rate did a nosedive after it loaded. Though I must say there’s a lot of unique challenges that will probably make the most seasoned armchair pilot sweat, provided you can get them running smoothly.
I know… I’m bitching and moaning. Thinking that it might be my PC, I tested the game on an additional system with a better video card and 3 GB of RAM. Sad to say it also chugged and the graphics remained sub-par. Good thing the press kit came with a motion sickness bag.
For those with a middle of the road PC setup (or less) I do not recommend purchasing Flight Simulator X. The graphics will disappoint you and the frame rate will lead to insanity. Instead you should consider picking up a copy of Flight Simulator 9: A Century of Flight. This title is presently being sold at a deep discount and will provide the immersive armchair flying experience you crave.
If you already have Flight Simulator 9 and would like to get even deeper into flying big jets or additional turboprops, you should consider purchasing add-on packs like Wilco’s 737 Pilot in Command and PMDG’s 737-800/900. These are reasonably priced, can be downloaded from the Internet, and do not degrade the flight experience.
Of course, for those of you with high end PCs the choice is yours. Perhaps when Windows Vista arrives next year with the software enhancements (e.g. new DirectX) Flight Simulator X might be worth picking up at that point. Until then make your flight plans go direct to Flight Simulator 9.