Space. It’s the final frontier, where Star Trek fans argue about whether there should be a ‘whoosh’ noise when the USS Enterprise zooms past during the titles, because sound waves don’t travel in space, so that’s totally unrealistic. Never mind alien planets fashioned from polystyrene rocks… or Captain Kirk’s girdle. IT Reviews boldly goes where great space sims have gone before… and checks out a few more earthly delights, in the shape of the greatest flight simulators around.
Elite was the original classic 3D space game, although its model of combat mixed with exploration, quests and trading is a somewhat ailing sub-genre these days. Darkstar One might be a few years old now, but it’s quite a close recreation of Elite (even down to the same pilot rankings). It’s moderately accessible – as easy to get into as any game of this style – and while somewhat unoriginal, it’s still an enjoyable retro blast.
Space.. on and offline
The X series of games is another one to look at, with the Superbox compilation of all five games representing decent value for money. Be warned, however, there are various flaws here (some of which have hopefully been patched), and this is quite testing stuff, not for the beginner.
For our galactic credits, the best space game these days is Eve Online – although that comment comes with a couple of serious caveats. Firstly, it’s a MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) with a monthly subscription, and secondly, it’s very complex and takes some acclimatisation. Make the effort, though, and you’ll be immersed in a living Elite-style universe, but one which is infinitely more complex in terms of player-formed corporations, diplomacy and conflicts.
Incidentally, should you fancy a bit of Star Trekking, there’s a massively multiplayer version. Star Trek Online allows you to engage in tactical fleet combat with phasers, photon torpedoes and Klingon warbirds galore. However, it’s a hybrid game with strong RPG and shooter sections (when you beam down to a planet and meet the not-so-friendly natives).
Moving onto flight simulations, it may be old, but Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X Deluxe is still an excellent sim. FSX boasts huge depth, but still caters admirably for the inexperienced via various tutorials, the bonus being that modern PCs can easily run it with full detail on at high resolutions (something contemporary computers struggled with). There are a ton of more recent add-ons for FSX, such as those from Just Flight (who do an F-Lite range for true flight novices).
For those who see themselves as more Maverick and Goose than airliner captain, Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 is a fast-paced combat jet extravaganza which is moderately difficult, and contains realistic aspects such as mid-air refuels.
Further up the scale, IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover is a staggeringly detailed WWII dogfighter, up to the point where you can adjust your plane’s fuel mixture. It’s a little buggy, however, and somewhat demanding on your PC’s graphics card.
For a much more casual flying experience, pop Pilotwings Resort into your Nintendo 3DS and enjoy some relaxed and fun challenges. This game makes great use of the handheld’s three-dimensional graphics, although it’s a little on the short side.
Those intending to fly the more realistic flight sims would do well to invest in a decent flight-stick with a throttle. Without this, attempting to land a Boeing 747 at Kathmandu International Airport is a bit like trying to ice skate in a pair of Doc Martens with wire coathangers attached to the soles.