Making an approach to Heathrow can be tricky, as the airspace over London is pretty busy, but rather that than try to approach it on land. These days, the traffic doesn’t so much snarl as bite your leg off, thanks to that most odious of tarmac creations, the M25.
Luckily, the tenth version of Flight Simulator has enhanced levels of visual detail, so as you zoom over and lower your landing gear you can glance down, see the miles of stationary traffic on the roads below and have a good old giggle at them.
Yes, the cars tootling – or indeed not tootling – along the roads are actually visible. This added detail extends to touches like luggage and fuel carts scurrying around the airport and boats cruising up rivers. Also, some of the bigger airports (such as Heathrow) are now modelled with greater accuracy, so Flight Simulator looks more realistic than ever.
The price of this is naturally performance, and those details must be turned down on a lesser PC. We reviewed the game on an Athlon 3000 with 1GB of ram and a Geforce 6800, which actually performed better than we expected, enabling us to get slightly higher than middling levels of detail with the frame rate stuttering only occasionally.
Along with the improved aesthetics, Flight Simulator X introduces the usual new planes and suchlike, but most importantly an injection of oomph has been mainlined into the mission department. There are over fifty very different missions to fly, from tutorials through to intermediate and advanced sorties.
One mission sends you out into the African bush in an Ultralite (essentially a hang-glider with an engine) searching for a missing elephant, while another challenges you to fly across a Canadian mountain range and land before a big snow storm hits. They’re generally well designed and interesting to fly, with unexpected events happening along the way requiring some quick-thinking decisions at times.
Of course, there’s also the standard free-flight mode, in which you can take off from any airport in the world, in any of the planes, although novice pilots are best off stepping into the learning centre first. The beginner can brush up on all sorts of details here, such as how to read cockpit instruments or make very tight banking manoeuvres, and interactive flight lessons are included. This backs up the tutorial missions and Flight Sim X makes a first-rate virtual flight school.
However, we do have a word of warning for those new to the Flight Simulator series; you’re given the option to fly using keyboard or mouse controls, but we found both methods quite lacking in accuracy. To experience the game to its fullest you need a joystick, and even better if it’s a decent one with a throttle control and other flight-related extras.
A multiplayer mode rounds off the program and the Deluxe version we reviewed has various extra options here – players can share cockpits and take the respective roles of pilot and co-pilot, and you can even test your skills in the Air Traffic Control tower.
Flight Simulator X Deluxe also contains other extras, including a few more highly detailed airports, more aircraft and missions, along with a mission design kit. It’s a tenner more than the standard version, true, but we think that’s ten pounds well invested.