LGR – Flight Simulator 2020 Review
[chill lo-fi beats to fly to] Fourteen years after the last main entry in the series, a new Microsoft Flight Simulator launched on August 18, 2020 And with it came a wave of hype from a wider audience than ever, largely stemming from its overwhelming scope and graphical fidelity Which is fascinating to me, as Flight Simulator typically doesn’t stray too far outside of the wheelhouse of aviation junkies, fans of simulation, and folks with computer rooms that look more like a spaceship than an office But Flight Simulator 2020, as it’s colloquially known, immediately scrambled the status quo in terms of who’s interested in experiencing it And with good reason, it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous, with the entirety of Planet Earth to explore at a level of detail never before seen in an unexpanded flight sim And the promise by developer Asobo Studio is that it’ll remain up-to-date for years to come, relying on Azure cloud servers to enhance the experience But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s just begin at the beginning which begins with a loading screen Better get used to those, simulating a planet takes time I guess And data, with an initial 91 gigabytes to install locally, with multiple gigs more on top of that reserved for cache files But after that initial installation, you’re greeted with the main menu, providing an assortment of simulation modes, activities, options, and online stuff We’ll come back to several of these things in a bit, but for now let’s dive right into the classic Flight Simulator experience Free flight mode, accessed through the world map Choose a place to begin flying, pick out a plane, and there ya go! Parking brake off, throttle forward, nose up, enjoy the ride This is the core of Flight Simulator: no goals, no objectives, nothing to unlock or level up It’s a simulation of flight, plain and simple If you’re into the idea of flying civilian aircraft, it doesn’t get much better than this [plane engine buzzes along] In terms of controlling FS2020, this is largely accomplished using a mouse, keyboard, and ideally some kind of analog controller This can be a flight yoke and rudder pedals, a hands-on-throttle setup, a standalone joystick, or even a console gamepad And really, it controls just fine with an Xbox controller and a keyboard, so if you don’t have anything else then no worries I do recommend lowering the sensitivity and applying a few control assists, but after that it’s good stuff This approachability is thanks to a number of simulation options and sliders that allow you to go about as casual, or as strict, as you desire in terms of believably realistic flight And the assistance section of the options menu is full of stuff that further alters the simulation to feel either more or less sim-like, depending on your preferences and what your setup consists of There’s even the option to relinquish control entirely, and use the omnipresent AI to sit back and relax This AI is in addition to the normal autopilot available on certain aircraft, and is a fully-autonomous system that handles pre-flight checklists, instrument adjustments, and radio communications And even parking, taxiing, take-off, piloting, and landing, it does that too So if your goal is to act as a passenger in a computer-controlled plane, Flight Simulator’s gotcha covered The AI pilot isn’t perfect of course, heh, it’s actually rather prone to screwing things up Like making navigation decisions that disregard all logic and rules of piloting, or even outright forgetting the first law of robotics and smashing your aircraft into a mountainside without warning But when it does work, AI control is a nice way to get the lay of the of the land without doing anything other than zipping the camera around to admire the surrounding world And what a world it is, wow Having the entire planet available to fly around is nothing new, but it’s never been filled with so many objects, and with such high terrain detail out of the gate To achieve this kind of visual fidelity in prior flight sims, you’d have to spend hundreds on third-party add-ons and scenery enhancement packs But FS2020? It does it all by default, which is an absolute dream come true Anyone remember that infamous FSX promo image from back in the day, with an artist’s rendition of what DirectX 10 might look like? Yeah, that never happened Until now! The graphical fantasies of late-2000s Microsoft have finally come to fruition in 2020 As you might expect, it requires a monster of a rig to max out at 4K with any kind of playable frame rate, so it’s still looking towards the future in that regard But even on lower resolutions and graphics settings, the world looks phenomenal, using
a mixture of Bing Maps, satellite imagery, topographical maps, and cloud-based artificial intelligence You know Google Earth’s built-in flight mode? Yeah, they kind of latched onto that idea here, swapped Google for Bing, and took it to an extreme So if it’s visible on Bing Maps, you can go there in Flight Simulator Does that mean you can find your house? Chances are, yes! Will it look exactly like your house? Chances are, no! It all depends on the quality of the data that it’s pulling from the cloud, and that varies wildly by location But even if most buildings don’t look quite right on close inspection, it’s probable that it’ll be represented in some way, as long as there’s decent satellite imagery for the AI to do its thing For example, over here in Asheville, North Carolina, the layout of downtown is accurately presented, but aesthetically it’s unrecognizable There is something representing every real life building, yet almost none of them are the correct height or have suitable textures However, where I grew up down in Winston-Salem is absolutely spot-on, with a fully 3D-scanned model of the city and its surrounding areas This is one of the last places I expected to be rendered with such high detail, but here it is! I can visit my old school, my parents workplaces, Hanes Mall, the street I lived on, it’s all immediately recognizable Even the view from my childhood bedroom window No joke, it’s all here and it’s utterly surreal Now, the closer you look the worse it gets, but seeing as this is meant to be viewed from thousands of feet up, it does the trick I mean, compared to what it looked like before in FSX? There’s no comparison, the whole area was a joke I even made my own custom buildings back in the day just to try and bring some semblance of reality to the place, something I was quite proud of at the time Now there’s no need, it looks great as-is [traffic sounds, piano fading out] But yeah, for the majority of the world cities won’t be this detailed, and instead use autogenerated content Buildings are spawned based on a mix of satellite imagery, public records and maps, and systems from Blackshark AI So as you fly around, it’s constantly constructing buildings as you approach them Typically you never actually see this happen, but if you enable slew mode and go fast enough to outrun the autogen, you can watch it generate cities and buildings from the 2D satellite imagery underneath Excellent stuff, I was surprised with how well it does in creating believable structures It also generates roads, highways, mountains, canyons, trees, grass, water, and the obligatory airports and airstrips Along with traffic consisting of cars, trucks, boats, ships, and other aircraft both on the ground and in the air And it’s all lit to convincing effect, with impressive light and shadows dynamically changing the look of the environment based on the time of day, which can be either real time based on your location or a time and date set by the user Different seasons don’t change the look of trees and grass unfortunately, but it does change the position of the sun, moon, and stars Solar eclipses? Yeah, totally possible You even get a flashlight at night to help see inside the cockpit, a nice touch indeed But as impressive as this dynamic virtual world can be though, there are some notable limitations What it generates is only as good as public map data, so errors are to be expected, especially with building heights This has led to some uh, rather amusing results here and there Like this monstrous thing, a monolithic 212-story skyscraper in the middle of an Australian suburb Yeah needless to say but this doesn’t exist It’s actually a two-story house that was mistakenly entered into a database as 212 stories You also frequently run into seams in the terrain where the satellite imagery changes, leading to some rather ugly chunks of Earth, especially outside of major metropolitan areas But whenever Flight Simulator’s relying on photogrammetry, well that’s a whole ‘nother story These areas are captured in 3D using aerial photography shot from low altitude planes or drones Currently, there are over 340 cities and their surrounding areas from around the world modeled in the sim, thanks to data from Bing Maps As a result, if you’ve got Windows 10 you can open the Maps app and see a full list of the available photogrammetric cities you’re able to fly around, since it pulls directly from here Unfortunately, many of the scans are rather old at this point, anywhere from 3 to 6 years from what I can tell Not quite old enough to bring Chicago’s Meigs Field back from the dead, but yeah If it’s come into existence since 2014, there’s a chance it’s not gonna be represented
Another drawback to 3D cities are things like water towers, bridges, cranes Really anything with support beams or girders look awful Oh and trees, it really doesn’t know how to handle trees, creating strange obelisk-looking objects instead Things fare much better in areas that have been handcrafted by the developers Not entire cities, but certain notable locations and landmarks are found in both autogen and 3D scanned areas These are all high quality models of real world buildings, monuments, and facilities So high quality that they sometimes stand out like a sore thumb compared to their surroundings, but still, it’s nice to have ‘em Fauna is included among the handcrafted items as well, with select areas around the world populated with 3D animated creatures They look great, but they do remain stationary and don’t wander off or migrate or anything like that And no, there are no bird strikes, don’t go trying to buzz through the flamingos Anyway yeah, all this detail isn’t just nice to look at, it serves a practical purpose too VFR is the goal here, or Visual Flight Rules Just being able to take off and fly from one point to another using the visuals of the world itself, traveling from waypoint to waypoint And if you aren’t sure where to start or how to get there, you can enter latitude and longitude coordinates on the map screen, which is great since the map itself is a blurry mess for some reason This is also where you create flight plans, with as many stops in-between as you wish by selecting airports, points of interest, navaids and so on Granted, anytime you choose a new location it’s probably gonna download a bunch of assets for that region It is playable without connecting to the internet, the flight simulation itself runs offline But without connecting the world detail is just not gonna be great, so it’s a good idea to check your cache settings The rolling cache in particular is nice to increase if you can, upping the amount of stuff that it downloads in addition to the original 90-plus gig installation There’s also a manual cache for pre-downloading areas that you already know you wanna visit, or frequently fly around in This has the welcome side effect of helping out with performance too, since downloading and generating things on the fly often results in stuttering, even on the fastest systems I’ve tested It’s not at all practical to download everything though, as there’s something like two petabytes of data in the cloud for Flight Simulator to access Including 37,000 airports, which uh, that’s gotta be pretty much all of ‘em right? Everything from gargantuan international hubs to tiny little grass landing strips and dirt roads There’s even tons of helipads in the sim despite the lack of helicopters, for the moment anyway And while most airports use autogen scenery, a good chunk of the runways and other ground paths were all entered in by hand for accuracy Props to the small army of contract workers for doing this, what an insane amount of work It gets even better with the handcrafted airports, of which there are 30 in the base edition with ten more available in the higher-tiered releases Each of these are just, augh, I love it so much It’s the same appeal of having a highly-detailed, working model train set Everything’s moving around as it should, each building and path is carefully laid out You’ve even got ground crews and other airport personnel going around doing their thing, it’s awesome! You can even interact with the ground crew if you’re in a supported parking space, requesting pushbacks and refueling and all that stuff And an Air Traffic Control system makes a return too, with some improvements and additions compared to FSX Like its usage of mixing pre-recorded lines and text-to-speech to provide audible communication, with ATC calling you out by name worldwide [ATC chatter] Ah man, how have I gone this long without talking about the planes themselves, let’s talk about the planes There are 20 aircraft available in the base package, with five more in each premium edition making for a total of 30 on launch It’s a decent spread, with airliners, passenger jets, lightweight prop craft, stunt planes, and bush planes As mentioned before there aren’t any choppers yet, or gliders for that matter But both are said to be coming in the future For what you do have though, you can customize things quite a bit, with the ability to change the fuel quantity and payload, along with custom call signs, flight and tail numbers Individual fail states can also be introduced to simulate different accidents and structural failures And you can apply liveries, though at the moment none are officially available, so you can design your own or grab fan-made designs online Each plane has its own pros and cons, providing distinct experiences that are quite fun to
explore, but personally I’m drawn to the bush planes over and over again The Zlin Shock Ultra in particular is a load of fun, probably my favorite plane in the sim It’s got just the right mix of speed and maneuverability for the type of airborne exploration I find myself doing most often, and it can land on dime, I love this thing I wish the sim came with more training missions for the more daunting aircraft though, cuz on launch all you get is a series for the Cessna 152 Great for figuring out that particular plane and learning basic piloting practices and terminology, but it’s no help for the more advanced planes, especially the jets There is at least a set of activities, bush trips, and rotating live events But beyond that, it’s all on you to figure things out and make your own fun in the aircraft of your choosing And for some of us, that involves pushing things to the limit and pulling a Harrison Ford [oddly silent plane crash] Under normal settings, crashing your plane does nothing more than fade to black and provide a vague message about what went wrong However, you can turn this off if you like There’s still no visual damage and running into things doesn’t look very believable but hey, the option is there And if nothing else it allows for some white knuckled gear-up belly landings, so that’s fun [plane skids to a halt] Another thing you might wanna do that isn’t enabled by default is switch planes mid-flight, or even change locations without going back to the main menu This has always been possible in previous Microsoft Flight Sims, but for some reason it’s not an option here unless you enable Developer Mode Turning this on brings back the drop-down menu bar and the ability to swap planes and locations, among other things that’ll be pertinent to anyone making custom content Dev Mode also allows a number of unlocked camera modes, but I’ve been impressed with the regular options too Internal view is the standard of course, and it’s clear that a ton of effort went into making these interiors look as remarkable as possible They really did an excellent job here, with materials all looking convincing and nearly every control surface able to be interacted with Depending on the aircraft a good number of ‘em may be inoperable, especially on the airliners, but from what I can tell nothing is left out that would actually affect something in the sim There’s a whole bunch of preset camera views as well, like looking out of windows, instrument panel close-ups, and sitting in the co-pilot’s seat You can even take a seat as a passenger in the cabin of certain planes, which is just Ahh man, it’s an oddly cathartic thing here in 2020, seeing as air travel ain’t exactly what it used to be right now Externally you’ve got plenty of options too, with both preset and customizable cameras all around the plane It’s a beautiful sight to behold on a nice big display, and the wider you can go, the better Or even on triple CRTs! Hey, ya work with whatcha got, right? By far the best camera option is the drone mode though, which provides complete freedom to enjoy your flight from any angle Or disconnect it from your plane and let yourself loose to explore the globe! Yeah, there’s no restrictions here in terms of where you can go or how far you can venture from your plane This acts as an unrestricted photo mode of sorts, eliminating all that pesky airplane business and letting you fly a drone anywhere you like Intoxicating stuff in my book, I’ve spent countless hours and many sleepless nights doing nothing but this, exploring the world from ground level all the way up into the upper atmosphere And even if you’ve got a full sim rig, I’d still keep a gamepad on-hand for the drone mode, it just works way better with a controller than anything else And if it’s not fast enough for you, slew mode makes a return as well Press “Y” on the keyboard and it’ll disable physics and let you move your plane wherever you want at full speed This is also how I figured out that the maximum allowed altitude is 275,000 feet Not quite to the Kármán Line but still impressively high up! Just uh, be careful when you turn physics back on [wind rushing] [plane warnings blaring] Speaking of atmospheric conditions, let’s talk weather! As is tradition, Flight Simulator is chock full of weather options to generate all the most common conditions Generate rain, snow, lightning, different temperatures, wind, pressure, cloud levels And augh, those clouds, goodness! These are by far the best virtual clouds I have ever seen, bar none Just look at those fluffy things, they’re almost unbelievably good-looking And storms? Yeah, storms have always been intense in Flight Simulator, but here it gets downright terrifying
in the most awesome way Icing is also a thing if current conditions allow it, and the overall simulation of wind, thermals, and turbulence is better than ever Everything from light gusts on up to hurricane-force insanity is possible, and the way it affects your plane noticeably changes depending on the landscape you’re flying over Wind also affects bodies of water in enjoyable ways, making for some serious aquatic nonsense to deal with when trying to land an amphibious plane for instance You can also enable real world weather at any time, which does an admirable job replicating what’s outside Or hey, maybe you see a crazy storm on the news? Load up the sim and there it is, ready to explore It may not look exactly like the real thing once you get there, but the overall conditions are replicated as best it can Yeah I just love experiencing different weather in simulators, it’s all kinds of comfy There really is nothing quite like the feeling I get huddled up underneath the wing of my plane while a thunderstorm passes over in the middle of nowhere Nebraska Mm, pure virtual comfort [low thunder, rain] And as much as I enjoy a nice long solo flight, FS2020 doesn’t have to stay a solitary experience Multiplayer is persistent, with everyone exploring a shared online world all the time if you have the option enabled Online pilots are visible both on the map and in the simulation, flying around doing their own thing while you do yours It does lead to some awkward circumstances at busy airports But other than that, chances are you’ll never accidentally run into another plane in the sky unless you’re actively trying to Or if you’re flying around as part of a group, you can form those with people on your friends list and roam around together that way There’s no shared cockpit option, every player flies their own plane Though a co-pilot mode is being looked into for the future So for now, multiplayer is mostly a fun way to spend a socially-distant afternoon with friends, flying around the world exploring virtual landscapes shootin’ the breeze Enabling real world air traffic is another way to fill the friendly skies with flying guys Using data from the FlightAware service, FS2020 can place actual flights in the sim in real time as they’re occuring Not every single real life flight will appear, it leaves out quite a few from particularly busy areas I’ve noticed, but it’s still neat to see And you can even take control of flights yourself! For example, I walked outside the other morning to drink a cup of coffee and check the mail, and saw a plane flying overhead So I went back inside, loaded up the world map, clicked on the flight and look at me I am the captain now Now it’s not gonna be the same exact type of aircraft, it’s just whatever plane you’ve chosen at the time But it still has the real flight plan and coordinates, which is pretty dang neat And that’s the gist of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020! It’s got its odd quirks and technical limitations, and there are still aspects of aviation that other sims do better right now But overall, FS2020 provides astounding visuals and moment-to-moment feelings of wonder I’ve never gotten from any other sim, making for a unique experience that I feel is worth the $60 asking price The Deluxe and Premium Deluxe bundles though, eh, that’s debatable They add a few new planes and more accurate airports, neither being must-have additions for most folks But the base package definitely gets my recommendation Which as of recording is also included with Xbox Game Pass for PC, making it a no-brainer in my opinion And I’m psyched for the future as well! In addition to things like helicopters, gliders, and shared cockpits, VR support is set to arrive in Fall 2020 It’s only supporting the HP Reverb G2 at first, but other headsets are coming later Frequent map updates are on the agenda as well, hopefully with more 3D-scanned cities alongside them And the release of the SDK means tons of third-party add-ons through the built-in marketplace are incoming, with a few already available for purchase And Asobo Studio plans to release plenty of free additional features, plus paid expansion content every two to three months, with a stated ten-year support plan We’ll see how that goes Personally I’m hoping for some more varied activities, or even a few “game-like” modes would be fun Transporting passengers and cargo, performing air rescues or putting out fires Maybe even bring back crop dusting from the MS-DOS era, I’d be down with that And of course, an Xbox port is on the way, and I really wonder how that’ll work without a keyboard and mouse since those are integral to the experience right now Anyway yeah, Flight Simulator
The future is promising and the present is already awesome, so I’m gonna get back to flying around random places now, and trying to land a bush plane on things that don’t make sense [engine sounds, chill outro beats] And if you enjoyed this video, then awesome, maybe check out my others! I’ve covered older flight sims before and upload new videos on a variety of computer-y topics each week right here on LGR And as always, thank you very much for watching!