It will be rather odd for many to have to say an official goodbye to the Microsoft Flight series, but as of the end of 2014 that's exactly the situation: Microsoft have now ended their long-running flight simulator series once and for all. It's not all bad news however, since the series has ended on a crescendo, a bang that comes in the form of Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. Having such an iconic series make the leap to what is one of the most successful gaming platforms of all time can only mean good things for the series, and this review is here to remind everyone of the many reasons why both Microsoft Flight and Steam are destined to be together.
Premise and Content
Flight Sim-heads will no doubt already be aware of the premise behind the most successful and long-running flight simulator series ever: it allows you to take to the skies through a staggering multitude of scenarios. Flight Simulator X's (aka Microsoft Flight's final foray into the flight sim world) gameplay involves an incredibly detailed recreation of the act of flying a vast array of aircraft from almost any location in the world that you can think of. Helicopters, jets, light aircraft, commercial airliners, and many more vehicle types await as does the near-certain overheating of at least one components in your PC - as everyone knows by now these games have the tendency to be taxing on the hardware.
Since the original Flight Simulator X back in 2006, a number of expansion packs have been released that have added content such as new planes, but it is safe to say that the Steam Edition has a hefty number (over 20 to be slightly more exact) of airborne vehicles to get stuck in to. Included aircraft range from the fairly standard Boeing 747-400 to the Bombadier CRJ700 through to less-than-standard vehicles in the form of the Maule M7 Orion and the Robinson R22 Beta II helicopter. If experienced flight sim fans were looking for disappointment in the game's content, then they may in turn be disappointed that they won't find any here.
As with all of the previous Flight Simulator titles from Microsoft, X does an incredible job of executing the flight-training aspect of the experience, teaching players (experienced or otherwise) in a progressive manner that isn't too overwhelming, walking the line between simplicity and pace of progress. Beginners can sink themselves into the detailed tutorials that cover a wide array of different scenarios and aircraft while the experienced player can choose to simply get stuck in to the game's missions.
The missions are where Flight Simulator X comes into its own. There are a number of different scenarios that go into tremendous detail, each placing you squarely in the middle of scenarios that range from simple take-off, flights, and landings through to emergency descents, search and rescue operations, and even the recreational fun of the Red Bull Air Race.
If you're not a fan of pre-prescribed missions and pre-planned scenarios then this game's true value will become apparent in its ability to allow you to design your own flight scenarios. You can control every single aspect of your own flights and aerial situations: starting location, weather patterns, flight paths, and a huge number of variables that will have true flight simulator fans drooling at the mouth.
Graphics and Multiplayer
If you're looking for a massive graphics overhaul in this Steam Edition of Flight Simulator X then you may be a little dejected: there are no graphics changes in the sense you may be looking for. What you will find is that there has been some texture improvements due to the use of Microsoft Visual Studio 2013, making the textures much better-looking and also less taxing on your hardware. Still, even pessimists will be at least slightly impressed at the look of the game when graphics options are cranked up high - it may make your graphics card struggle on low-to-mid range machines but boy does it look decent when it's cranked up high.
Multiplayer is really where the Steam Edition comes into its own, essentially integrating Steam's incredible multiplayer and social infrastructure into a game that's largely (though not entirely) unchanged from the original 2006 edition. Players can look forward to piloting planes in multiplayer of course - 24,000 airports across the world await in the multiplayer world - but you can also assume the role of air traffic control, be a co-pilot, or even get involved in the aforementioned Red Bull Air Races with friends or simply random players you meet online.
The beauty of the Steam integration doesn't end there either since further tweaking of the finer details are another result of the merger. See the runways? The original boxed edition of Flight Simulator X saw fairly empty-looking surroundings that didn't quite feel busy in any kind of realistic way; this Steam edition has airports looking like they do in real life with more people and more things happening/more vehicles present on the runway.
What Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition is is a fantastic transition of the original 2006 version to the current day. Its integration with the Steam network can only be a good thing as it allows you to experience a smoother online dimension that allows you to connect with friends and strangers in a multitude of different scenarios. You'll enjoy a staggering number of airports, aircraft, flight scenarios, and fully-customisable flight scenarios that you can create yourself.
What this game isn't is a drastic overhaul of the original Flight Simulator X, and this is in reference to both visual aspects as well as gameplay. This game is a fantastic tool for those looking to educate themselves in the realm of flying aircraft, but the graphics to look somewhat outdated even given the texture-based improvements. You can bring Flight Simulator X into 2014 of course, but you can't quite shake the hallmarks of the 2006 period. Functionally this is a great game, it's just not the best looking flight sim available.