Flight Simulator 2020 is the most fun I’ve ever had in the sky

"Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby."

As with most people, watching movies and TV shows about pilots has always made me wish I could learn to fly. So, when Microsoft propositioned MobileSyrup to test the new Flight Simulator, I jumped at the chance.

I’ve never played a flight sim before and my gaming preferences are all over the map, so if you’re like me and the ultra-realistic trailers for the new sim have started to persuade you to check this game out, I can say that you won’t be disappointed.

So far I’ve enjoyed my time in the sky immensely, and I can’t wait to share this experience with my friends once the full version of the game releases on August 18th.

While there’s a steep learning curve, it’s worth sticking with, as the intricate controls start to make sense. And eventually, when you make your first trip from one airport to another successfully, it all pays off.

Beyond how fun the game is, it’s impossible not to marvel at all the graphical details. From the way light refracts through the clouds to how the waves crash into the shore, it’s sometimes hard to believe you’re flying a virtual plane.

However, it wasn’t magic that made this happen but rather the hard work of a very dedicated studio from France named Asobo that made the Flight Simulator 2020 surpass the series’ legacy.

Building the Earth, sea and sky

The team put a ton of work into making sure that the Earth and the geography look as real as possible. Plus, there are a few cool features that may trickle down into other games in the future because they work so well here.

The first feature is something that I think many people won’t be super happy about, but to me, it seems like the most effective way to play the game. To explain it easily, many of the game world’s assets stream in around you as you’re flying with live weather and flight assets. This is an exciting feature and I can see more games with giant game worlds trying versions of this idea in the future.

“It wasn’t magic that made this happen but rather hard work from a very dedicated studio…”

The game engine also uses photorealism data from Bing Maps to ensure that many of the world’s larger cities are accurate and are represented in the game realistically. However, not every town has this 3D data from Bing Maps. Still, the developers have worked on an algorithm to make sure that even the cities that don’t have this 3D data can always be represented with moderate accuracy within the game. To my eyes, as I’m flying above, this implementation works well.

There’s even an algorithm to make sure that the lights in the buildings’ windows are lit so they look accurate at night time. These two algorithms together make flying over cities feel so real that it’s exhilarating.

Beyond the human-made objects, the team paid a lot of attention to the natural aspects of the world. Since the team is using ever-updating data from Bing Maps, it’s able to make sure that parts of the Earth such as water, coastlines and forests also look real.

The interesting thing about how the game is ‘alive’ is that it allows the devs to tweak it on the fly. During one of our earlier meetings, the team talked about how playtesters were complaining about the lushness of the grass. To remedy this, the team tweaked the grass algorithm to make it appear more appealing when players are landing in fields.

While all of this works together to make the game world look real, there’s also a lot that goes into the sim to make it feel real.

The weather is perhaps the best part of the sim. You can play with either real-time or preset weather if you want to fly in more relaxed or more challenging conditions.

That means if it was raining in Toronto and I decided to stay inside and play Flight Sim, it would also be raining in the game world.

Furthermore, Asobo made the clouds and lighting almost perfect with multiple cloud types that refract and diffuse light naturally. It’s hard to explain how good it looks, but once you fly in a heavily clouded area and dip and dodge a Cessna aircraft around some dense cloud cover, it seems perfect.

And that’s the main opinion I want people to walk away with about this game — it’s perfect.

The realism is done so well that everything fades away whenever you’re playing, and it feels like you’re flying. A few days before this story went live, I was flying around Toronto in the sunset with heavy clouds looking for my house, and it was perhaps one of the best video game memories I’ve ever had because it all felt so real, looked so beautiful and was a ton of fun.

From 1903 to now

In 1903 the Wright Brothers flew their first plane. Since then, flying contraptions have become significantly more advanced while also becoming safer and more comfortable to control. They’re still tricky to fly, and the unpredictability of the wind or a sharp dive can easily knock a plane into a crash or an open stall.

In the new Flight Sim, the game uses correct physics with more than  1,000 simulated surfaces on the planes to ensure that the accurate wind conditions affect the aircraft as realistically as possible.

This makes flying feel more real than when you’re flying planes in games like Grand Theft Auto or Battlefield.

To push things even further, the camera moves as if it’s an actual pilot’s head and the lighting in the cockpit moves and rolls as you change the plane’s trajectory to help players feel like they’re actually sitting in a cockpit.

I played the game with pedals and a yoke, also known as a control wheel, which also helped with the realism of the game, and I’d recommend that most people who feel like they’re going to get  Flight Sim to play it that way if they can afford all of the accessories. At very least, you should get a yoke because having your hands wrapped around the controller helps the game feel realistic.

A game worth flying

“Once you fly in a heavily clouded area and dip and dodge a Cessna around some dense cloud cover, it seems perfect.”

If you’re a member of Xbox Game Pass on PC, you should definitely grab the sim on August 18th. It’s jaw-dropping to look at, plus the realism of the planes, weather, controls and world work together to make it feel like you’re genuinely flying an aircraft.

Sure, simulation games might only be for enthusiasts, but I think that the level of detail and accuracy that Microsoft and Asobo have loaded into Flight Sim 2020 makes it easy for anyone to sit down and lose themselves in the sky for a few hours. As much as this is a simulation, it’s still a game, too, and a very good one at that.

If you’re someone like me that spends a lot of hours in moderately realistic racing games like Forza or Gran Turismo and you’ve always wanted to try your hand at flying a plane, then Flight Simulator 2020 is about to make your dreams come true.