OK, we waited over half of 2020 for it, and then finally on August 18th Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) 2020 was unleashed to the general public, allowing us to finally experience those previous samples and teasers in full.
The new release – almost a decade and a half since Flight Simulator X in 2006 – has been developed by Asobo Studios exclusively for Microsoft. To say it was one of the most anticipated flight simulators of recent times would be an understatement.
As we will see as we move through our review, opinion appears to be pretty much divided on the overall performance of the new edition. And for a variety of reasons. That isn’t to say that Microsoft Flight Simulator's 2020 release has failed to deliver, far from it.
What is obvious, though, following the first two months of its release, is that everyone seemingly has an opinion on it. Including ourselves. So, with that said, let’s dive in and see what you get, what to expect, and whether Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 lives up to all the anticipation and the hype, or whether there is still work to do.
In this review, we may use references to "MSFS", "MSFS 2020" and "FS2020" - they all relate to this brand new simulator (Microsoft Flight Simulator) in 2020. Microsoft dropped all versioning titles in the new name in order to make it an "evergreen" product with future updates over many years using the same name.
All of the screenshots you see here captured from the sim are available to view in stunning 4K resolution - simply click on them.
As this review is quite lengthy, you may jump to specific points using the links below;
- Trailer Video
- The Graphics
- Photorealistic Worlds
- Constant Data Feeds
- The Whole (Entire) World is Available
- Airports, Runways, And Landing Strips
- Accurate Weather Systems
- Authentic ATC
- Inside The Cockpit
- The Aircraft
- The Flight
- Other Improvements
- Built-In Flight School & Missions
- Good Things To Know
- Virtual Reality And Xbox Availability
- Planned Updates
- Issues With Loading Time
- Is It A Game? Or Is It A Simulator?
- Community Feedback
- How it Compares to Previous Versions (FSX, etc)
- How it Compares to Other Simulators
- A Few Quick Thoughts
- Addons & Mods
- So, Should You Buy It?
- What do you think?
Before we dive into our full review below, we highly recommend watching the official trailer video (if you haven't done so already) to refresh yourself and give you some context whilst reading the full review below.
It perhaps goes without saying that in order to create a real sense of realism you need great graphics – super great graphics, in fact. And that, we are pleased to say, is very much what is on offer here.
These graphics, ultimately, create the realism that all virtual pilots – whether grizzled vets or newcomers – require to make the experience as authentic as possible. And there is no doubt, this realism is as important to Microsoft and the developers as it is to us, the virtual pilots using it.
Essentially, this brand-new release allows us to take to the virtual skies and explore (literally) every inch of the planet. And what’s more, although there are some issues with performance to examine later, the realism on offer here is truly stunning.
For example, there are many iconic buildings that almost anyone will recognize from the air, as well as unknown buildings (to most) and places that will be only recognizable to a particular pilot (such as something in their home town, for example). All have been intricately replicated. Whatever it is, you will be able to find it and view it in FS2020. And this alone creates a whole other level of realism that adds to the virtual flight experience.
According to one happy purchaser,
if you want to fly over your house, it’s there, in Flight Simulator, exactly where it ought to be! We imagine that is something that most of you would like to try – at least in the virtual world. And now you can. And what’s more, in most cases, you won't only see a generated building where your house should be. You will see an accurately shaped and colored version of your actual house, right down to the side garage and the tree in the back yard.
In fact, that photorealistic world is where we will turn our attention next.
One of the things that people seemingly immediately pick up with the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 release is the super high-quality “photorealistic” world that the virtual pilot is presented with.
This is achieved through the use of the high-resolution photogrammetry data courtesy of Bing Maps. Then, using an artificial intelligence system provided by the French Asobo Studio, the data is used to replicate the real world in its virtual form, right down to the fields, roads, textures, and buildings.
Everything you would expect to see from the actual skies you will see in this release. And this isn’t just with buildings, roads, water, and trees.
Not only will you see moving traffic on the roads and streets below, but if you are flying over fields or wide-open plains, chances are you will see animals going about their business below. And these range from birds to bears, and even giraffes. It seems a small detail, but it is another layer on to the already layered realism of MSFS.
What’s more, this is done “live” – so it is generated as you fly into it. And this means that there is no need for you to download such scenery packages to your system. The program, essentially, streams it for you. One reviewer even dubbed this as being
like Netflix for flight simulation scenery. You can, however, download and store specific regions should wish.
This means that should you wish to quickly start a virtual flight over a certain part of the world in midflight (which you can do) then there is no need to install a scenery package or just settle for basic settings.
And jumping between these destinations and planes, although takes a little time (which we will come back to shortly) is very marginal when compared with having to load specific scenery each time.
Constant Data Feeds
Just to demonstrate the quality of the real-world replication on offer here, it is perhaps wise to examine some of the technology at use and just what sort of data it will be channeling. AI algorithms have been used to create the entire world. So not only, for example, are buildings in their correct places, but their entire photogrammetry, as well as height and width data, is correct.
Microsoft and Asobo Studios use a program named Blackshark.AI to achieve this, along with Microsoft's Azure program to go through the data. What’s more, it is the belief of Microsoft and Asobo that the whole world could be built with these data processes in only 72 hours.
There are also various outside “partners” who provide the developers with data. We will move on to the weather part of the simulator in-depth shortly, but this is also a favorable part of the program that is achieved through real-world data. In this case, MeteoBlue allows the use of its data which can then be used to replicate in the virtual world what is happening (weather-wise) in the real one.
Likewise, even the air traffic you will encounter while traversing the virtual skies is based on actual air traffic data.
This usage of real data is perhaps the biggest feather in Microsoft’s cap and certainly given them an edge in the authentic scenery and real-world authenticity over its flight simulator rivals.
Perhaps most exciting for Microsoft Flight Simulator users is that these technologies will be a constantly evolving thing, with improvements and tweaks happening all the time. Who knows, then, just how much more realistic MSFS might look this time next year.
The Whole (Entire) World Is Available
So, whether you want to fly over the Pyramids of Giza, ancient remains of the Mayan world, or any metropolis-like city of our contemporary era, doing so will, for the most part, be authentic in the extreme. Indeed, you will almost feel as though you are taking in an actual aerial sightseeing tour.
In fact, so realistic are these scenes of aerial beauty, you might be tempted to screengrab the moment, or even capture it on your mobile phone, that is how intricate, captivating, and realistic they are. Indeed, this achievement in creating an ultra-realistic environment is something that should not escape any of us.
What is also a huge improvement, yet such a discreet move, is that some areas you might fly over where you will see roads will not contain any traffic below. We might take the Chernobyl power plant, which is essentially, shut off to all traffic and even people. This ability for the software to not only recreate the entire world in visual detail but also to recognize that it is a place where people and traffic will not be is yet another notch in the realism column.
We should perhaps remind ourselves as pilots – virtual or otherwise – that a great amount of time when in the air is spent looking outside the cockpit. And with that in mind, the world that we view from them needs to be as authentic and as realistic as possible. This is something that Microsoft and Asobo Studios have certainly achieved. Indeed, it is this element that is largely this new simulator's greatest strength.
As impressive as this is – and it is, for the most part very much that – there are some issues with lags, and even of scenery appearing completely out of proportion. And, at times, the terrain is not as realistic or as articulately textured as we might want.
Bizarre anomalies aside, this is most often the case when you are flying at a lower altitude. From a cruising position above any city or terrain on the planet, though, these fall-offs in high-quality are barely, if at all, noticeable. Certainly not to the degree that it would ruin your experience.
Generally speaking, though, these levels of extremely accurate replications of cities, roads, waterways, even the grass, is for the most part of such high quality that you might be tempted to overlook some of the (hopefully) temporary glitches of the new release. And they will only become more authentic and life-like over time as add-ons and fixes become available.
Airports, Runways, And Landing Strips – All Highly Authentic
Part of this photorealistic world and acute attention to detail can be seen in the 37,000 (give or take) airports that are available. All are replicated in full and provide a plethora of destinations to take from or land at.
What’s more, the developers of these digitally replicated airports have used the actual blueprints to achieve the realism they have. The high-quality, attention to detail approach is truly stunning. And that alone should make you want to visit each and every one on offer.
And make no mistake, these don’t just include the major airports such as Heathrow, LAX, or JFK. Each and every airport, airstrip, and runway is replicated within Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. And replicated to the highest accuracy. Even the airstrip in South America, as one reviewer puts it, “that’s no more than a strip of dirt cutting through a swath through the thick rainforest” is replicated to the absolute and utmost accuracy.
This vast array of huge airports right down to the landing strips in the middle of nowhere offer more than just a lot of destinations and arrival points to choose from. Each destination presents its own issues in terms of landing and navigating your plane once touched down.
This, in turn, only increases your skill set as a virtual pilot. As well as adding to that ultra-required sense of realism. And while some airports are more highly accurate than others, all are much more authentic than most other flight simulation programs.
What’s more, should you opt to purchase the Deluxe or Premium Deluxe versions, you can look forward to five or ten additional airports respectively.
The Deluxe version offers:
- Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (Netherlands)
- Cairo International Airport (Egypt)
- Cape Town International Airport (South Africa)
- O’Hare International Airport (USA)
- Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (Spain)
The Premium Deluxe version will give you all of the above, as well as:
- Denver International Airport (USA)
- Dubai International Airport (United Arab Emirates)
- Frankfurt Airport (Germany)
- Heathrow Airport (United Kingdom)
- San Francisco International Airport (USA)
Accurate Weather Systems
Of course, one of the things that are important to virtual flight is the authenticity and accuracy of the weather. And this is very much the case with the weather systems of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Once more, this appears to be an aspect that this new sim has got completely spot on. The cloud quality, for example, are incredible and fascinating to look at. Indeed, should you fly in a cloudy sky you will very likely find yourself examining them in detail such is the realism.
What’s more, not only are the clouds authentic to look at, they are also realistic enough that they alter the light coming through them. For example, if you begin a flight in clear blue skies, pause the live game, and then insert clouds, that shadows and overall brightness of the setting changes instantly – just as it would in the real world.
The live weather is another aspect of MSFS that is top-notch, tapping into the live weather data which you can switch on as and when you wish. So, if you are taking off from Heathrow in London and it is raining there at the time, expect to be raining there in your flight simulation.
Setting Weather Conditions
Equally, the weather can be set to what you wish it to be. So, if you wish to practice taking off in a blizzard, driving rainstorm, or high winds, then you can set the weather conditions accordingly – as you can the time of day you fly (if you wish to practice flying, taking off, or landing at night, for example).
If it is picturesque skies you are looking for, then you can set the time of day to dawn or sunset, before sitting back and flying into the golden-red skies of such an hour. If you wish to fly in the bright mid-afternoon sun, then that is fine too.
Or perhaps you want to take that quiet relaxing night flight and look down on the glittering cities below. This is most definitely one aspect of the sim that is pretty much second-to-none. Again, saturated in realism, the lights themselves are worth discussing. Rather than merely being a collection of random glows, the warmth and shade of the lights vary depending on just what is below you.
For example, if you are flying over a stadium, parking lots, or even highways, you can expect those lights to be slightly brighter and stand out more – just as they would if you were looking down from a real plane. At the same time, streetlights in urban neighborhoods have a relatively softer glow, although they still stand out significantly.
Authentic ATC Control Tower Communication
The communication you will hear from the control tower is a further testament to the abundance of detail of this new release.
For example, you can spend the full 15 minutes moving around the airport ready to approach the runway, staying in contact with the communications tower right the way through. What’s more, once you learn the aviation lingo you can request anything from takeoff clearance to pushback, and essentially anything else you might converse with the control tower about from a real cockpit.
This is the same when landing as it is when taking off, meaning that your flight will be as authentic as is possible in the virtual skies.
What’s more, you can hear the control tower communication constantly in your “headset” which only adds more to the realism that oozes from the sim. Furthermore, this traffic communication can be “live traffic” based on live ADS-B data, or you can turn the live option off and instead receive AI traffic communication, but still based on real-world data.
Indeed, realism and how authentic it is, as you may well have guessed by now, is very much a strong point for this new release. And that realism and accuracy continues when you enter your chosen plane.
Inside The Cockpit
Once inside the plane it will be hard not to be impressed with the recreation of each and every individual cockpit. Each one is so authentically replicated that, at times, it appears as though you are looking at a photograph of the real thing. And, like the airports, each plane and cockpit has been replicated using actual blueprints and designs for the utmost realism. And it shows.
Even the digital instruments are soaked in this authenticity. They essentially work and are controlled in exactly the same way as they would be a real aircraft. That is perhaps little surprise when we realize that those who developed the software also do so for the real-world versions. They are essentially a complete digital replica.
If you wish, you could even go online and download a manual for the real-life version of equipment you are using and use that to navigate the digital version in the sim. That is how lifelike and authentic these cockpit and navigation instruments actually are.
It is perhaps worth noting, though, as we will examine a little further later, that some of the complex aspects of the navigation equipment is a little less detailed than the essential equipment. And once more, it is highly likely, although not promised, that tweaks and fixes will address this in the future.
OK, so we are agreed that the respective cockpits are indeed top-notch. This is also the same with the aircraft themselves – 20 of which are offered with the base package. This is probably a good time to remind you that Microsoft Flight Simulator comes in three packages. Firstly, there is the standard base package, second the Deluxe package, and thirdly, the Premium Deluxe. And with each higher level, you get further aircraft available to you.
In the base package you will get access to:
- Pitts Special S2S
- 747-8 Intercontinental
- TBM 930
- DA40 NG
- EXTRA 330LT
- Flight Design CTSL
- ICON A5
- CAP 10
- DR400-100 Cadet
- Bonanza G36
- King Air 350i
- C172 Skyhawk (G1000)
- C208B Grand Caravan EX
- Citation CJ4
- Savage Cub
With the Deluxe package you get all of the above plus:
- Baron G58
- C152 Aerobat
- C172 Skyhawk
And with the Premium Deluxe, you get all of the above plus the following:
- 787-10 Dreamliner
- Virus SW 121
- Citation Longitude
- Shock Ultra
We might notice that there are no helicopters yet available, although there is otherwise a relatively wide selection of aircraft to choose from. It is also good to know that other aircraft will be made available over the following months, with further plans to make “several helicopters” available in the near future.
Much like the interiors, the exterior of the respective planes are top-notch reproductions, again using real-life blueprints and designs to achieve this. Even the effect elements have on planes through their design has been taken into account.
We should note, though, that each of the planes appears brand spanking new, as though they have come straight from being built to the airport. We might suspect that in the name of authenticity these aircraft might show some signs of age and wear and tear.
The reason this might not be the case, however, is due to those official licenses to replicate the planes from the manufacturers themselves. It is understandable, in theory, that they would want their respective aircraft to appear as slick, new, and modern as possible.
Another “complaint” with the planes is there are currently no alternative liveries, with each aircraft using one only. Again, though, it would appear that these will be made available over the coming months.
Perhaps it is worth mentioning here, however, that selecting a new plane (and the same for the airports mentioned above) will take the user back to the main screen. This, of course, means you will have to restart and reload. Perhaps this is something that might be addressed over the coming months.
It perhaps goes without saying that the higher the performance of your PC the better the performance will be. However, even running the program on a medium PC will still present you with high-end graphics and performance. And while some of the textures might become a little grainy at times, overall, you should still be able to enjoy MSFS to the fullest.
Make no mistake, though, the higher-end your hardware is, the higher performance you will get. Generally speaking, though, the dynamics and handling of aircraft are pretty accurate. And it is tempting to say that some of the issues some people are facing might very well be down to their own PC and/or joystick. Generally speaking, while recommended to keep the program at 60 fps, even as low as 30 fps the performance is very realistic and only a few “stutters” are noticed.
Once more, though, this assessment of performance and realism is not shared by everyone. One online review featured a professional pilot who is also completely familiar with the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 release, as well as with previous versions is just one. He is named “Louis”.
He would claim that he was “massively disappointed” with the flight dynamics of the game, especially after the considerable hype throughout much of 2020.
When asked to compare the flight dynamics of the new release against previous versions, he would state that, although it depended on the aircraft selected, “you can't perform some basic aerodynamic maneuvers with the aerobatics aircraft”. He would continue that, overall, the “response of the plane can be sluggish”.
Some opinions echo these sentiments, in that for all of the improvements and visual realism, as a training aid for real-world pilots it is almost a step backward and certainly not an improvement.
Ultimately, the performance will come down to each individual person’s preferences.
And we should perhaps also note, at least according to one reviewer,
Microsoft and Asobo have clearly left the development plane wide open. Essentially, given another six months, Microsoft Flight Simulator could look drastically different in terms of performance and dynamics. And we should perhaps be patient with what is one of the biggest and most anticipated releases of recent times.
Beginning any flight is pretty much the same as it always has been. At the main screen of the world map, you simply select your starting point. This can be one of the many airports or landing strips all over the planet. Or you can simply choose to begin in mid-flight, perhaps over your hometown, for example, or a glittering metropolis like New York or Los Angeles. The possibilities really are endless. And, of course, if you are planning to land the plane, then you will need to select a landing destination also.
Once that is selected, you then begin the flight. If you have turned off all assists, then you will have to guide your plane around the airport, onto the runway, and the take-off. Once in the air, you then ascend to your preferred (or stated if flying a 747, for example) altitude, before cruising with the aircraft while in flight.
If you have a set destination in mind or are flying a legitimate flight plan of a commercial plane, then you will also have to change course accordingly. Eventually, when arriving at your destination – assuming you don’t hand off to the AI pilot – you will go through the legitimate landing procedures, right down to navigating the plane to its stand after touching down.
It is worth keeping in mind that, as in the real world, some of these virtual flights can take several hours to complete, which in itself adds to the overall realism and authenticity.
Overall, the quality of flight is top-quality. And is certainly dripping in realism.
There are other discreet improvements within Microsoft Flight Simulator.
One aspect of virtual flight that has been steadily increasing in popularity is the multiplayer options. And this, as we might expect, is still the case with MSFS. This means that not only can you take to the virtual skies by yourself, but you can hook up with friends and fly missions together.
Like most things, there are likely to be further improvements to come. Perhaps one of these, which many virtual pilots would like to see, is the ability for multiple players to share the same cockpit. There is no news on whether this will be introduced, but if it is, we will most definitely tell you about it here.
There is also the in-game marketplace that allows virtual pilots to browse multiple add-ons, and purchase them, without having to buy “hard copies” or use third party sites. This is also a potential benefit for third party developers, whose products are now all the more easily accessed by anyone who purchases and makes use of the brand new sim.
Furthermore, these add-ons are expected to grow, and grow at an exceptional pace. For example, in the month since it hit the shelves, there have already been several airports and a new aircraft been made available in this in-game, integrated marketplace.
Of course, the more third-party developers that tout their wares on this integrated marketplace, the higher the profile of MSFS becomes.
Built-In Flight School & Missions
If you are a newcomer to the virtual skies, or even if you just haven’t ventured there for some time, then the ability to set the assists where you please is most certainly beneficial. And even with the assists set “halfway”, you will still find navigating your chosen plane and leaving the runway to be something that you will need to practice to perfect.
With this in mind, you might be interested in the specially “built-in flight school”. As it sounds, this will take you through the basics of all aspects of flight, and you will experience it from the cockpit of a Cessna 172.
As well as being able to practice all basic aspects of virtual flight – such as taking off, cruising, landing, turns, and rudder manipulation, etc. – the flight school will also give novice virtual pilots the chance to get to grips with some of the terminology involved.
And while such aircraft as large airliners have their own aspects to get to grips with once you decide to take a 747 into the skies, for example, if you stick to the lessons and finish each and every one of them, you will have more than a basic handle on the basics of virtual flight. And you will certainly have no problem whatsoever controlling the Cessna or similar aircraft.
Perhaps one tip to give here is that while the flight school only allows you to take the lessons in the Cessna 172, a good way of familiarizing yourself with larger planes is to give control to the AI feature – which can be done at any point during the flight. This then allows you to watch how the plane is handled, the kinds of angles to take when landing, and even appropriate speeds, which is almost as good as an actual lesson.
Although the built-in flying school is only available in the Cessna 172, there are many one-off “missions” for you to practice various aspects of aviation, from taking off to landing. And you can perform these in the aircraft of your choice. These missions are essentially broken down into two groups, landing challenges, and bush trips.
There are different difficulty levels meaning that you can really test yourself to the max.
The landing challenges – as we might expect - very much test your ability not only to land, but to take things such as weather, the time of day, and even how open and built-up areas near the respective runways can have an effect on your plane. So not only are you forced to shape up your landing skills, but also how to manipulate your throttle and perform turns. And once again, here is that word again, the realism is pretty fantastic.
Furthermore, the developers have decided upon some great locations to perform these test landing missions, which perhaps makes them more appealing. For example, if you are performing these missions at night or in adverse weather conditions, how the scenery below presents itself to you actually makes you want to simply view the spectacle rather than land the plane successfully. And because of this, you will most likely find yourself making multiple attempts to succeed.
The bush trip missions are a little more difficult as it involves flying over terrain with no roads as well as having to use the VFR for navigation. These particular missions usually involve you taking off from one specific runway and then following strict instructions to reach another one – and often a huge part of these missions relies on your skill as a pilot to accurately locate these destinations. Quite often, these missions will require you to land purely to refuel before setting off again.
Newcomers to the virtual skies should perhaps be warned that these particular missions are quite difficult, and it is probably wise to perfect the landing challenges and become ofay with the basics of virtual flight first. They will, though, keep both newcomers and veterans of flight simulation occupied for some time.
It is also worth noting that at the start and during these bush trips, your screen will be almost overtaken by the list of “VFR-styles descriptions”. One way around this – although certainly not possible for everyone, is to hook up a second monitor in order to split this information across two screens.
This isn’t necessary, but it certainly makes things a little less crowded. We should also note that these bush trips are extremely long and drawn out, so be prepared to spend considerable time on them – somewhere in the region of several hours.
What’s more, Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) is, according to one real-world pilot, a
massive play zone, allowing them to perform stunts and flights right down the middle of 5th Avenue in New York without having to realize the consequences of such action. Perhaps that alone should tell us of the authenticity of the simulator.
Good Things To Know
One thing that some virtual pilots have run into are data-caps from their internet service providers. And, as we might expect, this new release uses lots of data. However, if this is going to be a problem for you, then you have the option to download specific locations and such before beginning your flight and so ultimately cutting the amount of data used.
As we have mentioned, some users have experienced some issues with performance, even when using high-end PCs. One thing that can be done to combat this is to turn down some of the settings from high to medium. For example, some lighting effects will be equally as authentic on medium as high, and this will improve overall performance.
And while it is not particularly a good thing to lower the settings in order to increase performance, for the vast majority of the time, the effect it will have on your system is negligible in terms of the extra performance level you will receive from this simple task.
Virtual Reality And Xbox Availability
One of the questions many potential purchasers of Microsoft Flight Simulator is whether or not it would support virtual reality headsets. Well, yes it will. And furthermore, there will be no cost or additional purchase for the VR toggle.
At the moment this is set for a “fall 2020” release. However, we should warn that upon the launch, only the HP Reverb G2 system will be initially compatible with it. However, this is another aspect that is expected to be opened to all VR headsets and equipment pretty soon. Especially as almost all such headsets rely on OpenVR calls for axis orientation.
If the package finally offers VR that can live up to the standard of the graphics and realism on display already, then it could attract even more virtual pilots to the flight simulation community.
One of the things that surprised some people, though, is that this VR support appears to be more in place than other extras, perhaps most notably, support for those using Xbox consoles.
We should note that although the sim is due to arrive at an Xbox platform, we still are not sure of the date that this will happen. And there are still seemingly decisions to be made, or at least announced, as to how this will happen and what might be required.
As you might imagine, when information does become available on this issue, you will read about them here.
Before we get into some of the cons of the new release, we should perhaps spend a little time considering how much of a bonus the planned updates actually are. The fact that the release comes to us in the digital broadband era of constant internet access means that many of these updates and fixes could happen automatically in real-time.
This is very much the case with the navigation data supplied by NAVBLUE, which will automatically update once every 28 days. This is also the same plan, in theory, with the Bing satellite and aerial photography data.
This is also very much the plan for developers with improvements to graphics and new improved imagery for particular regions that require it, as well as improvements to landmarks.
Perhaps the best way to look at MSFS in terms of the improvements and fixes that are required is to view it as an investment in a simulator that is itself an evolving product. What you purchase now will be a vastly improved product this time next year, and even more so the year after that and so on.
What About The Cons?
We have already mentioned some of the cons to the newly released version. However, it is probably worth our time stopping here and looking at some of the repeated ones.
We have already mentioned some of the “odd” appearances of the mapping below. This is something that is being experienced by almost all users.
And the general performance is something that many users are struggling with. Some, even those using “high-end hardware”, are finding there are issues with flight dynamics and the general smoothness of play.
There is also the issue of no official documentation concerning basic keyboard and joystick controls. It sounds like a minor thing – and to some, it might be. However, it is certainly a bone of contention among some users. We will simply have to wait to see if this is made available at some point in the near future. In the meantime, we have released a full keyboard command and control manual which you can view here. You can even download a PDF "cheat sheet".
Due to a lack of documentation, third-party developers have even created their own aftermarket manuals for the sim. This manual here created by the developers at Fly Away Simulation is a good example.
Another thing to watch for, and this might depend on your personal preferences or what you are used to, is that the controls may appear a little too sensitive. Especially when being used at slower speeds.
This could be, though, a case of the airflow over control surfaces being tweaked to represent real-life a little more. For example, when traveling at slower speeds in the real skies, less airflow goes over the wings which ultimately makes the controls a little less responsive. Again, it is a potential fix that might be addressed in the near future.
Furthermore, there appear to be some issues with the autopilot take over. We will come back to this particular glitch shortly as it is something that has been picked up on by veteran virtual pilots, some of which are pilots in the real world, as well as newcomers.
Issues With Loading Time
Perhaps one of the biggest gripes, though – and it is easy to understand why – is the load time. Some users are reporting it is taking them several hours to download and install. And perhaps because this download is in-game, this created, for some, a whole host of problems.
We have to say, it is a big chunk of data you will be downloading, weighing in it around 91GB. While the delay is not at all ideal, it is at the moment something we might have to simply grin and bear.
However, it isn’t simply the install that is an issue. Even loading airports for in-game play can sometimes take up to five minutes depending on how large an airport it might be. Even smaller airports can take anywhere from one to two minutes to completely load.
This might not sound like much, but it is far from the slick, quick loading that some were expecting, and certainly, an area to be improved if possible. Just to put this into perspective, though, a one to five-minute wait compared to the several hours (at times) that you will actually spend in the air is perhaps negligible.
Some who managed to grit their teeth through the download experience found they had severe problems with lagging, others found their machines crashing, having to restart several times.
We should note once more, though, that these issues are ones that will almost certainly be ironed out over the coming months. And we should certainly not let what is, essentially, several minor glitches put us off exploring the potential of the new simulator.
Is It A Game? Or Is It A Simulator?
One of the things that appear to divide the flight simulator community is whether or not Microsoft Flight Simulator is a simulator, or whether it is, in fact, a game.
Microsoft themselves has claimed it is very much a flight simulator “for simmers”, but that it can also be played as a game. And while many who have taken the plunge and purchased the new and much-anticipated release agree, others very much don’t.
In fact, one purchaser would state that MSFS is ultimately
a lovely toy, but not a simulator. They would continue that “hardcore” simulators should “wait for the decent payware”. Another would offer how the main release has concentrated on visual “wow factor” that would appeal to “enthusiasts of console games”.
Another person who purchased the simulator, however, would offer a different summary, essentially agreeing with Microsoft that “it was up to you” how you chose to use it. And that is probably the beauty – that you can indeed switch between simulator and game as you choose.
If you wish to experience an arcade-like version of the simulator, then simply turn on each of the assists, and off you go. Likewise, if it is the full simulation that you are after, then do the opposite, essentially meaning you would perform in the digital cockpit as you would in the real one.
Perhaps even more alluring – especially for newcomers or those who are not pilots in the real world – is that you can put these settings somewhere between the two. So, if you are not that interested in running through all of the checklists and other pre-flight activities, you can allow the simulator to do that for you and then take over once you go for take-off.
While it is an issue for some – particularly those who are pure “simmers” – it doesn’t hurt anyone to have the option to do both. Especially for those new to the virtual skies. And as far as Microsoft are concerned, it is most definitely, in keeping with their 40-year presence, a flight simulation program first and foremost.
Some General Feedback From The Flight Sim Community
As we might imagine, while there are many reviews out there, there is perhaps no better place to come for opinions on how well Microsoft Flight Simulator has lived up to the hype than by going to the virtual pilots have purchased it. And, as we have touched on, these opinions, at least at the moment, vary.
Some flight simmers, for example, have taken exception to the loading issues (as mentioned above) as well as the apparent glitches with the scenery. And what’s more, there is a general feeling among the disgruntled that only Microsoft’s large corporate name is protecting them.
Another reviewer called the
short-sighted effort nothing more than a
money-grabber. This might be a little harsh, and while we might expect, as one reviewer called them, that a
multi-billion-dollar company should be able to get such things correct right out of the box, once more, we should remember that this release will have multiple tweaks over the months to follow, and many more add-ons and such over the coming years.
There are plenty of people who are more than pleased with the release, however. One reviewer claimed that they were a
longtime pilot and that MSFS is
extremely close to the real experience, continuing that the
graphics and overall quality of the product is second to none. The same person also stated that in order to
realize its full potential a high-end computer is recommended.
One of the things we said we would come back to were the issues with the autopilot. And this has been something that has been picked up on by newcomer virtual fliers as well as veteran and actual pilots are have also tried out the software.
According to many from the flight sim community, the autopilot appears to have several bugs that cause it to crash the plane, ignore changes in mid-flight, as well as crashing the system itself, and forcing restarts.
There also appear to be problems with the autopilot when climbing or descending, which can either result in an extremely unsmooth flight for several minutes, or once more, the crashing of the plane.
Overall, while there is a feeling of discontentment among some in the flight sim community, it appears that they have been successful in making their voices heard the loudest. Not to mention that they appear to have been very active early on in doing this, perhaps making the issues larger than they actually way (relatively speaking).
Generally speaking, most who have spent the last two months exploring MSFS appears to be very glad they did so. And even those with minor issues are, for the time being at least, prepared to give Microsoft and the developers the benefit of the doubt as they wait for such issues to be fixed.
How Does It Compare To Previous Versions (FSX etc)?
Perhaps before we compare this new platform to other simulators, we should look at how it compares to the previous ten versions of Microsoft’s simulator releases (which go all the way back to 1982).
The thing that stands out the most is that it really is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. For all of the improvements of realism, graphics, and authenticity, Microsoft Flight Simulator relies on what it has always relied on – the intense attention to detail that has been at the core of all previous releases.
Indeed, rather than reinventing itself, this is more a case of a refinement of what it is known and loved for.
Although comparing the two is like comparing a Cessna 152 to a Boeing 747 - completely uncomparable apart from the fact that they are both aircraft - our users wanted us to do so. You can watch our comparison video below.
In terms of actual flight capability and feel of realism, MSFS is a marked improvement on previous versions. Indeed, the feeling of actually flying is much freer in the new release than before, and should also be noted as a marked improvement, generally speaking. Even against X-Plane 11, which many felt had much better flight dynamics, MSFS is, at the very least, on a par with it, if not slightly better.
How Does It Compare To Other Simulators?
The first thing that leaps out at you when comparing against X-Plane-11, for example, is the realism generated by the ultra-realistic graphics. Just by simply comparing airports brings that point slamming home when we see the individual detail on each window of the control tower in MSFS compared with the “blocky” digital appearance of X-Plane. Even the skies appear more realistic and almost 3D in Microsoft’s offering.
The graphics in MSFS are such that it really is like looking at a photograph or a piece of film footage. By comparison, the same graphics in X-Plane 11 very much have a computer-generated feel to them. And this continues throughout with all aspects of visual realism falling in FS2020's favor.
Perhaps some further examples can be seen when the plane takes off. If you switch to the outside view, for example, you will notice how the plane in X-Plane has a “block” color feel to it, whereas in MSFS, different textures can be seen. And these range from the light of the sun reflecting over different parts of the plane as it moves, even to the build-up of moisture around the underside of the engines.
We could also draw attention to the appearance of the navigation controls which are almost like looking at a real dashboard.
This is very much the same with another well-established simulator, Prepar3D which, while realistic to a point, does fall slightly short when compared to Microsoft's latest release.
This perhaps shouldn’t surprise us as visual realism, as we have already discussed, is very high up on Microsoft’s list of priorities. And while some might decide the slight drop off in dynamics of the planes themselves – which many virtual pilots will not necessarily pick up on – is worth opting for another flight simulator such as X-Plane or Prepar3D, others will be very much drawn to such realism.
After all, unless you are using flight simulators purely as a training tool to advance your flight skills in the real world, the biggest concern with most pilots who take to the virtual skies do so with a desire to experience a world that is as close to the real thing – and that is visually – as is possible. This is where this simulator really delivers.
Maybe one aspect where MSFS doesn’t compare so favorably is the number of planes available, particularly when put against something like X-Plane 11, which not only offers a vast array of airplanes but also space shuttles and even water gliders. As we have discussed, though, there are further planes that will become available and various add-ons. So once more, this advantage is marginal.
Watch our MSFS/XP11 Compare Video
It appears one of the main areas where the new sim could lose virtual pilots to other simulators is the authenticity for real-world pilots and the amount of actual training they can do on it. As one reviewer put it, “beautiful scenery will only engage simmers for so long”. And it is perhaps an area where other sims do have an advantage over MSFS.
This observation is not shared by everyone, with some professional pilots stating just the opposite. And one thing that can be said in defense of MSFS 2020 is that while Prepar3D and X-Plane are very much popular with veteran or professional virtual pilots, the appeal of the Microsoft release appears to stretch much further.
Only time will tell which assessment is accurate. And if it proves to be, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft remedy this apparent hole in its simulation.
A Few Quick Thoughts
Perhaps one of the things that we should think about – especially with the argument as to whether it is, in fact, a game as opposed to a simulator – is that this new release has the potential to really widen the audience, both for MSFS 2020 and flight simulation itself.
Many pure gamers, for example, are likely to be attracted, not only by the stunning graphics on offer but also by the fact that they can indeed play MSFS “as a game”. The fact that there are plans to make the release on the Xbox, for example, will also go some way to achieving this. And not only will that potentially widen the audience, but it will most likely reach younger would-be virtual pilots.
Taking this thought, further, the potentially younger virtual pilots who might come to Microsoft Flight Simulator will likely remain with the product for years. Some might even take the leap and become real-world pilots.
In short, while it may prove to be a “slow burn”, MSFS could, over time, become one of the most important releases in flight simulation in the 21st century.
Addons & Mods
This review would not be complete without mentioning the possibility and availability of third-party add-ons or modifications (mods) for this new simulator.
The screenshot shows Aerosoft's Paderborn Lippstadt scenery. Now available as freeware from SimShack.
Given whatever speculation you may have read before release, we now (as a community) have full access to what's possible and going to become available.
Both freeware and payware add-ons will exist in all of the same formats the same as previous versions of the sim (such as FSX, FS2004... etc). The only difference (for publishers) is that they can take their payware products and market them directly on the "Marketplace" within the simulator. This of course cuts our third-party stores and will take a huge chunk of their sales - however, third-party payware developers are still able to sell their products on third-party stores the same way they have been doing for years.
We have already started listing payware add-ons on our store, SimShack - and some of them are quite amazing. You can find the new MSFS Scenery releases section here and if it's payware aircraft you're after you can find those here.
Finally, if you're confused or need further information such as guides, tutorials, or manuals - we have a brand new section on SimShack for that here.
Again, this will continue as normal. Many freeware add-ons have now been released including aircraft liveries/repaints and scenery enhancements and expansions.
The screenshot shows a freeware Washing D.C landmarks add-on. This is available in our file library here.
We have opened our official MSFS 2020 add-ons library, which you can find here. Categories so far include scenery, aircraft, and utilities/tools - more to be added over the coming months.
If you are a developer of freeware - we'd love it if you would consider listing your creations in our library. Read about our file library (and submit your creations) here.
Update December 2021
We have now launched our detailed article covering the best-of freeware mods, expansions, and add-ons for the new Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) 2020 release. You can read the full article here. Be sure to bookmark that page as the freeware section is updated very often with new releases and updates.
So, Should You Buy It?
In short, the answer to that is yes. If you have any type of interest in flight simulation at any level, then you will most definitely be able to get something out of the new sim package from Microsoft.
Despite some of the issues we have highlighted above, overall, the release has lived up to the hype. And we should perhaps be patient and forgiving of any temporary issues. After all, a simulator of this magnitude and with this much authentic detail is bound to have a few teething issues.
While the graphics and attention to detail are top-notch, it is perhaps the real-world mapping systems that really make MSFS 2020 shine. And although some will call this nothing more than a “wow factor”, it is arguably the most significant advancement.
As we enter 2021, it is highly likely that most of those issues will have been ironed out and fixed. And, of course, we don’t know what extras and additions might also come our way from the development team. Remember, even now, with the much anticipated and built-up release, the new Microsoft Flight Simulator is essentially a “ten-year project”.
At the moment, though, with the 20 planes available with the base package, the huge number of airports, and the overall mesmerizing graphics, there is a lot to gain from MSF 2020. From sitting in your PC chair to being in the virtual skies over literally any part of the world you desire in a matter of minutes, is something that virtual pilots of all abilities will undoubtedly embrace.
For now, though, if you looking to purchase a flight simulator package, or whether you have simply been waiting all year for the release and are now unsure of whether to spend your hard-earned money, you certainly have more to gain than not with Microsoft's latest Flight Simulator release.
While it's still quite early to post a definitive review - given the fact that software development is ongoing and bugs and fixes are being issues often, this review is a snapshot of what we have so far. Overall, we were very impressed and can see great things for the future of this simulator package over the coming years. We will update this review from time to time to cover any future updates and also, of course, include community feedback from them in the review too.
We give the latest 2020 release of Microsoft Flight Simulator a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating.
If you haven't already (if you're reading this then it's likely you have!) then check out our complete guide to MSFS in our article which has been covering it since the beginning (long read).
Our Showcase Video
We have produced our own showcase video demonstrating the simulator. It's essentially a showcase/unofficial trailer video. It sums up the content above and what you can expect from the new sim.
The video shows many of the stock aircraft, featured airports, weather examples, and much more. While watching, why not subscribe to our channel?
What Do You Think?
We'd really love to know what you think and what your thoughts are regarding this latest Microsoft Flight Simulator release.
Do you own a copy and use it often? Have you refused to buy it - why? Are you sticking with previous generation flight sims - why? Do you have any issues with it? If you love it - why?
Please post your comments below...
Don't forget... We have a huge selection (over 24,000 files) of free mods and add-ons for MSFS, FSX, P3D & X-Plane in the file library. Files include aircraft, scenery, and utilities All are free-to-download and use - you don't even need to register. Browse on down to the file library here.