It’s been just a few days but I’ve had my first flights in the public release version of Microsoft Flight Simulator checking out both the multiplayer and single player experience and I thought I would share my experiences.
Checking out Billy Bishop (CYTZ) and the Toronto Area
I wanted my first flight to be in my home region and I decided to pick one of the premium, handcrafted airports included in the base version of the sim to get started with so naturally I picked CYTZ Billy Bishop airport – also known as the Toronto Island Airport. Having flown on Porter, a regional airline, out of this airport a few times I thought it would be a lot of fun to start here.
Located on Centre Island and until a few years ago requiring the shortest ferry ride (it’s just a few hundred feet) in the world this airport is located right on the Toronto waterfront which meant that I could get a good look at the scenery there.
The results are, very good but not particularly beautiful in places. The airport itself, in handcrafted glory, is excellent with plenty of detail. The ramps look great, the runway signage is all there, and generally speaking it looks accurate. Nearby Toronto waterfront is less accurate with photogrammetry in place but some buildings including the iconic CN Tower looking sub par. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all accurately placed and the buildings do look like themselves but this is an area where the sim doesn’t quite get it right.
My route was a simple one flying out and over the city of Toronto and north over Toronto Buttonville (CYKZ) and then over Toronto Pearson (CYYZ) before I headed west out of the city and over the suburbs before making the short trek over to Burlington Executive Airport (CZBA) where I landed.
The flight was done with the Cirrus SR22, one of the premium aircraft in the sim, and a good looking GA aircraft that I’ve been interested in flying in flight sims for a while. The cockpit was extremely well detailed and the aircraft itself fun to fly although I did struggle with some tech issues.
I turned on multiplayer traffic for this experience which meant that when I spawned at Billy Bishop, there were aircraft everywhere. It’s not surprising as its the standout airport for Canada at the moment and it’s also located at the heart of Canada’s most populated city so everyone wants to check it out. Immersion gets a bit broken here as the airport has more aircraft and people randomly flying around than is accurate.
The airport also is only rated to support turboprop aircraft up to the Bombardier Q400 and at the moment isn’t allowed to have jet aircraft due to noise considerations. Of course this is a flight sim and unless you live in the area you probably don’t know that. So… queue up the 747-800 on takeoff along with dozens of other aircraft parked all over the place.
The simple solution is to go over to an AI only flight experience if you find this immersion breaking so this isn’t a huge problem.
Group flight from Zadar/Zemunik Airport (LDZD) and around Croatia
Another one of my first flights was my first group flight. Five of us set out from Zadar/Zemunik Airport (LDZD) in a wide assortment of aircraft and decided to look around the area. Located near the Adriatic Sea, we decided to follow the coastline flying over a wide array of smaller villages before heading into the mountains and finding some fun canyons to fly through.
Right away I want to say that the way that Microsoft Flight Simulator models turbulence around mountains is the most dynamic I’ve ever experienced. I’ll write more about it later but it was the most convincing experience of turbulence I’ve seen in a sim.
The aircraft I was flying is the X-Cub. A Piper Cub modification that I can tell I already really enjoy flying. Smooth and easy handling with good power overall and terrific stall character means you can get it in on a short grass strip or a flat piece of ground without too much trouble. The glass cockpit injects a modern touch into the aircraft which I quite like (and some of you may not).
After carving through the canyon for a while we climbed the ridge line and transitioned from the rocky scenery of the coast into sweeping hills and then farmland. We ultimately landed at Velika Kladusa (LQVK) to finish the flight off.
There are some problems
Both of these flights were great, however, there are some serious problems that marred the experience.
First, performance on my system has been challenging. All of the screenshots above are taken on Medium settings. Although the sim suggested High-End as my preset, that setting seems to consistently overwhelm my 16GB of RAM. Medium is gentler although by no means problem free and there were stutters and pauses. Some sort of process in the background was definitely causing the whole thing to grind to a halt.
My system is starting to get long in the tooth (Core i5 6600, GTX 1070ti, 16GB DDR4) but I have experienced better and typically outstanding performance in most other sims including X-Plane 11.41 and DCS World (except when the sim was having performance issues) so I think there is room for Asobo and Microsoft to solve some underlying performance issues potentially. Paradoxically, at times the sim ran smoothly as well with beautiful visuals and frame rates back up into the 40-50fps range.
For a while on my Toronto flight with the SR22, my mouse was unable to click any of the buttons in the cockpit and I wasn’t able to use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. Key binding worked but nothing else. Again, some sort of issue that needs resolving.
In one case while the active pause was on, the autopilot somehow caused a problem with the aircraft causing it to pitch up and down wildly. No amount of autopilot disengaging or trim control was able to solve the issue. A glitch I assume!
In multiplayer, not all of the group were able to actually be part of the group because many of the members appeared as offline. When we did link up, performance was good although the closer you get the more jittery the aircraft appear. On the whole it was good but not as rock solid as say IL-2: Great Battles is for close formation flying or DCS World on a good day when the server isn’t having serious problems.
None of this is an indictment on the new sim and my full review will take some time to put together as there’s much to learn, a lot to tweak, and I think many readers out there appreciate less a rush to judgement and more of a nuanced take on what the new Microsoft Flight Simulator is and is not.
I remain excited about the possibilities that this new sim offers and more content will be coming soon!