It’s been quite the year for flight simulation and I thought I’d do my best to take it all in and write something that covers the broad strokes of what we’ve seen this year. Then, have a quick look forward at what might dominate the headlines next year.
The new golden age
More than one person has remarked that we’re in a new golden age of flight simulation that rivals or exceeds the one that we saw (by relative measure) in the 1990’s. Back then we had a huge number of titles covering all kinds of different aircraft and scenarios. In the 2020’s the situation is reversed with a small number of titles and a massive list of aircraft coming to us from first and third party developers.
Perhaps most importantly, this age of the flight sim really does seem to have something for everyone. I look at the aircraft list that has come out just in the last 6-months for X-Plane 11, a sim that is nearing its twilight era as X-Plane 12 looks set to come sometime next year, and we have quality products from well known and new developers who have delivered some absolutely incredible options. The FlyJSim Q4XP, ToLiss A340-600, and Thranda PZL-104 all are different classes of aircraft but representing peak levels of what is possible in X-Plane and they have all come out just in the last few months. X-Rotors also brought out their AW109 which I hope to check out soon. X-Plane 11 also saw the impressive Orbx Southern Spain release which I hope to review soon. I personally had some fun with X-Plane 11 this year reviewing the DA-62 (finally!) and Lancair Legacy from Aerobask, BN-2B from TorqueSim and taking the Phenom 300 out on the across the Atlantic challenge.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is the thousand pound gorilla of flight sims and its release this year on XBox further cemented that status. Perhaps no more telling than when PMDG’s Rober Randazzo revealed on a podcast that their MSFS DC-6 sold more in its opening hours than it had sold on all other platforms combined over their lifetime. MSFS is big! Thousands of new additions to the sim’s marketplace ranging from aircraft to scenery packs to more unique add-ons have really pushed the sim in all directions at a rapid rate. Highlights for me were the Aviat Husky release as well as some of the impressive world updates for the sim which added even more details and more reasons to go explore the world which I did particularly with Japan and the UK. Too many developers released quality content this year to list but there’s a lot out there from companies like JustFlight with a bunch of releases including the Pa-28 series, Carenado pumping out a half dozen aircraft (and doing a decent job of going back and fixing aircraft which I remarked on with the WYMF-5), and even some newer upstarts like Parallel 42 with their new FreedomFox and SimWorks Studios with their Kodiak 100.
DCS World had a quieter year in terms of new releases this year but overall quite a good year when it came to content. The sim’s 2.7 release brought with it a rendering system overhaul and introduced volumetric clouds to the sim for the firs time catapulting it from one of the worst cloud implementations to one of the best offering visual appeal that, until the 2.7 release, was found only in MSFS. A lot of modules saw significant updates through the year. From the F/A-18 and F-16 through to the P-47, AV-8B, JF-17 F-14, and M-2000C which were all refined through the year. Of course the Mi-24 and Mosquito FB.VI were released this year and both offered some really nicely detailed aircraft to sink our teeth into. The DCS: Marianas Islands map also arrived this year!
The IL-2 series also had a very successful year overall. Starting with Flying Circus Vol 2 which managed to release 8-aircraft over the course of the year including the SPAD VII (150hp), Airco DH.4, and Pfalz D.XII! It still has some big heavy hitters to come, its maps, and more single player content including the highly anticipated Career mode, but this part of the project is proceeding well in my estimation. Meanwhile, Battle of Normandy has seen a lot of foundational work come together along with new content. The FW190A-6, Bf109G-6 Late, Spitfire XIV, Typhoon Mark IB and P-51B (coming in just the nick of time) were big highlights but we also saw the sim add a lot of the vehicle and scenery assets that will help to make Battle of Normandy come alive when it is finally released. I don’t want to forget that IL-2 also saw some big core updates like the Advanced Quick Mission Generator (which is brilliant) and volumetric clouds that bring it close to its rivals.
Challenges for the year ahead
I start with X-Plane 11 and 12 and I see some unique challenges for Laminar Research and the X-Plane platform on the whole. Although what we’ve seen of X-Plane 12 has been good so far, there are clearly some areas that are still rough around the edges and although I’m not yet concerned about them (development is still well underway) it will be important for Laminar Research to work hard not to just do a better X-Plane but do a better flight sim on the whole. They may not be able to match MSFS for satellite streamed scenery but I do hope that their new scenery engine can show off how to make the world look authentic and visually impressive in its own way. One thing that I have few concerns about are the third party developers of which X-Plane has numerous excellent groups all making some of the best aircraft in simulation. I’m very excited to see what X-Crafts does with their next gen airliners, Aerobask can do with their Falcon 8X, and what we see from Thranda, HotStar, and more!
Microsoft Flight Simulator may be the thousand pound gorilla but it does have some challenges ahead of it too. Back to PMDG again who have delayed their 737 and pulled their DC-6 from the Xbox marketplace due to technological issues. Asobo Studio have done a great job of supporting their platform but they really need to dig deep in 2022 and solve some longstanding issues – patching problems, shifting support requirements for third parties, and becoming more friendly to highly complex airliners are among the three areas that I see this sim needing to tackle in the new year. More quality control in their marketplace is also something that I think will need to be tackled particularly with some of the very poor quality releases that we’ve seen somehow make it to the marketplace.
DCS World is on the right track on the whole right now and so I think for Eagle Dynamics the challenge is sticking to the plan and continuing to iterate on their platform. Of critical importance is making DCS more appealing as a “game” and their 2021 roadmap included the initial release of a dynamic campaign system – something that did not get released this year. Also on the roadmap was Vulkan and the new Rendergraph engine. These things take time but DCS needs to push forward, particularly to support VR users who are still struggling to get good performance from the sim. DCS does have some first and third party releases coming in 2022 so I see this year as being one that will bring in some new (and potentially) interesting launches. Eagle Dynamics I think also needs to find a way to better support some of the mod teams that might eventually become third party developers and find better ways to integrate those mods into the sim. It can only make DCS stronger.
For IL-2 Sturmovik and the Great Battles Series, 1CGS needs to continue to stick to the plan and push out both Normandy and Flying Circus Vol 2. They made some great core updates to the sim this year with the AQMB and new clouds both mentioned earlier. They have some complex modules to release this year and some third party projects to integrate as well. Bringing the AQMB and Career mode to Flying Circus (planned) and Tank Crew (not yet indicate as planned) are things that I’d love to see too. The question of course is now on our minds where the sim will be going next both in terms of its content and in terms of core updates – other sims are pushing forward visually and the IL-2 series will need to find ways to keep their bespoke engine up to the new standards that are being set.
The flight sim world is moving in a good direction going into 2022. We’ve seen all sims grow their content and attract new users like I’ve never seen before. All of the sims that I follow and write about have great things coming to them, challenges as well, but I don’t see those challenges are being insurmountable or unachievable. I think 2022 will be a great year in simulation with new sims coming on stream and old sims reaching new heights and no matter what type of virtual airplane you like to fly, there looks like there will be something new and fantastic to check out in 2022. Let’s fly!