Released on May 25, 2022 just a day after the movie comes out, Microsoft and Paramount Pictures have come together to produce a free DLC package themed around the movie. I wanted to take a quick look and review what this pack is and isn’t. Here’s what you can expect flying Top Gun Maverick on Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Right up front, I’ve needed to remind myself that this is a free content package. It’s a movie-tie in and its meant to give you something to do after you come home from the movie and want to zoom around in fighter jets for an afternoon.
Microsoft Flight Simulator has built-in a whole segment of their interface for this. Click on the tile and you’re taken to a menu allowing you access to some of the more specialized content of the Maverick DLC. The Top Gun music theme plays in the background as you navigate the menus – nice!
Together with the F/A-18E that was released last year, we now get a new Top Gun Maverick skin for the jet, two fighter pilot models to put in the cockpit, and a special Maverick specific pilot model (with iconic helmet) for the challenges. Sadly that last part doesn’t appear to be available outside of the challenges. Asobo, fix that please!
They also package in the fictional Darkstar prototype hypersonic aircraft. Designed in collaboration with Lockheed Skunk Works team specifically for the movie, this aircraft was built in full scale model form. It allegedly even caused a few Chinese spy satellites to change course and have a look at the “aircraft.”
The Asobo team built their own version of the Darkstar giving them the opportunity not only to give us a hypersonic experience in the sim but also show off what the MSFS engine can do when you start getting into some more extreme altitudes. This aircraft can exceed 120,000 feet which is way more than what I do with my usual GA trip or what an airliner experience might be. And then there’s the speed which can impressively climb to Mach 9. It’s all a bit over the top but what’s what Top Gun as a military/aviation/action movie is all about!
Asobo and Microsoft also give us something to do with these airplanes. A special Top Gun Maverick menu gives access to interactive training modules and challenges. There are three training modules including how to do an unrestricted climb. These are voiced over and are clearly aimed at people new to the jet fighter experience. And that’s great because we want more people to get interested in this kind of flying!
More experienced pilots and newbies alike can get some enjoyment from the challenges. The standout feature of this DLC pack is the low level challenge. Taking notes from the movie (and the trailers), here you’re challenged to fly as low as possible as fast as possible across a scenic course. The result is a very fun, tension filled, obstacle course where a combination of low and fast net you the most points. Each challenge is progressively a little bit harder. A nice homage to the soundtrack helps to ratchet up the tension as you close in on the finish. I have had ton of fun for a couple of hours doing all of them and I even recorded one of my attempts on the first challenge.
After exhausting the low altitude challenge, I also tried out two of the other experiences. The first is a carrier landing challenge which is surprisingly well done. The hook works, the FLOLS is displayed on screen, there’s a voice over calling the ball and you get some audio call-outs on if you’re too high or two low. The flight model fidelity issues here make it harder than it should be to get a nice smooth approach but it does offer fun for a few minutes at least.
And finally, there’s the Darkstar challenge. The challenge comes with a little guidance on how to launch the aircraft into a sub-orbital Mach 9 cruise, however, it’s really challenging in my experience. Getting it to the required Mach 3 for switchover requires very precise flying and timing and I’m not great at that sort of thing. Still, it’s a very cool experience and right now the only “realistic way” (short of slewing a conventional airplane up there) to experience the world of Microsoft Flight Simulator at Mach 9 and 120,000 feet and more.
The joy, not the seriousness
Writing about another simulator, DCS World and the DCS: F/A-18C Hornet module specifically, has given me hundreds (or potentially almost thousands) of hours on a much more serious simulation. This DCS iteration is very close to a fully realized Hornet simulator with the kind of depth of modelling that can only be done through years of research, programming and real world aircraft maker support. It’s paired with a complex simulation of the kinds of weapons, systems, and functions that a combat simulator needs to, well, simulate a combat flight environment.
The F/A-18E Super Hornet and Microsoft Flight Simulator is just not that kind of aircraft and not that kind of simulation. I’ve seen people from the more serious side of the community disparaging it but I think its worth reminding that this is a more casual lightweight experience.
What this DLC does is give a much wider audience a taste of that full fast jet experience without the intimidation factor. Although its a much more casual experience, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun even for someone like myself who loves that high fidelity experience I see elsewhere. There’s a sense of wonder and joy on display here and I love it!
As always, my hope for flight simming is to see more people drawn into the experience. For walls to be lowered, for passionate fans of aviation to take a more active role in that experience through their home PC and Xbox consoles. Microsoft Flight Simulator has that kind of presence drawing in both the casual and the more experienced. Many of them will be satisfied with this experience and a few of them will crave more. For those of you who are in that situation – it’s time to check out a more serious combat flight simulation!
At the price of free, this new DLC package from Microsoft Flight Simulator gives us some fun activities. It’s light on content but it’s great fun and the low-level challenges alone are good enough to do over a few times.