Full disclosure: I work for Microsoft, but not in the Flight team or Entertainment & Devices division.
They picked a good day – February 29th. These days, a new Microsoft flight game release is as rare as a leap year. The Flight team today launched the first product after the meltdown of the old team. Any day you ship a product is a good day, but for these guys, who three years ago thought they would never get to give the public another release, it must have been a great day.
At the Microsoft Commons, the team set up a couple of machines and let people fly for a while. Here is a shot of some real Microsofties trying the game:
They also had a big tray of Flight cookies to commemorate the moment. Even though it was before lunch, and I have a strict no-dessert-until-you-eat-your-veggies rule, I had one anyway. Here is Amy modelling one of the cookies:
I have not yet downloaded the RTM, but I was on the beta, so I thought it was time to post my opinions (a review may or may not come later). There has been a lot of concern that by dropping the word ‘simulator’ from the title, Flight would become some kind of nerfed Xbox game (like the abominable Hawx series). The bottom line is, this is not true at all. The flight model is pretty much what you have in FSX, with additional helpers (similar to FSX’s auto-mixture and auto-rudder coordination helpers). If you turn those off, you are pretty much flying FSX.
On to the good – the performance is simply great. On my machine, it runs 50% to 100% faster than my FSX setup. The team promised improved speed, and they delivered in spades. On top of that, the visuals are greatly improved. The terrain rendering is more detailed, with more autogen packed into the same space, and a completely new lighting and shadow model – everything casts a shadow on everything in a soft, convincing way. The colours are more realistic, and the models are very well done, with details in the VCs even better than FSX. the new Stearman is a pleasure to fly.
People have complained that Flight is not a worthy replacement for FSX. But it is clear from using it for just an hour that this is not meant to be a replacement. Essentailly, the Flight team has followed the game model of racing simulators like Forza. You have one defined region to fly (Hawaii to begin), and various challenges/missions which allow you to unlock more content. This is completely different from the model of FSX or even X-Plane, which give you a completely open world, with all content available from the start. You can love it or hate it, but it was an intentional choice to move with this new model by the team. It’s an intriguing idea. I found myself staying on the sim a little longer just to find the next aerocache or unlock the next piece during the Beta, so I think it has good potential.
Also in place is a content store for DLC (the app store model is now on Windows 8, and you can expect to see it all over new Microsoft products). They already have a couple of good pieces of DLC there. The Vans R-7 aircraft retails for about $15, which seems a good price for DLC, if you consider the price of comparable third-party aircraft for FSX. We will have to see how it pans out. I am rooting for them to do well.