Before we get into the meat of the review, we feel it’s necessary to provide a little background. For many years, Microsoft has developed and published the hugely-successful Flight Simulator games, a lineage that stretches as far back as the 90’s.
After the last title, Flight Simulator X (FSX), was published in 2006 Microsoft put the franchise on ice, neither killing it completely nor actively developing more entries. Then, presumably in an effort to revive the popular flying title, Microsoft handed all the development tools and rights over to Dovetail Games last year.
Flight School is Dovetail’s first attempt to show what it can do with the newly acquired assets, and it’s fantastic. (Dovetail released a Steam version of FSX, but that was mainly to make it compatible with current PC and fix some long-standing bugs.)
Flight School Review: Legacy
Any company that acquired the assets to Flight Simulator would have known what huge task lay ahead of them.
Re-making something a popular as FSX would be a massive undertaking, and the community would be unforgiving if it wasn’t up the same standard. Granted FSX came out a good few years ago, but people are still developing mods, new planes and map additions for the original version.
Luckily here Dovetail stays true to the original format, aside from a few small niggles, it is a much better in many aspects. This is a very good thing and not just because Dovetail won’t be lynched by the community’ Flight School is a brilliant tech demo that showcases the developer’s brilliant potential.
We say it is a tech demo as Flight School is a small, very contained experience that the developer says is aimed at people who are new to flight simulation and want to learn the ropes in order to play flight sims competently.
For a start, players only have a choice between two small planes. It is easier to develop if you have limited assets to work with, but it also means that you can focus a lot more attention on the details.
Flight School Review: Graphics
Running everything on Ultra settings, the interior cockpit views are truly amazing, and much better than Microsoft’s past productions.
Every knob, switch and gauge has meticulously been replicated from the cockpits of the real-world planes. Exterior views are equally impressive: rivets are visible, the aircraft glistens in a sunrise and water droplets form on the windshield.
The scenery however, is a different matter. Although you fly over real-world locations, it would take a serious amount of power to render (let alone develop) every landmark, highway and suburb across the world.
The community has been releasing high-resolution scenery map packs for almost every corner of the globe for FSX for years. Dovetail hasn’t even scratched the surface yet.
That is, once again, why we are calling it a tech demo: the scenery is generic at best, with landmarks only loosely resembling what they look like in real-life. This isn’t a slight on the game, though; we would rather have (somewhat) low-detailed houses and roads than nothing at all.
We have to add though, that landmarks in major cities are present, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in New York.
Flight School Review: Modes
Within the beautifully crafted menus, you have one of three options: free flight, missions or flight training.
The latter should be self-explanatory: it takes you through all the steps from taxiing and take-off to radio controls and navigation without the trusty GPS. As the lessons progress, the difficulty rise, requiring players to be attentive at all times.
The great thing about completing the training missions, is that you can do a virtual flying exam to demonstrate everything you have learnt. Clock five hours of in-game flying time and you can take the exam. Pass it, and the game will award you with a pilot’s licence.
Luckily for returning players to the franchise, all the keyboard controls are the same, so there shouldn’t be any issues getting off the ground. Some of the minor controls have been changed, but the in-game instructor will brief you on them.
Missions are intended for those who have some flying experience already under their belt, and once again it is pretty self-explanatory. The game will present you with a number of scenarios (just like in FSX) and you have to complete them according to the instructions.
These can range from dropping of cargo, flying across Iceland to Scotland, or performing some intricate manoeuvres.
Free flight is simple: set your own course, fly from wherever you like and land what any airport you wish. If you need a break from lessons or missions and just want to get some solo flying time towards you licence, this is the mode for that.
Flight School Review: Conclusion
If Flight School is the direction that Dovetail Games want to take Flight Simulator, we are definitely not going to complain; we have clocked over 300 hours and 224 landings in FSX.
The details are spot-on: from the menu navigation right through to the aircraft in the air. Physics-wise, the planes also handle the way a real plane would, albeit in a virtual setting.
Besides for the low-detailed scenery, there is very little that we can fault Flight School on. Although, we did have a small issue where the game refused to play in full-screen mode, and it also doesn’t seem to support multiple monitors.
If you ever thought of ditching FSX, Flight School is going to be you next logical move. If you are new to the flying simulator genre, Flight School would be a fantastic place to start.
Now…if Dovetail can flesh Flight School out to the same level as FSX, it would be the perfect flight simulator the community so desperately needs.
- Flight School was reviewed on a PC. Review code supplied by publisher.