Archived Pages from 20th Century!!
Microsoft Reviewed by: Craig Strachan
|Protection:||CD must be in drive.|
|Price:||Retail: £44 UK, Street: £40 UK|
|Computer||Memory||HDisk spc.||CD speed|
|Controls:||Mouse, Joystick, Throttle, Rudder Pedals|
|Sound devices:||Any Supported by Windows 95|
Let me tell you about one of the most boring evenings of my life. A so called friend suggested that I go along with him to a meeting of the computing club run by his fellow employees. Knowing of my 'special interests', he felt that the subject of the meeting might interest me.
As soon as we entered the clubhouse where the meeting was being held, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. A group of people were gathered round a PC and phrases such as 'virus checker' and 'C compiler' filled the air. Yes, I was in the land of the computer nerd and worse still, I was driving so I couldn't even seek solace in the bar's supply of Guiness as my companion did.
Eventually, the subject of the meeting was revealed, a man who had dedicated the last several years of his life to producing scenery for Microsoft's Flight Simulator 4. And this mind you when Flight Simulator 5 had been out for at least a year.
The dreary evening wore on with many a humorous tale of how a prominent landmark had been displaced 2 cm. to the west of its true position in the scenery. The scenery was displayed on the PC (after the CD containing the scenery had been virus checked of course) and yes it looked quite effective given Flight Simulator 4's graphical restrictions.
Donning my Games Domain Review journalist's hat (the one with the propeller that spins wildly when the secret button is pressed), I enquired of the author how much the scenery disk was sold for. He told me and my companion was kind enough to guide my suddenly nerveless body to a seat. We hurriedly left the room pursued by cries of "don't forget about our C++ evening".
I think this gives a pretty good idea of the obsession some people can have with Flight Simulator in its various guises.
Microsoft Flight Simulator and I go back a long way. I played version 1 on my first computer, a TRS80 clone where the staggering resolution of (if I recall correctly) 32 by 16 pixels made gaining that real experience of flying somewhat tricky. One of my main reasons for buying my Atari ST was so that I could play version 2. Version 3 was a Mac only release I believe and so passed me by but I have played version 4 and 5 on various varieties of PC I have had access to. Now by a happy coincidence, the latest version of Flight Simulator, running under Windows for the first time, has appeared just as I finally buckle under and buy a machine capable of running Windows 95. Known by many names, Flight Simulator for Windows 95, Flight Simulator 95 and Flight Simulator 6, I'll just call it Flight Simulator for the rest of the review.
Actually, I did Flight Simulator a grave injustice when I said that I had played it on so many machines. Flight Simulator is a serious product which requires a fair amount of effort to be put into it before the undoubtably large amounts of satisfaction it offers can be recouped. Flight Simulator is aimed at the type of person who will happily spent an entire evening plotting their flight between say Orly Airport and Heathrow before ever booting Flight Simulator up. Their reward comes from picking up the Heathrow ILS exactly where they calculated that they would. All Microsoft's efforts to inject a bit of 'fun' into Flight Simulator (the World War One dogfight game, the crop-dusting game) have failed mainly because it's not a 'fun' product. Finally, Microsoft seem to have realised this and have introduced adventures and situations, features which allow the player to face up to a challenge without trivialising the activity.
If you think this looks complicated, you should see the in-flight video player's controls
Microsoft claim to have completely rewritten the Flight Simulator game engine for this release optimising parts of it for the Pentium processor. In addition, the product now comes with with several scenery areas sold as add-ons for Flight Simulator 5 including New York and Paris. Finally, there are two new aircraft, the Extra 300s, a competition aerobatics machine, and the Boeing 737, beloved of the short haul package holiday trade. In addition of course, we get a slick new Windows 95 front end.
Say what you like about Windows 95, it's brought a bit of excitement back into gaming. Name another system where on installing a new game, the keen player not only cannot be sure that the game will work, he can't even be sure that games which previously worked will survive whatever the installation process does to his system.
Flight Simulator had associated with it that word which sets the prudent PC owner's knees a knocking, DirectX. I had already installed two previous DirectX games with little trauma. Would the third time prove to be one trip too many to the well? With shaking hands, I slipped the CD into the drive.
As it turns out, installation was a breeze. There is a choice of install options ranging from 40M on the disk to over 120M depending on how much scenery you want to stash on your hard disk. The install routine does blot its copybook in one respect in that it insists on installing its own version of DirectX regardless of whether there is a version already installed. Annoying but not a disaster.
Then I attempted to install the game onto a friend's PC for reasons which I will go into later. In an instant, his machine switched from running Windows 95 in 1024x 600 to what looked suspiciously like VGA. With 16 colours. Like fools, neither of us had thought to check which drivers his machine was using before the fatal install and it took 45 long minutes to get his machine back in working order. Bad enough under normal circumstances but Patrick had a brand new copy of C&C - Red Alert clutched in his clammy grasp and by the time everything was back to normal, steam was practically coming out of his ears.
The Cessna in front of the world Lego headquarters
Sound in Flight Simulator is good. I believe it is all sampled from the original aircraft and is certainly a huge improvement on Flight simulator 5 whose flap noise would have had any prudent pilot bailing out immediately.
Flight Simulator's graphics sadly offer little improvement over its predecessor. Familiar areas such as Meigs are practically identical to the previous version. In fact, for me the graphics are slightly worse than before because a 'shimmer' seems to have been introduced. On lifting off from Meigs, it looked like a vast cloud of fireflys were hovering above the ground. The only sign that this might be intentional is that in spring, the fireflys are green, in autumn brown.
When I saw them, my first reaction was "that can't be right" hence my ill-starred attempt to get the game going on Patrick's machine. The fireflys were present on his machine as well leading me to the inescapable conclusion that the graphics are meant to look like that.
As regular readers will know, in the great bitmap verses vector graphics debate, I find myself unhesitatingly standing behind the supporters of vector graphics and Flight Simulator has done nothing to make me change my mind. That said, to lure in the casual punter, Microsoft probably had no option but to go for the more appealing (at first glance anyway) bitmap option and there is no denying that at certain altitudes, the landscape can look very fine indeed. In addition, the aircraft themselves when viewed from the spotter plane look superb, the Boeing 737 being worthy of particular mention.
As regards speed, Flight Simulator is no flier (sorry, I couldn't resist it) thought Microsoft assert that the player should see some improvement over Flight Simulator 5 despite the additional overheads of running under Windows. The game can run within a window or in full screen mode and Microsoft recommend using a 256 colour driver for maximum performance. There is also an option to run in low res for those with a major speed problem. Microsoft have been kind enough to build a frame counter into the program which can be accessed by pressing shift Z four times.
Much is made of Flight Simulator's new Windows 95 type interface and the new pop up menus and control panels do look nice but fundamentally, the Flight Simulator structure remains unchanged. At the top of the screen is a set of menus whose contents will be immediately familiar to users of any previous version of Flight Simulator. Continuity is a good thing of course but I've always felt that the Flight Simulator structure was slightly confusing and I feel that more advantage could have been taken of the move to Windows 95. Old Flight Simulator users will feel right at home. Those new to the program may take some time to get to grips with the interface.
Another load of happy holiday makers off to the Costa Fortune.
I've never been quite convinced by the flight models of previous versions of Flight Simulator. There's always been a feeling of flying on rails associated with them and advanced stuff like spins were well nigh impossible. Microsoft claim to have substantially tweaked the flight models for each of the aircraft in the new release and it shows. The aircraft do feel different from each other. Microsoft showed great bravery in including the Extra in the package because it allows direct comparison with Flight Unlimited which also features an Extra and has one of the best flight models around. Microsoft's bravery paid off though because its flight model does not suffer too badly in comparison with Flight Unlimited's. Indeed the flight models of the Extra and the Boeing have been certified by two well respected authorities, Patty Wagstaff, an aerobatic champion and FlightSafety International, a leading pilot training organisation. The Sopwith Camel still flies nothing like the real thing though.
For a lot of people, the joy of using Flight Simulator comes not from the actual flying of the planes but from the opportunity to plot a flight over a large area of the globe (for remember Flight Simulator claims to contain the whole world on its CD) then fly that course using the navigation aids which the sim provides. These people may be disappointed that Microsoft has not seen fit to include some of the newer navigation aids such as GPS in the sim.
...who has dedicated the last two years of his life to producing a veritable air force of aircraft for Flight Simulator 5. Can I use my creations in the new sim or have the last two years of my life been wasted?
The good news is that by and large, you can use your creations. There are a couple of provisos though.
The first thing to say is that Flight Simulator for Windows 95 is not directly compatible with Flight Shop, the utility used by most people to produce third party aircraft. When Flight Simulator for Windows 95 was released, Microsoft announced that they would be releasing a utility which would allow people to use their home rolled aeroplanes with Flight Simulator for Windows 95. I am sure I was not the only one who whooped with derision when I read that because think about it, That would mean Microsoft spending its own money (in the form of the wages of the poor serf allocated the task of lashing together the utility) to support someone else's product (Flight Shop).
Well I guess old age is making me over cynical because all credit to Microsoft, the utility is out and seems to work. It's called fsconv and you can download it from Microsoft's flight sim web pages. It also allows adventures to be converted with reasonable success.
There are some problems though. Some aircraft when converted have problems with their flight model or spin around on the ground (even at rest!) like whirling dervishes. Microsoft say that this is because these aircraft had a flight model which was only just within tolerances for Flight simulator 5 and that the more sensitive flight model of Flight Simulator for Windows 95 cannot cope with this dodgy flight model. Hmm. There is also a problem with custom control panels for aircraft but I was never into Flight simulator enough to understand what it is.
For people who would like to fly different planes without going to the bother of designing them themselves, Flightsim.com is a site with more aircraft than you can imagine to choose from.
En route to Fleet. HA HA! HA HA!!! HA HA!!!!!
Let's have a look at a typical flight simulator session shall we?
When I was a young fresh faced graduate, I left my beloved hills and glens (actually I was brought up in the middle of downtown Aberdeen where the hills and glens are a bit scarce but bear with me) and went to work in a place called Fleet in Hampshire, a place which in any arsehole of the universe contest would comfortably make a top three placing. Its worth may be judged from the fact that the most celebrated thing about it is that it gave its name to a service station on the M3.
As I walked along its pestilential streets, I often dreamed of levelling the place until no stone lay atop another, preferably with the employment of as much violence as possible. How about carrying out a kamikaze attack in a fully laden Boeing 737? By a happy coincidence, Fleet lies almost exactly half way between Blackbushe and Farnborough Airfields, both of which are modelled in the new London scenery. Even better, Blackbushe has a VOR (VHF omni range) with DME(Distance - look people who are interested will already know this stuff and the rest of you couldn't give a toss, do I really have to bother with all this? - measuring equipment).
The plan is this. Start off on the runway at Farnborough in a fully loaded 737. Tune the navigation radar to the Blackbushe VOR and get its bearing. This gives us the course we need to fly. Check the DME readout to see how far we have to fly by dividing the figure by two. Easy.
Well it would be easy but for one or two minor problems. The Blackbushe VOR doesn't seem to be there. Seems Microsoft forgot to put it in along with several other navaids on the London map. Am I to be frustrated? No! The net to the rescue. Some kind soul has put a file up on Flightsim.com which restores the missing beacons. Unfortunately, the DME still doesn't seem to be there so I get a cross bearing from the Odiham VOR instead.
The big Boeing is slow on the controls, most unlike the Cessna or Learjet but soon I am in a climbing turn over Farnborough. As we pass through 10000 feet I head south to acquire the correct radial and then turn Fleetwards. The wait as the nav2 readout counts down to the correct value seems to take for ever but at last the time has arrived. I slam the throttle shut and point the Boeing's nose down. As the airspeed spools up, I deploy the spoilers to prevent the 737 breaking up in mid air. As the sound of rushing air rises to a scream and the ground rushes up towards me, I utter a howl of unholy pleasure. This'll teach them all to pretend they coudn't understand my accent!
Ok, perhaps that's not quite a typical session. They usually include boring stuff like landing the plane.
Does Flight Simulator have any bugs? It's a Microsoft product, of course it's got bugs. I've already mentioned the ones I've encountered, none of which are a real problem. Other reported bugs include conflicts with certain third party scenery and some users have reported mysterious slowdowns at inopportune moments such as on final approach. I haven't experienced this myself and it may well be that this depends on the individual's Windows 95 setup. Microsoft have released a patch which is supposed to deal with some of the scenery problems.
Flight Simulator for Windows 95 suffers from one of the great plagues of mankind - online documentation. I've said it before and since on those occasions the games publishing community did not slap their collective foreheads and exclaim "what fools we've been!" I'll no doubt say it again; online documentation alone simply does not work for programs of any complexity. The flow of information is broken up and the amount of information available is severely reduced if you can find it at all. It's of little consolation knowing that you have the complete history of the Learjet online when all you want to do is find out the key to switch the nav2 VOR to ADF mode. A pox on it.
Mercifully, the Flight simulator package is not entirely devoid of dead trees. There is a slim volume included which gives a very basic introduction to the sim, some quite interesting information on the aircraft within the sim and has the sectional charts for the navigation areas included with the sim at the back. These charts, vital for anyone who wants to treat Flight Simulator as more than a toy used to come as separate pieces of high quality paper (I'll never forget the rage I felt when I discovered that one of my cats had torn up my charts from Flight Simulator 2. My wife came close that day to getting a very unusual pair of fur mittens) . I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that they're still included at all.
Some of the online help stuff is useful. For instance, there is a complete directory of airfields and navigations aids online, useful if you can't lay your hands on the manual to look up that vital frequency. The multimedia ground school and flying lessons are also interesting and are well done.
I'm a bit afraid that in this review I may have concentrated overmuch on the negative aspects of Flight Simulator for Windows 95 while ignoring the sim's many good points. For now, there's really nothing else like Flight Simulator on the market and for realism and attention to detail, it's hard to beat. Name me another sim where, if you want to, you can worry about things like propeller pitch and carburetor heat.
This is quite a lengthy review and yet I haven't even touched on such areas as the adventures you can try and fly, the flying lessons, now including lesson in acrobatics given by a real life acrobatics champion, the numerous options for setting up the time of day, time of year and weather conditions or a dozen other things. Many of these are not new to Flight Simulator for Windows 95 of course but there is no doubt in my mind that is it a worthy follow up to its illustrious predecessors. The trouble is that it's not actually that much of an advance over Flight Simulator 5. The new planes and scenery are nice but take them away and you've got Flight Simulator 5 with a few multimedia add ons. Still, if it ain't broken, don't fix it, I suppose.
Despite my doubts about its lack of innovation, I have no hesitation in awarding Flight Simulator for Windows 95 the prestigeous Silver Bear award and only the knowledge that this is not a program for everyone prevents me from putting it forward for a Golden Bear. It may not do much more that its previous version but what it does do, it does very well indeed. It has ensnared me with its seductive appeal, just as the previous versions did.
Should you buy Flight Simulator for Windows 95? It depends. If you are the sort of virtual flyer who enjoys leaping aboard the old kite, poling about the sky for a bit and hopefully shooting down a few of the enemy, then give it a miss. It's not your sort of game. If you've enjoyed previous versions of Flight Simulator but only have version 4 or less and your machine's up to the job, rush out and buy it today. You won't regret it.
The big quandary is faced by those who have Flight Simulator 5. For them, it will probably boil down to whether the convenience of running the sim under Windows 95 and the prospect of the new aircraft, scenery and lessons make the expenditure of the asking price worthwhile, always remembering that they could go out and buy large tracts of third party scenery or Flightshop for Flight Simulator 5 instead.
That's the great thing about Flight Simulator. It always gives you a lot of options to play with.
There's something wrong here but I can't quite put my finger on it.
|Appeal:||Flight Simulator fans|
|Originality & Storyline:||Not really applicable|
|Graphics & Video:||Nice looking but I'm still not convinced about bitmaps|
|Audio:||Excellent aircraft sounds|
|Longevity:||For the right person, could last a lifetime.|
|Presentation:||Nice, if you like the Microsoft style.|
|Packaging & Docs:||Nice manual but way too thin.|
|Bugs & Problems:||Hung on starting up sometimes but that may be Windows 95.|
Pros: Excellent flight sim with loads of long term appeal
Cons: No killing, therefore may not appeal to everyone.