Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight - game review

Date: 2003-07-29 09:47:00
The review was based on the PC version.

All virtual pilots of the world have already got used to the peculiar holiday, which is the appearance of the next version of Microsoft's Flight Simulator. The last product of this series is Flight Simulator 9 (officially known as Flight Simulator 2004) and, like its predecessors, aroused much controversy at the time of the first announcements. Discussions on its breakthroughs have started in discussion forums around the world. One thing is certain - it is impossible to review Flight Simulator 2004 in isolation from the previous version, because it was the changes compared to its predecessor that all the waiting people focused on. Are they revolutionary? Opinions will certainly be divided here. They are certainly not revolutionary for those buyers for whom the predecessor was only the basis around which they built a virtual world on free and commercial add-ons downloaded or bought from the Internet. For them, some elements, which were enriched with FS2004, have already been made by independent companies creating additions to the simulator. However, I will try to focus on these changes only based on the basic FS2004, and in this case they can actually be considered revolutionary.

The number of media notices before installation. The installation package has a fourth CD, which is also reflected in the size of the full installation (and it is recommended to be able to safely put the discs into the box) - it takes almost three gigabytes on the hard disk! The first launch of the program brings a positive impression - the transparent layout of individual menus has remained unchanged, while their appearance has been refreshed, clearly following the style of Windows XP. The instructional section for beginners has traditionally been based on the excellent lessons of flying John and Marta Kingów and Rod Machado, thus replacing the traditional paper textbooks with multimedia. This is a good solution, because all the training material is based on a hyperlink system, thus reminiscent of surfing the website. The instructional section is done very thoroughly, teaching everything that is necessary for the proper flying of planes - from the basics of "how to start" to advanced navigation.

The title of the new Flight Simulator is "A Century of Flight", which clearly indicates the relationship with the jubilee conventionally established this year. This, of course, was reflected in the program itself, where, in addition to known from previous versions of modern machines, nine magnificent, historic aircraft were added. Those are:

Of course, admirers of old aircraft could complain that their beloved antique did not appear in the fleet. For example, the lack of the first jet passenger aircraft, even the pioneering Comet. Ultimately, however, this collection quite well reflects what was happening at the turn of the century in the field of aviation.

Historical aircraft were described in a separate menu section, of course, called Century of Flight. There are not only their descriptions or authentic photos, but also examples of ready flights, reflecting what happened in the past! And yes, we can get on the Wright brothers' plane, move in 1903, try to pull him off the ground, thus personally beginning the era of aviation. Choosing Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, we can play the role of Charles Lindbergh and try to travel the ocean on our own from New York to Paris, or sit behind the wheel of the famous Dakota DC-3 and overcome one of the famous passenger routes with this aircraft over the Rocky Mountains. Although such historical flights have not been prepared much (from one to three for a given type of aircraft), it is a great idea and it is worth starting chronologically to watch how it all evolved.

The modern fleet has not changed significantly compared to the FS2002 (Robinson R22 helicopter came), however, several bugs have been corrected in individual aircraft. The layout of the flight creation menu also remained virtually the same, although there are several changes here. First of all - a skilled observer will notice that the number of airports we can choose from has increased from 22,000 to 24,000. I think, however, that it will satisfy mainly amateurs of flying from very unusual places - I do not think that among these additional two thousand there are some important airports. The flight planning map itself has also been changed - its colors and terrain have been added. At first glance, it is slightly less readable, but you can get used to it. A significant change took place in the Flight Simulator weather module - you can choose from ready-made weather "themes" on the route (e.g. flight in fog, snowstorm or among storm clouds), which is a significant simplification and eliminates the need to manually set weather conditions. In addition, owners of the Internet connection can use the Jeppesen site to automatically download the current weather and not only at the starting point, as it was in FS2002, but also at 15-minute intervals along the entire route. In addition to weather options, a certain novelty is also regulating not only the amount of fuel that we take on board an aircraft, but also cargo, giving the weight of individual passengers and luggage. In the case of small airplanes, we provide it for individual persons (including crew), for larger ones e.g. total weight of the rows of seats. This is a useful function that allows you to assess the behavior of a given aircraft in a pilot configuration plus a minimum of fuel, versus full tanks and all seats occupied. FS2002 required editing the aircraft configuration files to make such changes. Of course, the default values are already entered, which eliminates every time you enter data.

So much for the FS2004 menu and options. What does the simulator look like already in action? Opinions will certainly be divided, but in my opinion it is nicer and faster. I don't know how much the graphics engine of the program has been modified, but compared to the 2002 version, on the same hardware configuration and graphics settings, the image is displayed much smoother. Already at first glance you can see a significantly enriched autogen, i.e. the system of building the area seen by the player with buildings and plants introduced in FS2002. It is more dense now and therefore there are less empty spaces. It will be especially appreciated by fans of VFR flights, that is "with the view of the earth" - pilots of large Boeings will spend the program on the ceiling of 30,000 feet anyway.

When Flight Simulator 2002 appeared on the market, the breakthrough was introduced in the ATC system, i.e. air traffic control. It turned out quite quickly that it is a system not very flexible, not offering many possibilities offered by real traffic control. In the 2004 version ATC has been significantly enriched by adding such interesting features as requests to change the ceiling, the place to which we fly or the lane where we would like to land. It certainly added a pinch of realism to the way we are controlled from the ground. An important change is also the enrichment of the airport scenery with boards with taxi route markings. Many users of the 2002 version considered illogical dictation of taxiways by control, while they were still not marked and the right direction was indicated by a pink line, overlapping the ground. Now we can taxi by observing the tables, which again gave the simulator realism. Along the route, we are supported by an improved GPS, which has been enriched - just like the flight planner - with colors and terrain. The physics of flight in FS2004 itself did not undergo any significant changes, except for the mentioned improvements in the behavior of some aircraft. Computer-controlled planes that, apart from us, move around airports and in the air, behave correctly, although despite the increase in the number of paintings in which they occur, it still looks as if only a few airlines were flying around the world on the same types of machines. The weather conditions were wonderfully reproduced. Snowstorms, heavy rain, thunderstorms - everything gives an amazing atmosphere. The flight is also enhanced by new, beautiful, three-dimensional clouds, which in the previous version could only be seen after installing additional modules. And if we talk about additional programs and add-ons, both Microsoft and the producers of these add-ons at the beginning claimed that there would be no problems with their operation in FS2004. The situation may not be so rosy, however, it turns out that some of them will require corrections.

The official hardware requirements for FS2004 are not too high; it is 64MB RAM for Windows 98 / Me, 128 for Windows 2000 / XP, a processor clocked at least 450 MHz and 8MB graphics card. Practice shows, however, that for stress-free fun you need a processor at least 1 GHz, a fast graphic accelerator and at least 256MB RAM. On inferior equipment, a significant reduction in the detail of the displayed graphics will be required, and this will certainly take away the realism and beauty of the program.

Flight Simulator 2004 is certainly a good, but demanding, program that can bring satisfaction to experienced pilots perfectly familiar with previous versions. Certainly bewilder with its momentum all beginners, for whom this version will be the first Flight Simulator in their lives. Whoever catches the virtual flying bug will learn all the charms of this program and spend countless hours with it. It is not fun for a short time - flying requires a lot of training and a decision is made quickly - either it is not for me or "it is exactly what I was looking for". I hope that the latter will be much, much more.

Adrian "Red Scorpion" Napieralski