If you’re looking for a seasoned vet of Microsoft Flight Simulator, who can tell you all about its former iterations and history, I’m not your guy. I only recently broke into the PC gaming world from my comfortable console past. And only very recently was I exposed to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Most of the conversation around MFS 2020 is in the tone one might strike in speaking of an old friend. For me, this beast of a simulator is more like finally becoming friends with the cool kid on the block, and wow is it exciting!

Preparing for takeoff

The immediacy of my realization that this is not just a game but a very detailed simulation was instant. From the 90 GB download to my Nvidia RTX 2080 Super getting the hiccups trying to render it all, the name says it all…Simulator. The breathtaking vistas, the intricately modeled cockpits, and the real-time weather in 1:1 geographic locations make this a rousing victory for several technologies. Graphics, first and foremost, are the paramount leaps we see. This isn’t a program of the present, it is intended for the future. Our current generation of top-tier graphics cards will struggle to run this simulator, and I daresay even the new Nvidia cards will have a time of it on max settings.

Graphically stunning, the even greater achievement is that Microsoft and Asobo have used GPS data to inform every possible location on the planet for the eye to see. Many have already posted about flying over (or, if you’re the type to enjoy crashing, into) their own houses. The massive implications of this integration of technologies are resounding. Will the future of sci-fi gaming take us to satellite mapped planets and moons? Perhaps, the upcoming Assassin’s Creed titles will implement satellite accurate landmarks for their graphic artists to touch up. With VR shaping up to be the next big implementation, perhaps pandemics won’t have to restrict us from traveling the world to see incredible structures or museums. The sheer amount of possibility that this single simulator heralds is rather astounding, and though we imagined these possibilities, Microsoft has brought them firmly within the realm of reality.

Taking flight

The controls of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 are really what blew me away. On standard mouse and keyboard, aircraft are nearly impossible to fly correctly, which is no surprise. Using an Xbox controller, the experience was night and day. Whether it is the feathering of landings or the slight adjustments to rudder controls, a simple game controller allowed me to pilot an aircraft, which is not far off from what Israel is training pilots to accomplish, using the very same controller.

Of course, an actual flight yoke control is ideal, certainly if you are using this simulation to learn to fly planes, but also if you are casually enjoying the view out of a virtual cockpit.

That last sentence is no small thing. One can conceivably learn how to pilot real-life aircraft using Microsoft Flight Simulator, an achievement that most simulations set out to accomplish, but not all deem to meet. With a simple adjustment to the settings, you can decide to treat MFS like a game where your control is limited and rudimentary or choose to be in full control of your craft, responsible for every minute detail that a pilot would need to pay attention to. This speaks volumes to the amount of time and effort by Asobo and Microsoft into getting this right for its former and future fans.

Speaking of fans, prepare to hear your PC’s because this puppy makes your rig work like a ‘90s desktop attempting to dial-up if you are running any hardware less than the recommended (which is almost all hardware). I am running on an AMD Ryzen 9 3900 liquid-cooled CPU, an ASUS TUF ROG Strix Nvidia RTX 2080 Super, and 32 GBs of RAM. Despite not owning a 2080 Ti, I figured my build would be able to handle Flight Sim on pretty high settings, and boy was I wrong. With the RTX 3080, 3090, and 3070 launching this month, I may have to look into upgrading if I want to really enjoy the full experience of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.

Sky-high

When first booting up the game, you’re prompted to first complete a set of tutorials training you on the most basic concepts of flight and how aircraft function. Similar to riding a bike as a child, there are training wheels on during these tutorials. You are only given limited control so as to not overwhelm you, which I appreciated as a newcomer. After the tutorials, there are some curated flights you can take, allowing you to see some awesome locations, and become acquainted with the controls and game more. All in all, there are 20 separate planes, each with their own personality and flying style. And this is not just in name or appearance, these planes feel different from one another on a fundamental level, which I really enjoyed. The amount of work put into each craft is on display here, and it really comes through (as it should) when you switch from a prop to a jet, for instance.

The most incredible aspect of the “game,” however, is the openness of it all. You aren’t forced to go anywhere, you decide where you want to go in a plane of your choosing, which is about as close to freedom as it gets. Who wouldn’t want to hop on a plane and fly to wherever the wind takes them? And that, in all its simple and primal appeal, is the real triumph of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Asobo and Microsoft give the thrill and freedom of flying anywhere on this vast planet to everyone who wishes to purchase it.

Truly an achievement, the fact that MFS 2020 is very clearly in its infancy is perhaps the most exciting aspect of it. The simulation has very blatantly been future-proofed in terms of graphic fidelity, but what else will be added? Perhaps new hand-crafted locations aside from the 40 airports in the base version will be given to us as downloadable content. Or perhaps we’ll get to fly old antique fighter jets, biplane props, or WW2 bombers. Unlikely, but who is to say? With the promise of a bright and supported future, the investment into MFS 2020 is easily justified. Whether you’re an aspiring pilot, a gamer, or simply a lover of aircraft, this simulator is a fantastic experience to behold.