Microsoft Flight Simulator has been out on PC for over a year, and just a few months on Xbox, and it’ll soon get its biggest content drop yet in the form of the Game of the Year Edition and the Reno Air Races Expansion.
The first part of this review will be dedicated to the GOTY Edition, which will be provided at no additional cost to everyone who purchased the simulator. It’ll also be included in all new purchases henceforth.
You can consider it basically an addition to our original review from last year since all of this content basically becomes part of the base simulator.
The second part is dedicated to the Reno Air Races expansion, which is the first major paid expansion for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Let’s start with the Microsoft Flight Simulator GOTY Edition. It’s true that you can’t go wrong with free, but how much value does this really add to the simulator? Turns out, it’s a lot.
The main element setting it apart from previous content drops is that it doesn’t just add scenery, but also five different aircraft.
The Cubcrafters NX Cub is pretty much what you expect from a variation of the original X Cub that is available in the simulator since its launch. If you like that one, you’ll likely enjoy the new version as well, unless you are a massive taildragger lover and can’t fathom the idea of a Cub with a front wheel.
The Aviat Pitts Special S-1S is another variation of an aircraft we already had, and more precisely the Pitts Special S-2S. Like the new Cub, it’s a nice have, but it gets an additional perk. The changes made to the simulator with the implementation of the Reno Air Races expansion make aerobatic planes much snappier and responsive, and both Pitts models are improved pretty massively by this.
The Volocopter VoloCity is the first aircraft that brings something really new to the simulator. More than an aircraft, it’s basically a manned drone mated with a helicopter that Volocopter envisions as a future air taxi.
It’s quite fun to fly and it’s definitely an interesting concept. While it won’t beat performance records, its ability to hover easily and to take off and land vertically makes it a great little sightseeing machine, as long as you don’t plan to travel far. Its range is very limited and it isn’t fast.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the first fighter jet introduced as a default aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and as such, it definitely sets itself apart from the rest. It’s a lot of fun to fly, and it’s pretty much the perfect option if you want to go fast. Whether it’s challenging nap-of-the-earth canyon flying or cloud-hopping at high altitude, the Hornet is a pleasure to fly as long as you aren’t looking for in-depth systems.
A lot of the controls are unsurprisingly inoperative, and you can pretty much compare its system depth to other default aircraft. Yet, it’s very appropriate for that niche of players who want to enjoy a fighter jet without having to spend extra for third-party addons.
On top of that, it introduces support for systems like afterburners, supersonic flying (with boom), and collimated HUD that third-party developers will be able to use in advanced aircraft, and that’s definitely sweet.
The one issue is that it doesn’t carry weapons, in line with Microsoft’s policy that also applies to the official marketplace. Personally, I have to say that I find the whole policy pretty pedantic, not because I necessarily want to go around firing missiles and dropping bombs –this is not a military simulator, after all, so that sort of functionality is not expected–, yet, part of simulating military aircraft involves dealing with different loadouts that alter the weight distribution considerably, and as such, have a relevant role in the simulation. Other aircraft can be configured with different payloads (passengers and cargo), but the F-18 can’t.
This can only be defined as a weird decision for a simulator that wants to celebrate all aspects of aviation (and military aviation has been a big contributor to the progress of flight as a whole), especially considering that it applies to third-party developers who want to release their aircraft on the official marketplace as well.
Personal rant and systems shortcomings aside, there’s no doubt that the Super Hornet is a lot of fun to fly, and a great introduction to this kind of aircraft for novices.
While all four aircraft mentioned above are comparable to default ones, we shouldn’t forget to mention that they look gorgeous and sound fantastic. As usual, there’s very little to complain about the planes’ visuals and audio in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
You may have noticed that I haven’t yet talked about the fifth, the humble workhorse Pilatus PC-6 Porter. That’s because it’s the odd one out, in a very, very, very good way.
As mentioned above, so far Microsoft Flight Simulator has provided default aircraft with much-simplified systems in order to make them accessible to novices, but the Porter is the real deal. Every single switch and knob in the cockpit of its versions (it comes with both a classic steam gauges version and a glass cockpit version, on top of classic skis and glass cockpit floats) actually works. It even has functional circuit breakers, which you won’t even find in many payware addons.
While I’m not a real-life pilot so I don’t really have the authority to determine whether this is comparable to a study-level add-on, it’s definitely an advanced aircraft for which you’d expect to pay twenty or thirty bucks on its own, if not more.
Of course, it looks and sounds fantastic as the other planes, but it comes with all of the system depth they lack. Not only it’s a pleasure to fly, but it can satisfy even core simmers who usually wouldn’t give default aircraft a second look.
If you’re a novice, this doesn’t mean the Porter isn’t for you. You can definitely consider it a free gateway to advanced simulation once you’re ready to challenge yourself.
This brings me to my one sizable complaint about the Game of the Year Edition, which incidentally is similar to what I wasn’t too fond of in the base simulator. The lack of proper documentation and manuals, on top of advanced tutorials, reduces the potential for novices to truly enjoy the depth of the simulation.
Especially the Porter with its many working switches and knobs could really use a nice and detailed manual, but it’s not like the other aircraft wouldn’t benefit from one as well, albeit perhaps less detailed in line with their reduced depth.
The GOTY Edition introduces new tutorials, and it’s a step in the right direction, but still not sufficient to truly let newcomers master all the aircraft provided. Of course, it’s not a problem for me. I’ve been flying on flight simulators since before I entered middle school, and what I don’t know, I can Google.
Yet, those who haven’t logged all these virtual flight hours shouldn’t have to look outside of the simulator for help. While the interactive checklists are helpful, they can only carry you so much in truly understanding what you’re doing. Flying an aircraft isn’t simply a list of memory items that you can tick on a list.
The other big addition to the simulator is eight new hand-crafted airports. We get the following:
- Leipzig/Halle Airport (EDDP)
- Allgäu Airport Memmingen (EDJA)
- Kassel Airport (EDVK)
- Lugano Airport (LSZA)
- Zurich Airport (LSZH)
- Luzern-Beromunster Airport (LSZO)
- Patrick Space Force Base (KCOF)
- Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (KNKX)
They’re definitely welcome, even if personally I would have appreciated a wider range of locations worldwide. After all, this is a Game of the Year edition, not a Game of Germany, Switzerland, and US Military Bases Edition.
This element of taste aside, they’re all at least pretty good, and will definitely improve your enjoyment of the locations portrayed.
The real star is definitely Zurich, which is absolutely indistinguishable in quality from some of the best payware airports. As a matter of fact, it gives many of those a run for their money. It shows that it was originally conceived exactly as that, and Gaya Simulation did a fantastic job with it. This is definitely comparable to airports you have to spend $20 or more for as separate add-ons.
If I have to mention a complaint it’s exactly the rather wide difference in quality between the various airport. Zurich is awesome, some are good, and some are more leaning toward the “decent” tier, with blander ground textures and default jetways. The different proficiency of the studios hired to make them is visible.
While I won’t complain too much about something given for free, it’d be nice to see more normalization in the quality of airports, even extending to world updates. Possibly upward, of course. If you want to do something, do it well. Custom Jetways, better weathering for ground textures, better use of physically-based rendering, and more details would go a long way in making these locations a lot more enjoyable, realistic, and immersive.
Also, I’m not sure what possessed the developer who made Leipzig/Halle to set the ramps in most of the cargo aprons as general aviation. It’s definitely not appropriate for the fifth-busiest cargo airport in Europe.
Nitpicks aside, eight free airports including a top-quality international hub are of undeniable value, and it’s amazing that Microsoft is willing to provide this kind of content for free. Add to that several new cities enriched by photogrammetry (Helsinki in Finland, Freiburg in Germany, Brighton, Derby, Eastbourne, Newcastle, and Nottingham in the UK, Vers-Pont-Du-Gard, Chambord and Port-Vendres in France, and Utrecht in the Netherlands), and it’s impossible not to praise the fact that the GOTY Edition adds even more oomph to an ever-growing flight simulator that certainly represents the excellence in the genre.
That being said, the most important and welcome innovation brought by the Game of the Year Edition is perhaps more subtle, but a lot more pervasive than content, and it’s the new weather system.
Microsoft Flight Simulator launched with a predictive weather system that did a pretty good job at reproducing real-world weather, but it wasn’t perfect. Aviation has its own dedicated weather reporting system called METAR, and that’s a crucial element in flight simulation.
The new weather system blends real-world METAR collected in real-time with the predictive data for areas outside of METAR coverage (usually around airports), providing a much more precise simulation of real conditions.
It even lets you access nearby METAR reports simply by clicking on the weather menu, even if I honestly would have added a translation of the dedicated code, which will likely be unreadable by those unfamiliar with the system.
“LSZH 160820Z VRB01KT 8000 FEW009 BKN012 05/04 Q1022 NOSIG” definitely has a lot of meaning for those familiar with aviation and flight simulation, but it’s gibberish for everyone else. That being said, this is a massive step in the right direction, and more frills may be added later.
This isn’t just a functional change, as the new weather also looks even more stunning than it did before, with beautiful clouds, dense fog, and a ton of additional immersion.
The one issue (untranslated METAR gibberish aside) I could find is that at times the transition between the areas covered by METAR and those that aren’t can be rather sudden, specifically when fog is involved. This is rather visible, which makes me think it’s either a bug or an oversight that hopefully will be fixed soon.
Incidentally, the Game of the Year Edition feels a lot more stable to me than previous updates. With this kind of ultra-complex software, occasional crashes to desktop are possible, but I never experienced one since downloading the new version.
Ultimately, the GOTY Edition makes a fantastic simulator even more enjoyable and polished, adding a ton of value on top of a package that was already pretty much unbeatable under this point of view.
Perhaps its biggest perk is that it has something almost for everyone. Whether you’re a fan of fighter jets, you love sightseeing or enjoy challenging aircraft with high system depth, you’ll find something to enjoy here.
Now, let’s move on to the Reno Air Races Expansion. It comes in two packages. The “Full Collection” edition will cost $59.99 and will include 40 iconic racing aircraft that fans of the real races will certainly recognize: 10 P-51 Mustangs, 10 T-6 Texans, 10 L-39 Albatros’, and 10 Pitts Special S1S’.
If you don’t want to spend that much, the add-on simply named “Expansion Pack” comes with four aircraft, one per type. It costs a much more affordable $19.99.
Both give you access to the full Reno Air Races gameplay features. The former is likely good for you if you’re a fan of the races and of the iconic aircraft that take part in them currently or did historically. The latter is probably better if you prefer a cheaper option and standard versions of the aircraft.
The price of the Full Collection may sound a bit intimidating, but looking at it in perspective, it’s $1.5 per aircraft, and that’s really affordable if you consider the usual price of add-on planes in flight simulators.
The 40 aircraft aren’t just different liveries, mind you. Each comes with its custom 3D model, the reproduction of the real cockpit with its unique instrument layout, and its own specific flight model.
They also look absolutely gorgeous. They’re among the most beautiful aircraft available for Microsft Flight Simulator at the moment of this writing. Of course, their audio aspect isn’t any less awesome.
Whatever package you get, of course, the gameplay is what really matters. Once you access the feature in the Activities menu, you’re welcomed by a nice reproduction of Reno/Stead Airport (which of course you can use outside of the races as well) and by the sounds and sight of race day, including the commentator and crowd.
You select your class and aircraft, and then you can challenge either a Time Trial or a Multiplayer Quick Match.
Of course, the modes are pretty self-explanatory: in the Time Trial, you compete against your own time and ghost plane. In the Multiplayer Match, you compete against up to seven other players online.
The rules are fairly simple, prompting you to race on a circular track indicated by a series of numbered pylons. Fly too high for too long or cut a pylon, and you get a number of seconds added to your time as a penalty. If you crash or overstress your airframe, you’re put back in flight, but you lose a few precious seconds.
Races also have random weather conditions, including different cloud coverage, temperature, and wind.
While the ruleset is simple, racing aircraft definitely isn’t. It’s a very technical sort of competition, and exploring its subtleties is certainly extremely interesting. You can see a couple of races in the videos at the top of this post.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find many opponents online due to the fact that the expansion has not been released yet, so I couldn’t race against a full roster. Yet, it still proved to be a ton of fun.
It didn’t take much to realize that flooring your throttle all the time is far from ideal, and I’m sure I still have a ton to learn, but shaving second after second from my times while racing in a three-dimensional environment, is exciting, addictive, and extremely tense. I’ve played many racing games, but the excitement provided here is different, with the competition feeling both tactical and fast and furious at the same time.
The flight model of the aircraft feels natural and appropriate, and all four classes offer extremely different experiences, from the purebred and blazing fast Mustang to the slow and nimble Pitts, passing by the challenging Jet class and the technical Texan. Systems-wise, they’re quite similar to default aircraft, so expect a few Inoperative switches and knobs.
It’s very easy to make mistakes, and they can cost you dearly. Unless your opponents are asleep at the stick, cutting a pylon can easily mean the end of any chance of victory, and crashing will set you back considerably.
The improvements to the netcode of the simulator made for the races also contribute to the excitement, with aircraft moving fluidly in the sky, allowing for tense wing-to-wing moments. Yet, you have to be careful, because collisions are active, and hitting an opponent means that both will crash.
Unfortunately, private lobbies won’t be available at launch, but the developers plan to add them soon. Being able to race with friends will make this even more fun.
A system of worldwide leaderboards ups the ante, as your performance is there for everyone to witness. I’m certainly interested to see how I will do once the floodgates open and racers from all over the world will start to compete.
Incidentally, while racing the flight models of all aircraft is normalized, so all competitors are on even footing. That being said, when you fly each aircraft on your own in the simulator, its specific flight characteristics are restored, and you can fully experience its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies.
It’ll be interesting to see if this takes off as an eSport of sorts. The skill requirement is certainly there, together with the excitement. It’ll likely depend on how well Microsoft supports it, but I’d be delighted to see this virtual rendition of the Reno Air Races becoming the full-fledged spectacle it deserves to be.
Ultimately, the Reno Air Races expansion definitely hits the mark in adding something extremely different from the usual “flying from A to B” in Microsoft Flight Simulator. It’s polished, addictive, and exciting, but also challenging and tense. It’s pretty much the definition of “easy to enjoy, but hard to master.”
Added to the Game of The Year Edition, it forms a package of doubtless value, which will likely bring both veterans and newcomers a lot of fun.
If you’d like to learn more about the sim and what’s coming down the line, you can enjoy our brand new interview with Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator Jorg Neumann.
- Reno Air Races: Extremely fun and addictive.
- Ted aircraft are magnificent and good value whichever package you pick.
- There is definitely a lot of potential for an eSport evolution.
- Captures beautifully the spirit of the real competition.
- The four available classes offer very different experiences and challenges.
- The rules are simple but comprehensive.
- Easy to enjoy but hard to master.
- GOTY Edition: Great selection of aircraft, something for everyone.
- The weather system is fantastic.
- The Pilatus Porter is a game changer in simulation depth.
- The Hornet is a lot of fun to fly.
- Zurich Airport is a gem.
- Reno Air Races: No private lobbies for now.
- Mid-air collisions can be frustrating if you’re rammed.
- GOTY Edition: No manuals and insufficient tutorials.
- Large variance in the quality of the airports.
- Occasional sudden transition between METAR and predictive weather.
November 18, 2021
PC, Xbox Series X