Game Review - by James Allen
When you think of flight simulators, you think of Flight Simulator, the Microsoft product that's been around since the ENIAC. Several other flight simulators have cropped up every now and then, including Flight Unlimited, Fly!, and Pro Pilot. But, Microsoft's product has always been regarded as the pinnacle of flight simulator evolution. X-Plane, published by Laminar Research, is not a newcomer, since the simulator is currently in version 5, but is a relative unknown. Tabbed a serious simulation, the price has recently come down to compete with the other programs mentioned above. How does X-Plane stack up with the other combatants of flight? Let's find out together!
X-Plane is a seriously accurate flight simulator. The program uses "blade element theory," which basically breaks all the parts of an aircraft down, and determines all the forces upon all the components. This translates to the fact that ANY airplane design can be made, and X-Plane will figure out how it will fly for you. The model covers both subsonic and supersonic flight. This is supposedly very accurate, since I have not personally flown a SR-71 Blackbird. But, NASA and the Department of Defense use X-Plane, so if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me. The only shortcoming of the flight model is that it must be run in real time, so accelerated time is not available. No cross-country flights unless you have 6 hours to spare.
Speaking of flights, X-Plane's got airplanes. Around 40 aircraft is included with the game, and many more can be downloaded. Since any plane design can be used in X-Plane, you can fly diverse machines: aircraft include Citation X, F-22 Raptor, Cessna 172 Skyhawk, Concorde SST, Special Ops Blackhawk (a helicopter), the Space Shuttle, and many more.
In addition to the great flight model, X-Plane also comes with several other programs, where you can make additional aircraft, edit terrain, and place object in the world. You can even make your house and crash into it! And you can fly on Mars. Neat.
The sounds are also typical. X-Plane uses the speech software on your computer to add audio air traffic control, in a computerized voice. The sounds of the airplanes themselves seem to be recorded directly from their real life counterparts. Warning systems blare, lightning crackles, wind whooshes, and tires squeal. Sound adds another component of realism that makes you feel like you are actually flying an aircraft.
The gameplay for X-Plane is dependent on its flight model, and, as stated above, the model in X-Plane is unparalleled. You can take off and land in a variety of locations, including airports, aircraft carriers, and offshore oil rigs (hard to land at in a Boeing 747). An array of data and options can be computed and evaluated, covering any aspect of flight. The flight experience can be also customized, as time of day, weather, reliability, and flight mode can all be tailored to your preference. The combination of a stellar flight model, outstanding customization, good graphics, and adequate sound add up to an unbelievable experience.
The graphics are 3-D accelerated, and look nice for a flight simulator. Since graphics are not the focus of X-Plane, we can forgive the slightly blocky-looking ground textures. X-Plane does include elevation data for the entire United States, Europe, Australia, Canada, and Japan, so not explicitly detailed graphics is not a shock, although coastlines could use some work. Clouds look nice, and the sky is filled with other aircraft. The population of aircraft in a certain area is dependent on the number of airports in the location. Thus, one would see more aircraft in New York than in Montana. The flashing lights of the other aircraft, along with towers and buildings along the ground add a level of realism. The graphics for the aircraft is dependent on how detailed the model was made, and the included aircraft all come with their own distinct panels and skins. The graphics are generally what you would expect for a flight simulator.
If you like flight simulators, X-Plane should not be missed. It is the most accurate and realistic flight simulator available for the PC or Mac. Now that the price has been reduced to $79, X-Plane is affordable and recommended for any flight enthusiast or real pilot.