Game Review - by James Allen
I like flight simulators. I routinely crack open my 2002 Rand McNally Road Atlas (only $4.97 at Wal-Mart), pick some random cities, and undertake a flight between them. So, this seemingly nerdy transition brings us to X-Plane 6, the latest iteration in the venerable series by Laminar Research. I reviewed X-Plane 5 (incidentally, way before it appeared in boxed form in stores) in the not-so distant past, and I have been supplied with version 6, filled to the gills with improvements. How will X-Plane 6 stack up to the other flight simulators of today, namely Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2002? Obtain your reading spectacles and scroll on down.
One of the most impressive features of X-Plane 6 is, well, the features. First off, the number of planes that comes with X-Plane is immense. We have a total of 36 (36!) different aircraft, including the Hindenburg, military aircraft, general aircraft, gliders, jumbo jets, helicopters, space shuttles, radio-controlled planes, vertical-take-off-and-landing craft, and x-planes. You'll never get tired of flying the same planes over and over again, and many more are easily available over the internet. For the budding engineer among us, several auxiliary programs are included, where you can customize the terrain and create your own aircraft.
Inside the program itself, you can make movies to show your friends, customize weather, set equipment failures, and peruse many different detailed maps. Real-time weather can be downloaded from the Internet, and third-party programs can be used to update the atmosphere over specific intervals. In addition, many special situations are available, where you can extinguish fires and land on oil rigs or aircraft carriers. You can also set up a final approach to an airport to practice those difficult landings. If you are tired of flying on Earth, you can take on the red planet: Mars! Two special aircraft are included to make flying on Mars possible, and because of the accurate physics modeling of X-Plane 6, it is supposedly realistic, although I have yet to fly on Mars. If I only had written this review next week. All in all, the features of X-Plane 6 eclipses any other flight simulator by a large, huge, hefty, and enormous margin.
The sound in X-Plane 6 is generally realistic, blasting authentic plane sounds through your speakerage. The air traffic control in the game uses the Microsoft Speech Development Kit, converting the text of the game into computerized voices. Yep, it's pretty realistic all right. Next!
The other impressive feature of X-Plane 6 is the use of a blade-element model for determining the flight of aircraft in the game. Unlike other flight simulators (you know who), which hard code their physics in, X-Plane 6 uses just the shape of the aircraft, and then breaks it up to figure out the forces on each individual part. That's darn neat, and it means that you can design any shape of aircraft, and see how it flies. This is the reason that some government agencies have used X-Plane to model experimental aircraft designs before investing money in their manufacture. If that ain't a stamp of approval, I don't know what is! Flying in X-Plane 6 drips in realism, and can be tailored to fix any level of expertise. Couple this with the use of air traffic control and computer controlled aircraft, and we have a very convincing simulation.
The graphics have greatly improved from X-Plane 5 for two main reasons. The elevation data is covered by five times more points, which results in more convincing terrain throughout the universe (well, the US at least). Secondly, the city textures are improved, incorporating 3-D buildings and dynamic cars, with turn signals and all. This is pretty cool, but it's still offset by the square, blocky, unrealistic terrain pieces, which eliminates any realism that the other elements might have brought to the table. Cloud effects are good, the planes themselves look very realistic, and smoke trails follow the planes. Of course, X-Plane 6 can't hold a candle to FS2002's tear-inducing graphical superiority. But, graphics are just eye candy, right?
So, the bottom line is this: if you put more emphesis in pretty pictures, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 is for you (which rhymes, don't you know). However, if you want a more accurate flight model, more features, more design programs, more gameplay options, and more planes, then X-Plane 6 is for you. It's really up to you, as each game does their area of expertise equally well. Of course, by getting X-Plane 6, you can keep The Man down.