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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Microsoft


20,000 airports all over the world at your disposal, Concorde, Rainbow Ranch.

Downs: Slow on slower machines, Graphics not near as good as Flight Unlimited III, Gas pump at Rainbow Ranch is at the wrong end of the runway

System Reqs: Pentium 166, 32 MB RAM, 350 MB of HD, 4XCD, though recomended install took up 634 MB on my machine

It seems that the latter half of this year has already seen some pretty tough competition for the heavyweight belt of supreme recreational flight simulator, and it looks like the last contender has finally entered the ring.  Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 is the biggest name and has the longest list of knockouts, but the young blood of Looking Glass’ Flight Unlimited III has the advantage in areas where it appears that the old pro has gone soft.

FS2K is the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s seventeen-year run of acclaimed recreational flight simulators. It features a few innovations when set beside Flight Simulator 98, though not enough to warrant all of the hubbub that has been generated by Microsoft’s media machines. Along with two new aircraft, considerably better weather systems, 20,000 available airports, and a nice polish, FS2K has slightly better graphics than its predecessor. Unfortunately, the graphics are not nearly as nice as they could be, especially when compared to the closest competition. Further, the graphics run very slowly on middle to lower-end machines. And to add insult to injury, there are few--actually I didn’t happen upon any--in-game options to remedy the curse of slow framerates. The manual frankly suggests forking out the dough for more RAM. So, once you’ve spent some hard earned cash to get your machine up to spec for the game you can get down to the business of flying.

FS2K, as a recreational flight sim, offers up a rather light and scattered selection of aircraft when compared to this year’s other top civil aviation challenger.  It features the Cessna 182S and 182RG, the latter virtually the same save retractable gear, the aerobatic Extra 300S, the Sopwith Camel, Learjet 45, Schweizer 2-32 glider, Bell JetRanger III helicopter, the Boeing 737-400 and 777-300, and Concorde. Though both games offer the same amount of aircraft, ten, respectively, where FUIII focuses on civil, small plane aviation, FS2K spreads its selection to include helicopters and commercial airliners. Sure this lends it a unique nature, but I’d almost rather see the big birds in a different game altogether, where they could be treated with a little more realism.  The flight models aren’t particularly bad, they’re just a little too easy and simplified. Putting this complaint aside, the Concorde was defiantly a attraction, and comes second only to the Extra 300S in flying fun.

One of the first things I said to myself after getting the game was “twenty-thousand airports seems a little on the ambitious side.” And I’m sure that the decision process for choosing the spots most suitable for inclusion into the game was no cakewalk, as well as individually detailing many of the airstrips as it seems evident that they took the time to do.  Here lies the highlight of FS2K, at least for me. Once I got the game loaded up, I instantly went to see if they included the Idaho Falls, Idaho airport Fanning Field, since that is where all of my student flying took place, save for another spot that somehow made its way into the game also-my family’s grass airstrip-Rainbow Ranch. It is demarcated on the sectionals as an emergency strip, and does see its fair share of use, but I am still in awe of seeing the grass patch I’ve mowed and watered on occasion in a flight sim; I just wish they’d put the gas pump on the other end of the runway where it belongs.

So, after this revelation I went on a search to find some of the most obscure and unique airstrips that I’ve had the chance to visit in small planes, most of which are in the “primitive” area of central Idaho where roads are non-existent and you either fly or ride a horse.  To my astonishment, most of my searches were successful: the Flying-B Ranch, buried deep in a valley on the middle fork of the Salmon River; Soldier Bar, which sits on a hillside and features uphill landings and downhill take-offs, though they could have accentuated the dog-leg, it really does have one; Big Creek, which in real life is one of the most beautiful spots you could ever dream of flying into.  Everywhere I went there was some degree of accuracy, the terrain made sense, hills were in the right spots, rivers went where the were supposed to, and so forth-save a few spots where the rivers miraculously moved uphill in utter contempt of gravity, which kind of gave me the creeps. I just wish they had included an appropriate backcountry airplane, like a Aviat Husky, or at least a Super Cub.

Along with all the backcountry I’m so excited about, there are six “high-resolution” destinations: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Paris, and New York.  These spots are quite impressive in structural complexity and the ability to sap framerates. Funny how Microsoft didn’t bother including Seattle as one of these, as featured exhaustively in FUIII.

The biggest problem I have with the FS2K is not an easily remedied one. The system requirements listed on the bottom of the box are downright delusional. I’d really feel sorry for someone with a Pentium 166, 32 MB of RAM, and no graphics accelerator card attempting to coax some decent framerates out of this situation.  Flight Unlimited III ran great on my machine and its graphics are considerably more detailed and complex; I see no reasonable excuse for Microsoft to release such a highly anticipated game and not have it running in top form. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend touching FS2K without a Pentium II 400 or better.

I think that they spent too much time concentrating on adding all the bells and whistles that they could possibly come up with, and sacrificed the core of gameplay-what it looks like, and FS2K just isn’t near as fun to play as Flight Unlimited III.  Sure it offers up the whole world as your playground, and despite an admirable degree of accuracy-the textures are in the right spots and the terrain looks as it roughly should-everything becomes a blur, there is little to differentiate things further.  I would much rather have a smaller palate to fly from and have brighter colors, bigger mountains, fluffier clouds, and a more luminous experience. The weather is not nearly as developed as Flight Unlimited III’s, one of the most striking features of the previous game. The GPS is a particularly nifty feature, as is the inclusion of the Jeppesen NavData database, and the instructional help of King Flight Schools, but it just doesn’t make up for the not-quite-finished feel of the game. Maybe next time they’ll get it perfect, if Looking Glass hasn’t beat them to the punch again.

--Thomas Hoff