Reviewed: August 7, 2005
Released: December 10, 2004
Flight has always marveled me, especially the technological prowess in today’s age, complete with huge jet airliners, to sleek stealth craft. I often tune into the Discovery channel specials on various high-tech aircraft, and even the older planes from World War 2 and before, still amaze me. I have, like many of you, ridden the massive, peaceful airliners.
I also had a chance to ride with my Grandpa in a Cessna 4 person craft-not so calm at all really...Both are exhilarating experiences, and X-Plane 8 from Laminar Research seeks to capture that same awe of flying. And hey, being endorsed by the FAA for pilot training ain’t too shabby either. Lets see if they can teach this “grunt for life” a few things about flight…
Clunky, yet functional is how I like to describe the interface for X-Plane 8. While not as clean as other menus, its easy enough to get into the meat of the game-FLYING! In this title, you can explore the entire continental United States, while other sims may include that, and the world, this doesn’t distract much. I would have liked to buzz the Eiffel Tower, or flown over the Pyramids of Egypt, but alas, I suppose Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 will have to suffice for my worldly adventures.
No flight sim would be complete with out accurate weather modeling, and X-Plane doesn’t disappoint. Thermals, turbulence, storms and a host of other hazards are portrayed here. Better yet, you can even download real-world data that is modeled against you. Still, I wouldn’t trust a test run in the real world. Please don’t go thinking you can fly into a class 5 Hurricane and survive- just because you made it in X-Plane 8. If the locales of Earth induce too much boredom, you can even check out the harsh climate of Mars.
The handling and physics of these aircraft are top-notch as well. And considering that you can fly -helicopters, Harriers (the plane in True Lies), airliners, corporate jets and even the new, sexy V-22 Osprey-the controls are very important. In all, more than 40 aircraft are at your disposal, captain. Each one handles, as it should, so be sure to have some patience in mastering the complex controls or stubbornly slow handling of some of these wonders.
I highly recommend a flight stick and pedals to truly immerse you in this experience; it is such a shame to use the keyboard and mouse for these bad boys. I got along fine with just a simple Saitek X45 joystick, but man…those pedals would have been perfect for the helicopters…
If the stock planes don’t interest you, fear not, this title includes a complex plane builder. Just like the weather patterns, the aerodynamics of your particular creation technically would “work” in the real world. But as I said above, don’t go superglue some cardboard boxes, an old lawn mower engine, and some bike wheels together, in an ill-fated attempt…. Wilbur.
Many who have played the classic Microsoft: Flight Simulator series, will see many similarities. Textures look a bit dated, and jagged. The plane models themselves are amazingly accurate and detailed, especially the insane amount of dials, gizmos and other read outs in your cockpits. The buildings and other surroundings let you down though.
When comparing screenshots of version 7 with this one, it does appear to be a great improvement over the older terrain modeling, but still most things look pretty unimpressive. Thankfully, flying at 30,000 feet you won’t have to eyeball blocky houses over and over. After all, this game is all about flying and the gameplay, not about lush graphics to drool over.
Unlike the lackluster graphics, the sound is actually quite good in X-Plane 8. One of the key things that strikes you is the radio traffic from the various pilots and control stations, coordinating flight patterns, departures, take-offs, landings etc. Add to this the aural effects of the engine hum, sonic booms, screeching of landing, to the silent hiss of wind passing over the smooth contours of your plane, and you have a solid sound department. Each aircraft even has certain signature sounds and effects, and real-life pilots should be thrilled to hear a familiar sound at their desk.
Musically, there isn’t too much to speak of. I actually grabbed a few MP3 tracks of easy listening tunes, and sat back as I “coasted” at 500mph in a 30-ton airplane. Really helped drown out the monotonous drone of your engine and add some life to the rather straightforward gameplay.
With a virtually limitless area to explore, user created planes (downloadable too) and a wealth of modding programs (textures, landscapes etc) that add to the playing world, the scope is truly epic for this title. Better yet, the designer, Austin Myers periodically updates this series with free downloads. I can’t see how you can grow tired of this game, especially if you’re a flight enthusiast; it’s the next best thing to suiting up, and soaring high.
For novice “simmers” you may be taken aback by the sheer amount of details and realistic gameplay, but veterans should be hungry for more sooner than later. With real-world weather, a plethora of aircraft (including helis/space shuttle) and a solid fan base, you owe it to yourself to take off with X Plane 8.