Nothing has pushed my computer beyond Microsoft Flight Simulator. It may sound like a weird “game” involving mostly flying empty skies itself, but Asobo’s latest iteration of the classic franchise series is technically groundbreaking and ambitious, with all sorts of wizards happening behind the scenes to stream accurate city data, real-time weather effects and so on. I’ve still had fun with it, but compared to most AAA games, Flight simulator asks a lot more about your CPU.
That’s why I was fascinated by the new version of Xbox consoles coming tomorrow for Game Pass. In fact, it’s the first Microsoft game on the Xbox series of consoles that doesn’t work naturally on any Xbox One model, although the xCloud version is also coming for mobile devices and eventually hit older Xbox consoles as well. I’ve been playing the preview structure provided by Microsoft on my Series X for a few days, and like on a computer, I think it’s the strongest hardware exercise to date.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is essentially the same proposition on the Xbox as on the PC, offering gamers the ability to steer different planes around a beautifully rendered version of our planet. The tutorials have changed a bit, and a number of shorter tasks that should speed up faster, and the various commands have been mapped to the Xbox controller in a straightforward, easily accessible way. You can make the flight model as complex as the PC version if you want, even though there aren’t many Xbox-compatible stick options at the moment.
In series X Flight simulator operates at 4K resolution and targets 30 frames per second. Overall, I had a more solid experience with the Series X than my own i5 6600K / GTX 1080 board, which was impressive when I put it together five years ago, but a little less now. Frame rates aren’t perfectly smooth – you can drop below 30 when flying in low-density areas, such as downtown Manhattan, and it’s noticeable. It helped that I played with the LG CX OLED TV, which can vary the refresh rate and means you won’t feel any tearing or stuttering when the frame rate fluctuates above 30.
The graphics settings are broadly comparable to what you would get on a good gaming computer, if not at the very top of the line. The game constantly looks great when you’re high in the air, and all the seams of the experience really only show up when flying close to the ground. It usually has more to do with how photogrammetric streaming technology works – once again, if you fly fast to Manhattan or Shinjuku, not all skyscrapers are always loaded into memory at once, which means some buildings may look a little weak at first. I also occasionally noticed a few amusing distractions, such as cars driving on the surface of the River Thames in London and not above Tower Bridge.
As for the Series S, my colleague Tom Warren has spent some time testing that version, and the results are impressive for a small $ 299 box. The game works at 1080p with smaller graphic effects and draws distances, but as you can see from the video, it offers a solid flight simulator experience and is by far the cheapest way to achieve it.
Microsoft Flight Simulator has improved a lot since its launch last year with “world updates” that expand more detailed photogrammetry data around the world. It’s all in the Xbox version, including the latest Nordic update, which includes hand-rendered airports and points of interest in Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland. (It’s also worth noting that the PC version will get a new update this week Microsoft’s promises should improve performance dramatically – stay tuned for how it works in practice.)
If anything, the Xbox version can sometimes seem a little too close to the PC version, sometimes with an awkward cursor-driven interface. A bit striking is the graphical settings menu, where the only option is to turn HDR on and off, for example. But it’s better to leave too much in than to cut too much: The important thing is that the flight experience is as good as it can be given the hardware at hand.
About what I’ve played Microsoft Flight Simulator On the Xbox Series X, I don’t feel like Asobo has left much on the table. It’s still an amazing technical achievement, and it’s worth checking out when it hits Game Pass tomorrow.