The latest chapter in Microsoft's long-running Flight Simulator series will knock your windsocks off. Flight Simulator X is the prettiest and most ambitious edition in the franchise's 25-year history and it'll transport you to a stunning new world of photorealistic scenery and marvelously detailed aircraft… if you have a liquid nitrogen-cooled Cray supercomputer tucked in your tower.
We'll get to the technical stuff later. FSX ships in two flavors, with the pricier Deluxe version packing some additional aircraft outfitted with a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, 20 more missions, ten extra high-detail cities and five high-detail airports, and a new tower controller multiplayer option. All of this aeronautic goodness comes on two DVDs that jointly usurp a whopping 14GBs of hard drive real estate.
Crammed into that space is the most user-friendly FlightSim to date. Microsoft's ACES Studio built FSX as much for newbies as for hardcore devotees and that's evident in the new mission-based gameplay component. Instead of just hopping into a plane for some aimless sightseeing or advanced, ATC-assisted flight planning between the sim's 24,000 worldwide airports, casual and veteran flyers alike can tackle a series of diverting and increasingly challenging missions.
These range from five-minute aircraft acclimatization exercises in different planes, gliders and helicopters to demanding air race events and protracted search missions. There are currently over fifty missions in the Deluxe version (expect the mod community to add more) and - whether you're trying to land an Extra 300S stunt plane on a moving bus or rescue stranded workers from a burning offshore oil rig in a Bell JetRanger helicopter - most are addictive and compelling. New aircraft like the de Havilland Beaver and Grumman Goose bush planes, Maule 260C Orion, Airbus A321 and AirCreation Ultralight inject additional flavor into the challenges.
The biggest upgrade from past editions, however, is visual. FSX boasts ten times the graphic detail of FlightSim 2004 and this new artwork will severely test your PC whenever you overfly enhanced scenery areas like Seattle or Manhattan.