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Tons of vehicle, map and environment options
Still being supported
Lots of mods for replayability
Lots of expensive DLC
A bit outdated and showing age
Some compatibility issues
Despite its old age, Microsoft Flight Simulator X is still a great flight simulator all these years after its original release, with tons of content and mods to extend replayability.
We purchased Microsoft's Flight Simulator X so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
A product that’s over a decade old typically doesn’t hold up very well, but with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X, that isn’t necessarily the case. Originally released way back in 2006, Flight Simulator X was the pinnacle of flight sim software, packing in tons of content, interesting new integration with real-world weather and locales, and the most realistic immersion around. Thirteen years later, the game remains one of the most-played flight simulators and continues to get support despite the original studio being closed.
So how does this legendary flight simulator hold up today? It’s not without its flaws, but the experience is still a solid one. Check out our review here and see for yourself.
Setting up a game this old isn’t quite as easy as a modern game, but it’s not a terrible process overall. Now your particular setup will vary a bit, but it should be mostly the same.
Thirteen years later, the game remains one of the most-played flight simulators and continues to get support despite the original studio being closed.
For our review, we purchased the good old box set of CDs to install, but you can also get the game online from a distributor like Steam if you don’t want to mess with discs. The Steam version was released back in 2015 and is largely the same, with perhaps a more streamlined setup.
We began this process by setting up our external DVD drive, popping in the first disc and then running through the on-screen steps. Ensure you’ve got at least 30 GB of storage space available before beginning this step.
As you progress, the installer will have you swap out discs as they complete individually until you reach the end. Once there, you’ll also need to activate your new software with the key found inside the case. Since this is the Gold Edition, we also needed to run through the same setup process for the Accelerator Expansion Pack that adds additional content.
After everything is properly installed and ready to go, you can either open up the base game or the expansion pack, which will give you a host of options to choose from to set up your first flight.
For the Steam version, simply install the software through the client and it’ll do all of the above, minus the discs.
In addition to setting up the software itself, many people use a HOTAS (which means “hands on throttle-and-stick”) to get more immersion with flight sims like Flight Simulator X. Because these are so commonly used, we’ll run through a setup for these as well.
The addition of a HOTAS also really adds to the experience and immersion of the game, and we highly recommend picking one up if you can.
We chose to go with the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS HOTAS, including the added pedals, which is one of the more popular options that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. To get your new HOTAS installed, simply plug everything into your computer, connect the pedals, and Windows should recognize the peripherals and set them up. Once they’re ready, you can go into your settings in FSX and fine-tune things, map the buttons and functions to whatever custom functions you prefer, and jump into a game with your new HOTAS.
Given that FSX is now quite old, the gameplay still holds up for the most part, but feels somewhat dated in certain areas. Because this game comes complete with all the original content and expansions, there’s a daunting amount of content to sift through, which keeps replayability high.
With over 24,000 airports, vehicles ranging from jumbo jets to helicopters, fighter jets, hot air balloons, various weather options, and more, there is a lot of stuff to play around with in the game. No matter what setup you go with, there’s definitely something for everyone here.
Flight Simulator X is not without its flaws, but the experience is still a solid one.
Aside from environments and vehicles, there’s also a large swathe of preset missions to test your skills, including basic tutorials for newcomers just getting started. While some of them may be a bit dull for those seeking high-adrenaline activities, like simply flying a plane from one airport to another, Microsoft has also done a great job of including some fun missions that diverge from the real-world stuff. Some of these missions include things like landing a plane on a moving bus, exploring Area 51 or participating in high-speed stunt races with an announcer hyping things up.
Each of these scenarios offers fun experiences ranging from ultra-realistic simulations to arcadey missions for quick bursts of fun, but all of them will test your skills as a pilot. The sheer amount of gameplay options should keep you entertained for hundreds of hours as you increase the difficulty and challenge yourself with each new mission. The gameplay feels a little dated, but we had no real hiccups during our tests, and it proved to be a smooth experience.
In addition to singleplayer experiences, you can also play FSX online with other players from all over the world. While this can sometimes lead to “interesting” encounters to say the least (lots of kamikazes), the community is still pretty active with a player base comprised of amateurs just messing around and those who take things a little more seriously, mimicking more realistic gameplay. There’s even an option to play as an air traffic controller if you want to try your hand at one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
Flying just about any aircraft feels smooth and allows you to get as complicated as you want, controlling every aspect of the vehicle with realistic gauges and effects, or streamlined controls for a more basic, simplified experience.
Some of these missions include things like landing a plane on a moving bus, exploring Area 51 or participating in high-speed stunt races with an announcer hyping things up.
To further the gameplay options, there is also an excellent modding community surrounding FSX. With mods, you can really open things up by adding custom planes and other aircraft, new locations, and player-made missions.
The addition of a HOTAS also really adds to the experience and immersion of the game, and we highly recommend picking one up if you can. During our testing, the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS paired quite nicely with FSX and allowed us to custom tailor controls to our liking. The ability to pilot your virtual aircraft with somewhat realistic peripherals definitely adds a nice level of detail to the gameplay.
It’s no surprise that a game made all the way back in 2006 feels old when it comes to graphics. You won’t be impressed by the lackluster textures, lighting effects or animations in FSX if you’ve never played it in the past.
That said, the graphics certainly aren’t so awful that the game is unplayable. In fact, they’re pretty damn good considering how old FSX actually is. Sure, they won’t blow you away, but you can also play the game on just about any modern computer.
Aircraft textures on the outside are perhaps the highlight of the graphics, but the ground, buildings, cockpit and controls don’t exactly look amazing.
Cranking up the graphics to the max and jumping into the cockpit of your aircraft of choice is still enjoyable, with everything easily readable and sharp. The framerate is smooth throughout and doesn’t drastically change like some modern games, meaning your experience will at least be stable.
Aircraft textures on the outside are perhaps the highlight of this area, but the ground, buildings, cockpit, and controls don’t exactly look amazing. You can, however, download some mods to add HD resolutions to things that will help remedy this, and they’re pretty easy to install.
So with a 13-year-old game like FSX, you’d expect the price to be quite low, right? While FSX can typically be found for around $25 on Steam, and you can frequently find it on sale for just $5. This gets you the Gold Edition that includes all the original content and the Acceleration expansion. So for the price, it’s pretty fair—especially considering how many hundreds of hours you can get from the base game.
For Steam users, however, the game has an insane amount of DLC options. While most of these aren’t necessary to have, they can really add up if you’re someone who likes to have it all. Currently, the Steam version has almost $2,000 worth of DLC, but no one really needs to get all that to have a good time with FSX, so choose what you want, or simply enjoy the base game and download mods to supplement the content for free.
We should also mention here that there are plans in place for FSX to finally get a true successor in the near future with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020 just on the horizon, so it may be worth it to hold off.
The biggest competitor out to FSX is another fan-favorite—X-Plane 11. While it does feel a little unfair to compare such a new game against FSX, the two are perhaps the best available in the market at this time. The new 2020 flight sim from Microsoft will likely be a much better competitor when it does get released.
The biggest difference between these two is that X-Plane released in 2017, and will undoubtedly look much better, feature more modern controls, animations, and include updated gameplay for current-gen systems. If you’re purely looking for the latest and greatest in flight simulator software, X-Plane will be an easy pick for you.
However, there’s definitely something to be said for the longevity of FSX. The game continues to get support and has an active community, with thousands of mods for further customization. While X-Plane might be the current-gen favorite, it won’t come close to the massive amount of content FSX can bring to the table. The trade-off here is an older game with dated visuals, but if that doesn’t bother you, FSX might bring you more hours of total gaming. Also, if you don’t have a high-end gaming rig, FSX will likely perform even better on low-end systems.
A decade later, still one of the greats.
It’s crazy to think that a game that’s over a decade old is still relevant today, but FSX is one of those legendary titles that keeps chugging along. If you can handle the outdated graphics and controls, it will easily bring you hundreds of hours of entertainment.