Although becoming comfortable with all of the controls available to you in Flight Simulator 2002 will take well over 12 hours of gameplay, Microsoft has made it easy to get off the ground for the first time via a few introductory videos and an excellent in-flight instructor. John and Martha King of King Schools take you on a tour of the basic controls, whether you intend to use a joystick or a keyboard. A letdown is that players are no longer able to utilize the mouse as the yoke. In previous versions, this was a great alternative to the keypad when a joystick was unavailable.
Once done with the your first flight, a complete set of tutorials featuring flight instructor, Rod Machado, are at your disposal. Topics range from the basics of straight and level flight to air traffic control communication as an airline transport pilot. However, a snag that I ran into with some of the tutorials were cases in which the scenario would fail to progress although as far as I knew, I had completed the previous instructions. For instance, Rod requires you to turn right at a 10º bank. So, I bank to the right at 10º until I've flown around in a circle five times or more. Can I stop turning now? Sure, the scenery is gorgeous, but how many times must I watch it pass by the window? Another minor nitpick is that the instructor's voice isn't always perfectly clear, because it's simulated to be coming through a radio transmission. Couldn't they have designed it as if Rod was in the cockpit with you?
In preparation for the tutorials, Rod suggests that you read parts of the Ground School manual, part of a good deal of documentation included in PDF format with the game. There is no longer a thick booklet shipped in the box, which is sort of a bother. The Ground School manual covers general information and technicalities that you should be aware of before you're put into the situation. The Aircraft Handbook portion of the documentation provides a wealth of information regarding all of the available aircraft in Flight Simulator 2002.
Obviously the multiplayer aspect of Flight Simulator 2002 is going to differ greatly from that of a first-person shooter. Through Microsoft's MSN Gaming Zone, you can join a world with up to 300 other people flying.
Getting from point A to point B summarizes most of Flight Simulator 2002's gameplay. You use the game's Flight Planner to select a departure airport and a destination airport. From there, it's just a few clicks in order to determine your desired aircraft, time of year, time of day, and weather before you're set down on the runway ready for takeoff. Options are even available if you wish to select the amount of fuel in each of your tanks and program in the possibility of instrument failures for an extra challenge. Fuel tanks are displayed appropriately depending on the selected aircraft. Only two are configurable for a small Cessna, whereas six are at your disposal when piloting the Boeing 747-400.
Navigating the complex networks of roadways in an airport is no easy task, but after a landing, all you have to do is tell air traffic control that you'd like progressive instructions and Flight Simulator 2002 will paint a pink line on the ground to guide you as you taxi to the gate. Microsoft's new interactive air traffic control is something that you aren't required to use, but adds the next degree of realism to the experience. You ask for takeoff clearance, landing clearance, and more.
Pre-programmed flights highlight some of the best parts of Flight Simulator 2002, including flybys of Mount Rushmore and Mt. McKinley, as well as lengthy trips across the Pacific Ocean in a jumbo jet. Thankfully for some of the more dull parts of your trips, the time compression option is handy for speeding things up to a maximum of 128x real time. Things don't appear in their usual splendor of course, because the game can't load in the scenery and textures to keep up with your rate of travel. If you progress too rapidly and then slow down to real time, the game will pause in order to load high-resolution textures and other data to present a prettier picture.
Furthermore, you can do many fun things in Flight Simulator 2002 that are, how shall I say, out of the question in reality. One such instance was taking a Boeing 777-300 out of an air harbor meant specifically for planes equipped with pontoons. Perhaps killing the engines in mid-flight and then going through the startup routine as quickly as possible before you become a permanent feature of the landscape is more your style. On the other hand, it's all about realism in Flight Simulator 2002. The water surrounding the Hawaiian Islands is clearer and lighter than that surrounding New York. The phase of the moon and its location in the sky correspond correctly to the time of day. Other aircraft occupy your airspace both on the ground and in the sky. Releasing smoke from the Extra 300S gets you into the world of skywriting and engraving your sick aerial maneuvers into the sky.
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