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Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002
Author: Aaron Dahlen
Date Posted: December 13th, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/reviews/software/games/microsoft/flgihtsim2002

A Story Worth Telling

What today is Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 began in 1979 when Bruce Artwick created Flight Simulator 1.0 for the Apple II. Later came Flight Simulator for the IBM PC with Microsoft's name on it, followed soon after by Microsoft Flight Simulator 2 in 1984. 1996 brought Flight Simulator for Windows 95, and since then there have been three new installments. Flight Simulator 2002, plain and simple, is a milestone in applications for the personal computer. While the Concorde of Flight Simulator 2000 may be gone, an astounding 21,000+ airports (up from 20,000) and 12 aircraft (up from 10) populate the world of Flight Simulator 2002.

The Boeing 747-400, Cessna 208 Amphibious Caravan, and Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP make their first appearances in this year's edition. Returning from previous versions are the Boeing 777-300, Boeing 737-400, Cessna 182S Skylane, Bell 206B JetRanger III helicopter, Learjet 45 business jet, Cessna Skylane RG, Extra 300S, Sopwith Camel, and Schweizer 2-32 sailplane. To accompany the already familiar 2D panel, most have their own "virtual cockpit", a fully 3D representation of the entire cabin, with operational real-time gauges and the option to zoom in and out with ease. Exterior views of aircraft are not the least bit shabby either, with excellent lighting effects, shadows, and landing lights to complement the high-polygon models.

Similar to FS2000, Flight Simulator 2002 is packaged in two versions, Standard and Professional. For $20 more, the Professional version will bring you the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, Raytheon BE58 Baron, Raytheon/Beech King Air 350, and Mooney Bravo in which to trek around the globe. Furthermore, the utility gMax is bundled with the Professional version, allowing you to create structures and aircraft for your simulation. Or, if you have a copy of Microsoft Combat Simulator or an earlier edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator, gMax makes importing aircraft from those applications a simple process.

Visuals/Sound

Graphically, leaps and bounds have been taken since the last edition. The majority of the time, framerates are not a concern, staying near 25 even on mid-range machines such as my Pentium III 866 system with most details enabled at 1024x768x32. Eye candy such as water reflections and shadows cast by ground scenery add immensely to the experience. Flight Simulator 2002 takes complete advantage of 3D acceleration with options to enable hardware T&L effects and anti-aliasing. Unfortunately, you pay for it in the end with increasingly long load times and steep system requirements. The minimal installation is 650 MB, and the full installation eats up 1.5 GB of hard drive space. The game is playable after a full installation without any of the three CDs in the drive.

Audio produced by aircraft is equally as impressive, with each emanating its own unique engine and landing gear sounds, which are perceived differently depending on the point of view. There are Doppler effects when the camera swings from behind the aircraft to in front of it, and the propeller noise is deeper when heard from inside the cockpit as opposed to out in the open.

One can explore the world through the window in Flight Simulator 2002. The scenery is awe-inspiring in its grandeur. Thousands of trees are planted among the hills and mountains, with gorgeous lakes in between. Not just any lakes, but ones with detail and reflection. Metropolitan areas are even more magnificent than before, with each having numerous recognizable landmarks with smaller, appropriate buildings and suburbs stretching out to the horizon. Ground textures are no longer simply blocks of color, but roads and fields of crops. The new autogen feature of Flight Simulator 2002 generates scenery appropriate for the location as you fly over it, ensuring that the days of a featureless landscape are gone.

Raindrops are equally as beautiful. They distort the view after splashing onto the windshield before fading away. When dawn is impending, the sky gradually turns pink or orange as the sun peaks above the horizon before traversing the sky during the course of a lengthy flight. Then you are presented with the counterpart as the sun sets in the west, highlighting the ground, clouds, and your aircraft in brilliant colors. In fact, after you have confirmed a location, Microsoft includes the ability to download real world weather data for the ultimate in realism. The alternative is to specify such variables as wind speed and direction, visibility, and cloud density on your own to create the desired atmosphere.

Gameplay

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 10 bank. So, I bank to the right at 10 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.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Outstanding graphics and sound
  • Variety of aircraft
  • Fabulous scenery
  • Extraordinary depth of locations
  • Good performance
  • Informative documentation
  • In-depth realism settings

Cons

  • No printed manual
  • Massive installation
  • Instructor voice hard to hear
  • No mouse as yoke
  • No Concorde

Conclusion

Ready to become an accomplished pilot? Head to the realism settings section of Flight Simulator 2002 and get ready to have a ball. With G-effects enabled, one can blackout during an extreme loop. By default, the game ignores crashes and you simply bounce off the ground. However, it can just as easily reset the simulation whenever you crash the aircraft. Don't expect wings ripping from the fuselage and balls of flame shooting into the sky. Damage to aircraft due to stress and crashes with other aircraft can also be turned on. As you can see, Flight Simulator 2002 permits you to have a worry-free flight or a true-to-life one. Just make sure that you check the "unlimited fuel" box before you take the Sopwith Camel around the globe without stopping.

In my opinion, the $55 price tag of Flight Simulator 2002 is unbelievable. We complain when we see a driving simulation only depict two downtown areas. How could we possibly complain when even cities with a population of near 50,000 such as Grand Forks, North Dakota are seen in fair detail? Not to mention how dense the areas of almost 70 downtown regions across the world are. Flight Simulator 2002 has the capability to entertain both flying enthusiasts as well as those who are still testing out the waters of hardcore simulations. Not only do you have fun with the game, but you learn from it.

Rating: 9.5/10 SystemLogistics

Re-Printed From SLCentral