Oh no, Flight Sim again? Wasn't it like all of two hours ago we were reviewing Flight Sim 2002? (More like a year and a half - Ed.) We've heard that for the next one Microsoft will apparently be teaming up with EA to produce a range of Flight Sim titles, including Flight Sim 2006 Premier All-Stars, Road To Flight Sim 2006 and Flight Sim '02-'06 Challenge. Like the FIFA series, each game will have a different professional pilot on the front cover depending on territory - France will have Roland Garros the first Frenchman to cross the Mediterranean by air; Britain wi have Terry Thomas and Eric Sykes from Those Magnificent Men And Their Flying Machines; Colorado will have John Denve.
To determine if you need the Microsoft® Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight (UPDATE): Run Flight Simulator 2004. Press ALT to display the menu bar. Click About Microsoft Flight Simulator on the Help menu. Check the version number in the About Microsoft Flight Simulator dialog box. If the version number is 9.0 we recommend. First released on the Apple II in 1979 and the IBM PC in 1982, Flight Simulator has been around for more than thirty years. Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first flight by adding nine historical aircraft — ranging from the Wright Flyer to the Douglas DC-3 — as well as recreations of famous flights such as Lindberg’s Atlantic crossing.
Anyhow, that's all just made - up speculation for the future (although wouldn't it be great?). For now we're being presented with Flight Simulator 2004 -A 4 Century Of Flight, celebrating 100 (and one) years of powered aviation. At least that's what it says on the box. What it means in practice is that basically we've got Flight Sim 2002 with fluffier clouds, a handful of historic aircraft and menus with a more educational bent than normal.
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Of course, I'm exaggerating for comic effect. There's more to it than that, but you don't become one of the country's leading literary humorists like what I amby sticking with mere fact. Microsoft has made a noble attempt to foster the spirit of a century of going up-diddly-up-up, even if at times you do feel as though it's skimped on making a thorough examination of the last 100 years.
Of the nine historical planes included, there's nothing from the jet era, nothing military and none of the experimental X-plane models that were used to break sound barriers during the '60s. For Microsoft, aviation history apparently stopped in the 1930s and picked up again in the present day. While the cynic in me detects an expansion pack in the works, the eager-young-gamer-standing-at-the-counter-with-a-crisp-fifty-quid-note in me wishes they would do these things property first time round.
Mind you, what is included is nicely handled. Each of the historical winged jalopies comes with a raft of pre-generated flights designed to let you relive the glories of the past. One thing that definitely can't be faulted is the range of activities on offer. A quick stunt ride through an open barn in a Curtiss Jenny, or a truly ridiculous 136-hour flight from England to Australia in a pre-WWI Vickers - there's no shortage of stuff to do.Having these epic 'missions' actually highlights one of the biggest flaws that's plagued the entire Flight Sim range since the very first entry back in 1951 on the old Babbage home valveswitching arithmetic calculation device X100 - there's never any sense of achievement and reward system on offer.
Surely by now, after 20 years, it's time that someone at Microsoft said, 'Hang fast chaps, what about adding some bally gameplay mechanics to the dashed thing?' When you play Tomb Raider you're safe in the knowledge that between the levels you'll be treated to some pre-rendered scripting as a way for the developers to say thank you for having stared at Lara's arse crack jumping around the platforms for the past hour. Why not something similar here?
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All I'm saying is alongside the Create Flight'. 'Select Flight' and 'Comedy Stylings of John & Martha' (see boxout) options on the menu, add one that says 'Career Pilot' and bolt a rudimentary progression factor to things. Start with a singleengine Cessna in a small aerodrome, ferry things about for cash, gradually affording bigger and faster planes, tying in the flight lessons with your journey in a Gran Turismo licence stylee. Suddenly the series opens up to a far wider audience (cha-ching, Microsoft!), surely a good thing?Anyhow, back to the present and really, what's to say?
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Other than all the history stuff, there's nothing in Flight Sim 2004 that you're not expecting. Better graphics of course (they're really quite lovely now). A totally revamped weather system that's as real as anything we've seen to date. The auto-gen scenery engine works with the respective terrains much better than before (meaning cities now actually look like proper cities when you fly over them). The ATC has had a complete upgrade and despite one or two minor bugs involving aircraft disappearing from runways and the like, makes the skies around you feel as busy and alive as they used to in the old Flight Unlimited series (the previous standard bearer). Virtual cockpits are also now included in every plane in the box, which helps the flight experience immensely.
Fundamentally it comes down to whether you like flying planes for the sake of flying planes or not. There's no reason not to like Flight Sim 2004 other than for the subject matter. Technically it's a near flawless product, and certainly the best civil flight sim on the market. The history aspect adds a new dimension to the proceedings and is as good a reason as any to make you rush out and buy it - a move lean highly recommend. Not that the fans won't already be installing it anyway. Must be nice to have a guaranteed audience like that.