In the runup to the release of Microsoft Flight I did not fall victim to the Microsoft marketing blitz. Although “blitz” is actually the wrong word, since most of the marketing was done by beta testers themselves who were cleverly put under an NDA, thus making any and all information even more coveted. Pretty smart Microsoft! With a lot of other sims taking up the balance of my time, I didn’t even join the beta and figured I’d just wait for the release and follow community impressions along the way. Initial impressions, of course, were pretty damning. This would certainly not be a replacement for FSX. I’d often read comments such as: “I installed it, played it for 10 minutes, then uninstalled it.”. Rut ro Shaggy. On release day, it was almost with passing interest that I decided to download the FREE version of Flight. After installing it — my first impression was: Wow. This is awesome. And terrible. And beautiful. And ugly. And compelling. And boring. If you’d rather not read the rest of this review I can only sum it up without explanation by saying Flight = Sybil (dissociative identity disorder). And yes, I’m as confused as you.
Flight is downloaded from the Internet as you would expect. The teaser product is free and includes the island of Hawaii with the other islands in the chain being paid DLC (downloadable content). The default free aircraft is the Icon A5 amphibian and if you register with Microsoft LIVE you also get a Stearman. I did not plan on purchasing any of the add-ons because I wasn’t actually planning on writing this review — but the Dark Side of the Force is strong and I eventually broke down and purchased the additional islands and the Maule M7. With the additional islands DLC you also get the Vans RV-6A which I had no interest in but would later learn to appreciate.
Purchasing is predictably easy. Log on to the LIVE web site, purchase some Microsoft Points, and apply them to what you want. My total purchases were about $35 worth of content ($20 for the Hawaii Adventure Pack; $15 for the Maule). So essentially I bought a $35 game. Was it worth it? That is a very complicated question — to be addressed in this review.
Upon starting Flight you can enter a few configuration menus that allow you to setup graphics, controllers, and difficulty levels. I had no problem assigning functions to my Thrustmaster Warthog stick and throttle. My CH Pro Pedals were recognized, but despite there being “brake axis” assignments which is recognized, the differential braking does not work. There is also no check box for NaturalPoint TrackIR™ — because TrackIR is not supported. Yes, you read that correctly — no TrackIR support in Microsoft Flight. Keep reading and you’ll understand why I suspect the “balloon guy” was responsible for this incredibly awful decision.
In my mind’s eye I envision the Microsoft Flight team gathered around a conference room table brainstorming the programming and Flightrelease. The most annoying and corny guy on the team raises his hand and says, “How about if the first thing we have the player do is slalom around some hot air ballons!” Instead of shooting the idea down as asinine and ridiculous, the coffee deprived marketing team puts it on their white board and somehow that makes it into the release product. That was the same guy that had you starting over Friday Harbor, airborne, in an ultralight stuttering along at 5 frames per second when FSX was released. I thought they fired that guy. If I seem bitter, it is because I am. First impressions are everything, and the “hot air balloon slalom course” doesn’t appeal to beginners, it doesn’t appeal to advanced users, and it doesn’t help sell flight simulators as fun at all. The only person in the entire known universe who thinks that is a good first impression is that doofus in the conference room.
Why am I so angry at the balloons? Well, because Flight is a product that is supposed to appeal to gamers. This is supposed to be a product that lures in people that don’t know they have an addiction to flying and then traps them in the vicious cycle of hardware / software / hardware upgrades that will have them spend thousands on their hobby. Gamers are not going to be impressed by slaloming around balloons. Everyone that hates slaloming around balloons uninstalled Flight after that intro (thus the “10 minutes and I’m gone” comments). Except me.