Before venturing into this review, it’s important to say that if you are an arcade minded gamer then you will most surely not like this game. This is a flight simulator, not a combat simulator, and that means that the main goal of the game is creating an atmosphere that’s as close as it can be to actually flying an airplane. So, if you want to enjoy this game forget about shooting or launching missiles and especially performing acrobatics with ease. In real life it’s not easy to achieve certain moves with an aircraft, and in Flight Simulator 2004 those moves are just as difficult. All of you flight simulation lovers will have a good time, and maybe others will too. MSF2004 tries to engage two types of gamers: hardcore simulation gamers and arcade gamers.
The most important aspect in flight simulators is the way the aircraft responds to your commands. But, the sin most of these games commit is that they lack quality graphics. Well, MSF2004 certainly doesn’t need to go to confession. The plane models are sharp and realistic, a graphic enhancement that’s emphasized by the wide variety of planes the game gives. If you’ve exhausted the use of the available plane models that come shipped with MSF2004, there’s a good deal of different user-made models online for you to choose from. Each airplane has options to change the colors and the tail number too. Customization is not very detailed, but it’s good enough to enjoy without feeling too limited.
MSF2004 now needs realistic airports and cities to accompany its realistic planes, and complete the visual experience. Unfortunately, the sceneries in Flight Simulator 2004 aren’t as impressive as the plane models. Even with the graphic configuration optimized, the terrain and airports don’t look photo realistic. They look like there was not much effort put into their design. There are, however, some impressive airports and terrain effects available for download – so impressive that maybe Microsoft had the idea that users would make scenarios. All you have to do is take the time to download some if you aren’t happy with the selection that was shipped with the game. It almost feels as if Microsoft developed and released a game with some serious gaps in graphic content, expecting the players to fill in the blanks. These downloads should supplement the content of the game, not create it. In Microsoft’s defense, it’s very hard to develop an amazing looking game in all aspects when you have to worry about the simulation mechanics and the incredible amount of information put into the game. Ultimately, while the game includes some graphical achievements, it’s not visually impressive.
Because MSF2004 is a simulator, the amount of sound effects throughout the game is less extensive than in games of other genres. When you fly an airplane in real life, you hear the sounds of the plane and not much else; your whole sonoric experience is inside the airplane. Don’t expect to hear WWII type sounds in this game – no gunshots, no missiles, no explosions. Instead, you hear your plane and tower control. And that’s the beauty of simulators: they can sometimes create an auditory experience that is closer to real life than in other genres. With that in mind, it can be said that the sound is a strong element of Flight Simulator 2004, because it provides a realistic experience throughout.
This is where hardcore sim gamers take out the magnifying glass and arcade lovers may very well take a hike. Taking off, flying, and especially landing are not actions achievable with the simple push of a button. Again, flight simulators try to emulate the real life experience of flying; therefore, these games need to have the same flying mechanics that planes have and MSF2004 makes a worthy attempt. It’s not easy to takeoff and land in MSF2004; even basic flying is somewhat difficult. If you aren’t a patient player, you may end up crashing your plane, and if you are an arcade player you may want to crash your plane for fun anyway. But, if you’re patient, you will surely be rewarded with a realistic experience. If you don’t like realism, then you may not enjoy this simulation (among many others).
MSF2004 provides plenty of information on how to fly airplanes and how to use the game-specific controls like the keyboard, joystick and mouse. After dedicating enough time to learning the basics of flying as well as controlling the game, you can get ready to take off and enjoy the experience MSF2004 has to offer. For more knowledge and a more in-depth experience, you will need to read a bit more before plunging into those limitless lakes of fog.
Once you do all the training, it will be second nature to pick up an airplane and start flying, but you’ll only be prepared for one type of plane. Each plane model has its own mechanics and different panels from the others. For example, there’s more information displayed on the panel of a 747 than in a Cessna Skyline. For either of them, though, you have to pick up the manual and read it to get the most out of the aircraft and the game experience.
Once you have all the information for the aircraft you’re going to fly, and you know where you’re going to fly, weather becomes the newest problem to avoid or battle through. The effects of weather on the mechanics of the planes are extensive and intricate. You will experience problems taking off with heavy winds or landing in airports between mountains or hard-to-reach places. When you want to fly to a certain area, you can alter the difficulty of the weather effects or you can even choose the actual weather conditions (via Internet connection) as if you were really flying to your chosen location. This detail is a wonderful and unique inclusion in MSF2004.
A CENTURY OF FLIGHT, BECAUSE?
The subtitle, A Century of Flight, is apt, referring to an important aspect of MSF2004. A good deal of time has been put into allowing for historical flight options. Have you ever wondered what it could have been like to be flying the “Spirit of St. Louis” over the Atlantic? Or the many perils Amelia Earhart had to go through in her ocean-wide flight? All this can be not seen, but experienced. This is the equivalent of a baseball game’s inclusion of legendary teams and players. What a way to learn history? MSF2004 does an amazing job at incorporating history into the simulation, and it sets itself aside from the other flight sims in the series, and from any flight sim for that matter. Get ready to feel the struggle the Wright Brothers had to go through to take off with that nimble (by today’s standards) aircraft.
Games like this give video games a more serious edge and engender more respect from less hardcore fans and critics. MSF2004 is a strong example of a video game that works well as a tool for learning. While it’s no substitution for flying in real life, playing MSF2004 can get you familiarized with the concepts and basics of flying while having fun. If you really love flying, then play this game, and if you don’t know how to fly, after playing Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight you may have the urge to learn.