It looks like Microsoft Flight, Microsoft's casual-friendly revamp of its Flight Sim series, will finally be available this spring — what's more, it'll be downloadable and won't cost a thing.
To fly around Hawaii, that is: Yep, it appears Microsoft Flight will be freemium. Microsoft says the freebie version will give players "the freedom to fly the skies over the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii, complete a variety of exciting missions, test their skills in flying challenges, or find hidden aerocaches on the island." Sign in with your Games for Windows LIVE account, adds Microsoft, and you'll receive additional free content, from extra missions to "the legendary Boeing Stearman plane" (it sounds like MS Flight will also support game achievements).
What'll you fly around the Aloha State off the block? Looks like the ICON A5 (pictured above), a light sport aircraft that won't go into real-world production until late 2012. Microsoft describes the ICON A5 as "a high-wing amphibious monoplane with a carbon fiber airframe and a comfortable, automobile-inspired cockpit with space for two," noting it was designed by the aeronautical engineers responsible for the Voyager spacecraft, SpaceShipOne (an X-Prize winner), and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.
If you want to the full experience, of course, you'll have to pay up. Microsoft isn't saying what that'll cost, only that you'll be able to purchase and download "additional content that adds new aircraft, regions and customization options." The company plans to release "daily aerocache challenges," too (aerocache appears to be a made-up word that's just another way of saying "hidden piece of sky").
As for the game itself, I'll give the microphone to Microsoft for a minute:
In "Microsoft Flight," players view the world from above in a visually stunning and realistic representation of the earth, complete with region-specific weather patterns, foliage, terrain and landmarks. Players can choose to take the helm using highly rendered, accurate cockpits and authentic piloting procedures, or simply use their mouse and keyboard to control the plane in an exterior view. More experienced players can tailor the flight controls to match their skill level, making "Microsoft Flight" easy for beginners while still challenging for the most accomplished PC pilots.
There's also a new video up (well, supposedly — all I see are five undated webisodes) which you can view here (click the 'video' tab at left).
And if you want in on the closed beta, the hangar doors to sign up are officially open.