One of Microsoft’s iconic games, the rebooted Microsoft Flight Simulator, will take off on August 18 in three digital editions for PC, the company said Monday. It will be free for those who own Microsoft’s Game Pass for PC, and is available for pre-downloading beginning today.
Microsoft’s new version of Flight Simulator aspires to be a photorealistic view of the world, with accurate weather, including clouds, as well as terrain that models the real world. Microsoft said that over 1.5 billion buildings will make an appearance, plus 2 trillion trees, and roads, mountains and rivers and more. There will be live traffic on roads, real-time weather patterns, and even animals, Microsoft promises.
All this will take a toll on your PC. For one thing, the base game requires 150GB of storage on your hard drive. The minimum system requirements include a Core i5-4460/Ryzen 3 1200, with an Nvidia GTX770/Radeon RX 570. Microsoft isn’t saying what the recommended specs are for a fulfilling gameplay experience, but it’s probably much more. PCs with integrated graphics likely won’t cut it.
What differentiates the three editions? Planes and airports, allowing aspiring pilots to tickle that collector’s itch. Flight Simulator taps Bing Maps’ view of the world, complete with streets, airports, buildings, and everything else the mapping software offers. That includes a massive 37,000 separate airports, from rural strips to major international sites, that developer Asobo Studios tweaked to include them inside the game. Microsoft is promising periodic content updates that presumably will add even more.
It’s those airports that help define the different editions. It’s fine if you want to land at New York’s JFK, as that airport is part of the base game. But if you wanted to visit PCWorld’s office in San Francisco, you wouldn’t be able to land at San Francisco International Airport—that airport is reserved for the Premium Edition.
The new airports are “handcrafted,” presumably rendered at higher resolution.
Likewise, the premium editions will include an expanded roster of aircraft, all the way from two-seaters to a Boeing 747. (The latter is included in the base game, though specialized aircraft like the 787-10 Dreamliner are reserved for the Premium Edition.) Pilots can opt to scale from full manual controls to full assist, where the simulator takes over.
Microsoft says the individual aircraft will have over 1,000 control surfaces per plane, for even more accurate aerodynamic modelling.
The game has been in development since at least 2019, when Microsoft announced at E3 that a revamped version of Flight Simulator would be launched at a later date, which turned out to be 2020.
Microsoft’s Flight Simulator predates even Windows, as Microsoft launched a licensed version of the software from original developer Sublogic. Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00 launched in 1982.
This story was updated at 1:28 PM with additional art assets.
As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.