Billed as the most realistic flight simulator on the market, the X-Plane series returns to PCs with X-Plane 8. Approved for certification by the FAA for Visual and Instrument Flight ratings, armchair pilots can not only design, build, and fly their own airplanes, but also create sceneries, design flight plans, and fly fantasy scenarios. Twenty-nine aircraft and a number of international airports are included. Features include full instrument panels, actual radio frequencies, manual or random failures, and much more. Pilots can also experience fantasy flights and high-risk scenarios such as Space Shuttle Orbiter missions, aircraft carrier landings and take-offs, flying on Mars, and combat missions.
Included in the package are programs that allow you to design your own creations: Plane-Maker, World-Maker, Airfoil-Maker, and the new Weather Briefer, which gives a weather briefing based on data downloaded from the Internet. X-Plane 8 supports Internet and local network flights, and can be played in several languages (English, French, German, Portuguese, and more).
New features in version eight include non-repeating texture tiles, more systems-simulations and equipment-failure-simulations, new instruments, improved fonts, undulating runways, greater details shown when zooming in, accurate roadmaps and coastlines, new planes, and much more.
Flight Sims used to make up the main part of my gaming diet. I spent hundreds of pounds on joysticks with separate throttle controls and hundreds of hours reading manuals the size of the New Testament. Gradually my tastes changed from wanting to fly commercial aircraft to hankering after a bit more action offered by combat flight sims. But in recent years I have to admit I haven't really put my pilot hat on a whole lot. So it was with renewed excitement that I tackled X-Plane 8, a series I had not played for several years.
The first thing that strikes you about X-plane 8 is the absolutely huge scale of it. There are hundreds of aircraft to fly (29 included and hundreds available to download for free) including space shuttles, radio control planes and almost everything in between. You can fly pretty much anywhere on the planet, choosing to land at any one of over 16,000 airports, heli-pads or aircraft carriers. You can even travel to Mars and try out a few craft around the red planet! Almost every possible weather scenario is available and you can apparently use real-time weather information downloaded from the net. And if you really fancy seeing if you have what it takes to earn your wings, X-Plane also has detailed failure-modelling, with 35 systems that can be failed manually or randomly, when you least expect it! You can fail instruments, engines, flight controls, and landing gear at any moment. Pant-filling stuff at 30,000 feet!
Some of you might be thinking "so what, FS2004 has lots of that stuff", but consider that the Microsoft game is produced by a huge team, within a huge company with deep pockets, whereas X-plane is basically the labor of love of just one man!
The X-Plane series is regarded by many to be one of the best widely available flight sims around. The actual flight model is very, very realistic and gives a definite feeling of flying through air currents, cross winds and all the other natural obstacles a pilot must face. To do this the X-Plane flight engine reads in the geometric shape of any aircraft and then figures out how that aircraft will fly. It does this by an engineering process called "blade element theory", which involves breaking the aircraft down into many small elements and then finding the forces on each little element many times per second. Sound simple? No, not to me either! The controls and cockpit for each of the planes are very well detailed and the various dials and readouts seem to behave realistically. You can customize almost every tiny aspect of your flight and spend literally hours tinkering before you even take off. At this point, it might be worth pointing out that X-Plane is not for the novice flight sim enthusiast, but for the experienced virtual flyer (or even real pilots).
If you somehow get bored of the huge range of things to do and fly in this game, you can switch over to the included World Maker or Plane Maker software and have a go at creating your own unique content. I had a brief try at making a plane and it seemed surprisingly easy to get to grips with (well, I actually remodeled an existing plane, but hey, don't run before you can walk right?). The World Maker software is a little more complex, but with a bit more patience than I possess, I'm sure people could get some great results. Indeed, many people already have, and as mentioned earlier there is a wealth of user-created content available.
As with probably all the games in the X-Plane series (well all the ones I have played anyway), version 8 suffers from a few annoying bugs, textures in the wrong places, floating landing strips and misplaced models to name but a few. However, as you spend most of your time up in the air, this is not a huge problem. The graphics are a definite improvement over the last game in the series, but not really anything to write home about. You don't really notice too much when high up, but drop closer to the ground and the repeating textures on the vast landscape certainly won't make for a great sightseeing tour. Thankfully the cockpit and other parts of the aircraft have had a bit more attention paid to them and look reasonably nice.
X-Plane 8 is certainly not as polished as some of its rivals, and it is probably a little bit advanced for the novice flight sim fan, but more experienced flyers should revel in the huge array of options and content available. Certainly worth the download if you are getting a bit bored of FS2004.
People who downloaded X-Plane 8 have also downloaded:
Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Wings over Vietnam, WWII Tank Commander, Whirlwind over Vietnam, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight, Microsoft Train Simulator, Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe, Red Baron 3D
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