Flight Unlimited III is the latest installment (c.1999) of the Flight Unlimited civilian flight simulation series. The title, which invites virtual pilots to experience the exhilarating sensation of flying over the Pacific Northwest, features a powerful scenery editor and an advanced weather system. Flight Unlimited III was developed by Looking Glass Studios and is co-published with Electronic Arts.
Flight Unlimited III showcases 10,000 square miles of photorealistic high-resolution terrain based on satellite data of the picturesque and highly varied scenery of the Seattle area. Players can fly from the snowcapped peak of Mt. Rainier to the towering Space Needle, crossing coastlines, lakes, mountains and the unique urban skyline of downtown Seattle along the way.
A total of ten aircraft are featured, including a corporate jet and four other new planes. The flight models have been accurately recreated using Looking Glass' in-house special physics engine and verified by commercially licensed pilot Peter James as well as outside pilots who fly all of the real aircraft. The blueprint-quality aircraft deliver the detailed cockpits, real-life responsiveness and tactile feedback:
-Mooney TLS Bravo
-Lake Renegade Seaplane
-Stemme S10-VT Motorglider
-Twin Engine Windhawk
Flight Unlimited III features the first scenery editor ever shipped with a civilian flight simulation. This tool allows players to quickly and easily modify existing Flight Unlimited III scenery, as well as build airports and ground objects throughout the entire western U.S. (including Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and Oregon).
The title is further enhanced by the weather system, producing realistic rain, snow, wind and any other conditions that real-world pilots are likely to encounter. The rich and dynamic environment of Flight Unlimited III also includes interactive Air Traffic Control, aircraft controlled by artificial intelligence, richly detailed 3D objects, flight instruction and specific flight challenges.
Pilots who crave a bit of adventure will get a thrill out of Flight Unlimited III's ten featured Flight Challenges. Each challenge is accompanied by a mission briefing and flown with various goals in mind.
Looking Glass Studios is a leading developer of entertainment and simulation software, distinguished by its expertise in 3D immersive technologies. Looking Glass has created some of the best-selling and highly acclaimed titles in the interactive entertainment industry, including the Ultima Underworld series, System Shock, the Flight Unlimited series, Thief: The Dark Project and Thief Gold.
There's little argument Microsoft reigned as the undisputed kings of civilian flight sims the better part of sixteen years. Then, in the mid-'90s, a few daring game designers took a stab to unseat the software Goliaths from its throne, namely Looking Glass Studios with the impressive Flight Unlimited sim for the DOS platform. Other non-combat sims followed, with varying results, such as Sierra's ambitious yet bug-ridden Pro Pilot, Looking Glass Studios' beautiful Flight Unlimited II and most recently, Terminal Reality's luke-warm Fly! Naturally, Microsoft didn't rest on its laurels either, offering new incarnations of its Flight Simulator series almost annually, not to mention a handful of expansion discs each year, as well.
Fortunately, this heated competition ultimately will mean better sims in the long run, and if Looking Glass Studios' third attempt is any indication, it's coming sooner than you think. Here's the skinny...
With Flight Unlimited III (FU3), flight sim aficionados can take to the friendly skies in the Pacific Northwest, with over 10,000 square miles of photo-realistic scenery derived from satellite data. In fact, along with the exceptional sensation of rolling elevation, the terrain is at a meticulous 4-meters per pixel ratio, the best resolution for any flight sim to date. Highlights include downtown Seattle (complete with an accurate depiction of the Space Needle and the Mariner's stadium), the snow-covered mountain tops of Mt. Rainier and all the gorgeous, green forests of upper Washington state. Hell, you can even fly over Microsoft's Redmond "campus" or Bill Gates' modest residence, if so desired. Owners of Flight Unlimited II may also import the San Francisco data into FU3 to fly down the west coast from Vancouver, Canada to the Golden Gate Bridge seamlessly.
Admittedly, I rarely start off a game review with a discussion of its graphics, but if you've seen this game, you'd understand why all the hoopla. Here's a few other noteworthy points to touch on regarding the visuals in FU3. The weather effects in the game are equally as impressive as the terrain. Snow, rain, lightning, strong winds and blinding suns all add to the "wow" factor, as does the adjustable day, dusk and night cycles. Want to take off in a Seaplane? While gaining speed on the water, you'll see droplets shimmy up the windshield a la Need for Speed! And lastly, FU3 is bundled with a scenery editor allowing users to create, trade or download scenery such as objects, buildings, airports and more. Though this feature is not apparent from the main menu, the manual provides a step-by-step walkthrough on how to create or import custom scenery (or add sounds, AVIs, music, and so forth). Sure, there are dozens of third-party add-ons for Microsoft's latter Flight Simulator products but this one's included out of the box and it's surprisingly intuitive.
OK, So Where's the Gameplay, Guy?
In total, there are ten aircraft to climb into with FU3, ranging from a P-51D Mustang (WWII fighter plane) and Stemme S10-VT Motorglider to the blazing Mooney TLS Bravo and the chic Beechjet 400A (corporate jet), to name a few. As with past Flight Unlimited products, FU3's flight models for all aircraft seem incredibly accurate, thanks to Looking Glass' proprietary physics engine. It's fair to say successful sims seem to balance the fine line between realism and fun, and FU3 is no exception. The player can select or deselect dozens of options to suit the preferred experience, such as the use of Air Traffic Control (ATC), controlling stalls, air traffic, wind accuracy, turbulence, fuel options, and so forth. Casual gamers who just want to cruise at 5,000 feet over mountains, rivers and national parks may do so without even seeing a runway. The choice is yours.
One of the finer accomplishments with FU3 is the aforementioned ATC, a real-time, artificially intelligent and interactive service provided to the pilot to help avoid collisions with other aircraft during take-offs and landings. The manual does a fine job in covering the different kinds of ATC included in the sim, with sample scenarios and how to communicate back with the tower.
From the main screen, players can select a Quick Flight (with many adjustable conditions and locales), the Airport (where most of the meat in the game takes place) or the Challenges mode for predetermined , er, challenges to try out. With the latter, there are eleven varied scenarios to add some replayability to FU3. For example, you may be asked to whisk some suits to an important business meeting in less than a half or to rescue someone stranded in the mountains. With the "Crimefighters" challenge, you're ask to catch some criminals stealing from wealthy yacht owners alongside a lippy female Deputy Marshall willing to jump from the plane to stop the thieves. There's also a few "Hoops" challenges designed to test a pilot's maneuvering skills.
Novice simmers can take advantage of the handy tutorial section of FU3. While it's not a robust as Pro Pilot's full disc of video instruction, it does provide a fantastic walkthrough of all the important skills a pilot must be familiar with for a more enjoyable and realistic experience. At the end of each chalkboard lesson (complete with audio narration), players have the opportunity to prove they've retained the advice by climbing behind the cockpit. Beginner and advanced skills are covered.
A Bit of Turbulence in Our Test-Flight
While FU3 is a gorgeous, realistic and fun sim to sink your teeth into, there's a few shortcomings, especially for those whose computer may not be the latest and greatest.
Frame rates are noticeably slower than other recent civilian flight sims, likely due to the highly-detailed terrain. Ironically, this hurts the "suspension of disbelief" factor in FU3, unless you're running a high-end Pentium II or III with boatloads of RAM and a solid 3D card. Forget what the box recommends for system requirements ¿ you'll need a fast mother to get the most out of this game. And get this ¿ the player has an option to install 300MB up to a whopping 2+ GB to the hard drive! I tested the game on an older P333, with 64MB RAM and a Voodoo Banshee, and even with the max install and not all effects turned on, there's a number of noticeable hiccups and generally slow frame rate issues. Naturally, my experience was much better on a Pentium III 450 with 192MB RAM and a 32MB Matrox G400, and at the highest resolution (1024 x 768), but not all gamers have this kind of horsepower. Allegedly, Looking Glass Studios is releasing a patch at the end of October or early November to help resolve the frame-rate beefs.
The other faults with FU3 are trivial, but they include panels that aren't active (i.e. you can't click the controls with the mouse, but rather, keyboard commands only), there's no option to see the propellers on the older planes and some very minor bugs, such as flying right through buildings even with the collision option activated (curiously, you can do this with Flight Simulator and Pro Pilot, as well?!).
All in all, Flight Unlimited III is a well-conceived and executed civilian flight sim with dozens of customizable features. While Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2000, due out any time, covers much of the world instead of a mere 10,000 square feet, FU3 is a highly enjoyable and stunning -- ride through America's lush northwest.
People who downloaded Flight Unlimited 3 have also downloaded:
Flight Unlimited 2, Fly! 2, Flight Unlimited, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000: Professional Edition, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight, F-22 Lightning 3, Jane's USAF, Microsoft Flight Simulator X
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