X-Plane 8 shines in the areas where a flight simulator should, but a clumsy interface, difficult customization, and an overall lack of polish prevent X-Plane from truly challenging the dominance of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series. That being said, fans of flight sims can probably overlook X-Plane’s weaknesses and be in for a real delight.
People experienced with other flight sims should be able to jump right into X-Plane’s familiar cockpits and be flying around in no time. X-Plane responds to control inputs better than Flight Simulator, generally is more forgiving, and is much less over-sensitive, especially with keyboard input. With a joystick or with a yoke, X-Plane responds quickly to input without feeling sluggish. Different aircraft truly feel different, rather than just sluggish versions of the same aircraft, a la Flight Simulator. This is due to X-Plane’s flight model, which is dependent on each airplane’s geometry, rather than changes within the simulator engine itself.
Weather is handled unlike any other flight simulator. Real-time weather actually affects your aircraft rather than just changing the way the game looks. You will experience wind-shear and turbulence effects as you fly into bad weather.
X-Plane also allows you to fly literally anything that has carried humans into the atmosphere. Included aircraft range from the ubiquitous Cessna and Boeing 747s to the Hindenburg and the Space Shuttle. Fighter aircraft and helicopters are also included just in case you run out of aircraft that interest you. Has merely flying from field to field become boring? Try landing on an aircraft carrier as it pitches and rolls offshore.
If you have mastered all the aircraft in X-Plane, you are free to design your own. Included with the package are applications that can custom-build aircraft, airfoils (wings), and terrain. The plane creator has seemingly limitless options to tweak, allowing you to design almost anything you can think of.
||The game world in X-Plane is a busy one, populated with other aircraft while your cockpit is filled with the sounds of them contacting approach control. Never do you feel like you’re on your own, as you do sometimes with Flight Simulator. The ATC is handled better in X-Plane as well: there is no distracting window that pops up into the windshield whenever ATC tries to contact you.
Perhaps the biggest frustration with X-Plane is the feeling that it could have been so much more. The execution of some of the features leaves very little to be desired. The customization tools are difficult to use, and seem tacked-on as an afterthought of the marketing department. You basically design an aircraft by using spin controls to change hundreds of numerical values. Unless you have A LOT of time to dedicate to your initial design, plus A LOT MORE TIME to dedicate to tweaking your design to get it to perform as you want, your dream aircraft will never get off the ground. You can import from existing aircraft, but with no preview you don’t know what you’re getting until you load it. Furthermore, there isn’t a single “OK” button in the game, just a series of X’s that sometimes retain your changes and sometimes do not.
X-Plane’s control scheme also leaves a bad taste. Using the keyboard and mouse is doable, even though clicking the mouse in the windscreen accidentally can send your airplane into an unrecoverable dive. True flight sim fans would never think of using the keyboard, though, but unfortunately, you will have to program nearly every button and some axes of your joystick or yoke. X-Plane does not have any brand-specific control presets.
Worse still are X-Plane’s stability problems. X-Plane had hard-locked in flight on both machines used to review it. Also, when quitting, X-Plane does not return your desktop to its original resolution, a benign problem that is indicative of its user-unfriendliness overall. Changing aircraft or changing airports is not as clear or as intuitive as it should be.
X-Plane is beautiful, having the best graphics to date for a PC flight sim. The cloud effects beat the pants off of Flight Simulator, and the buildings look much better than Flight Simulator. Not only are downtown skyscrapers modeled, but also suburban and urban houses. The draw-rate doesn’t seem to be as far reaching as Flight Simulator, so it looks perpetually hazy, but to make up for it, there are no redraw-delays to take you out of the feel. The cockpits are fabulously rendered and are animated much smoother than in Flight Simulator.
All the planes in X-Plane look like their commercial equivalents and actual airlines are represented in X-Plane. Taking the space shuttle in from orbit has to be seen to be believed—it is a wonderful experience.
The weather effects are wonderful as well. Clouds, rain, and snow look photorealistic as does watching the sun rise or set. There has not been a single game, flight sim or otherwise, that has so wonderfully rendered the sky and all its components.
One point of note, however, the X-Plane box makes the claim that it only comes with scenery for the continental US. This is not the case, as X-Plane does have scenery for the rest of the world, but it is a revision behind, so the quality in scenery for the rest of the world is nothing like that which is found inside the continental US. X-Plane’s developer claims that you can order “Generation 8” scenery for the rest of the world on their website, but after a thorough search, no updated scenery could be found.
X-Plane delivers mixed results in the sound department. The cockpit chatter and cockpit warning (“sink rate. . .sink rate. . .”) are as you would expect in real aircraft: something that was missing in Flight Simulator. The engines and other aircraft sounds also are very realistic. A bizarre robot-like voice occupies ATC, however, reminding you that you are in a simulator rather than a real aircraft. With all the other sounds done so well, having a computer generated voice in ATC is a jarring contrast.
X-Plane does include a multiplayer component, but unless you have a friend to fly with, don’t expect to find much online. Getting online with X-Plane’s interface can also be an exercise in frustration until you get used to it.
As with all “software toys” there really isn’t anything pointed to do. You fly from place to place, and occasionally fail a system and deal with an emergency. X-Plane’s vast array of modeled aircraft and ability to land on aircraft carriers adds immensely to its replay value. Unfortunately, with the interface a kludge, and the occasional locking up, the frustration of dealing with X-Plane’s many quirks takes away from wanting to play it more.
Even though it is better looking and easier to grasp than any flight sim to date, X-Plane feels unfinished. Serious fans of flight sims will enjoy X-Plane, while casual fans may want to wait for a more streamlined interface, hopefully in X-Plane 9.