I still remember that Flight Simulator that Microsoft gave us in the 80s and with which I started in the exciting world of flight simulators. Some of us overcame the myth of Icarus when faced with the impossibility of fulfilling the dream of being a pilot (for various reasons, including monetary ones) by taking flight with this videogame that is today the oldest franchise of the software giant.
Those were other times… At the height of the 8-bit era, the game offered little more than an expanse of green land and blue sky, with gray strips representing the runways and some black and white blocks for the buildings. Of course, no controller, no joystick, no sticks, no pedals, the vast majority of us played with keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft continued the series with about ten more titles, but ended up shelving it with Flight Simulator X. Fortunately, the series was revived in 2020. with an outstanding video game. Created in partnership with French developer Asobo Studio and leveraging Bing’s 3D mapping work and data and technical guidance from aircraft and avionics manufacturers to ensure the flying experience was as realistic as its graphics. And with advanced techniques such as a “deferred” rendering that-while lowering the graphics quality-allows it to run on machines with mid-range hardware.
Free flight simulators and let’s fly!
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a spectacular game and has undoubtedly opened a new chapter in a very special genre, encouraging new players to enter a niche market that is surely not very profitable for video game producers and that needs high-end hardware and special controllers to play them at ease.
Good games are also necessary… And there are some. If you are a lover of these simulators you already know them. But if you want to get rid of the bug and get started in a world of heaven and earth exciting, we leave you with some titles that you can try for free.
An open source simulator that has been with us since 1997. It was originally developed for Linux and has gained a large community that contributes updates, modifications and add-ons. The game offers a large fleet of aircraft to fly, up to 400 different ones from small single-engine to large commercial aircraft. It uses detailed and accurate flight models, allowing it to replicate realistic flight dynamics and behavior. It also has a good number of airports and modeled terrains to fly over.
FlightGear is cross-platform, free and open source, with versions for Windows, macOS, Linux or FreeBSD.
Google Earth Flight Simulator
Google Earth/Maps is the best geographic information system on the consumer market. And you can do many things with them, from visiting Mars, getting satellite views of any part of the Earth, to walking its streets with Street View. But it also has a flight simulator built into the desktop application. The graphics are not the best and it is little more than a mini-game, but it works in real time since the maps are generated from Google satellite information, so you can fly over different parts of the world and explore. The mechanics are simple and the controls are very intuitive. It is not a deep simulator, but it is accessible and fun to fly virtually around the world.
Google Earth for desktop is available for Windows, macOS and Linux.
Digital Combat Simulator World
If you like air combat, this game offers a fairly realistic simulation of military aircraft, with missions that also include ships and ground vehicles. Although it can be complicated for novice players, DCS World offers detailed tutorials for beginners, covering each aircraft and its mechanics in depth. And it’s necessary because the development of this video game series is designed to be a simulator specialized in a single specific military aircraft. In any case, it is quite customizable depending on whether you want the game to focus more on action or simulation with stricter mechanics.
The game is free-to-play for Windows with in-app purchases, but it’s free to start and you can also try the open beta if you’re looking for a multiplayer experience.
It is the only one in this list of free flight simulators that can be run directly in a web browser. With that in mind it must be said that the graphics are quite good, the mechanics are realistic and refined, and real-time weather is displayed with a dynamic day/night cycle and global satellite imagery. The controls are simple and easy to handle after a short time of use. It features charts, 30 aircraft and multiplayer experience.
GeoFS is free with ads, which are not really intrusive. If you like the game, want to remove them or get high resolution images (from Microsoft Bing Maps), you can opt for the paid Pro version.
Aces High III
Set in the two great world wars, this game is halfway between simulator and combat. You can also use tanks, ships and other vehicles. The gameplay itself is fairly simple; you can just fly around quietly or engage in battle with hundreds of players in a multiplayer environment. Neither the graphics nor the simulation are the best on the list, but the fighters of the world wars are very well designed.
Aces High III for Windows is available on Steam in both free trial and paid versions.
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
We leave for the end the best video game you can buy in the genre. It has a number of highly detailed aircraft in a realistic world, changing weather conditions in real time and dynamic scenarios, with its own flight plan that will allow you to go anywhere on the planet day or night. It includes a whopping 36,000 airports and 1.5 billion buildings, real mountains, roads, trees, rivers, traffic and more, with 3D data from Bing Maps. The game uses the “deferred rendering” technique and components such as lighting, reflections, shadows and others are rendered locally in order to bring it to the general public with resolutions up to 4K and support for HDR.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is available for Windows PCs on Steam and the Microsoft Store. It is paid, but we include it because you can try it for free thanks to the Xbox Game Pass where it is included.