Nothing has pushed my PC further than Microsoft Flight Simulator. That may sound strange for a “game” largely about flying through empty skies by itself, but Asobo’s latest iteration of the classic franchise is technically groundbreaking and ambitious, with all sorts of off-screen wizardry to stream accurate city data, real-time weather effects, and so on. . I still had a great time with it, but compared to most AAA games, Flight Simulator demands a lot more from your CPU.
That’s why I was intrigued by the new version for Xbox Series consoles, which comes out on Game Pass tomorrow. In fact, it’s the first Microsoft game for Xbox series consoles that won’t run natively on an Xbox One model at all, though an xCloud version is also coming to mobile and will eventually reach older Xbox consoles as well. I’ve been playing a preview build from Microsoft on my Series X for a few days now, and as with my PC, I think this is the strongest workout for the hardware yet.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is essentially the same proposition on Xbox as it is on PC, offering players the chance to pilot different planes around a beautifully rendered version of our planet. The tutorials have been tweaked a bit, with a series of shorter missions to make it easier to get up to speed, and the various commands have been mapped to the Xbox controller in a simple, accessible way. You can make the flight model as complex as the PC version if you want, although there aren’t many Xbox-compatible flight stick options at the moment.
On the series X, Flight Simulator runs at 4K resolution and targets 30 frames per second. Overall, I got a more stable experience on the Series X than my own i5 6600K/GTX 1080 setup, which was impressive when I put it together five years ago, but slightly less so now. The frame rate isn’t perfectly smooth – you can drop below 30 when flying low in densely populated areas like downtown Manhattan, for example, and it shows. It helped that I played on an LG CX OLED TV, which is capable of variable refresh rates and means you won’t experience any rips or stutters when the frame rate fluctuates above or below 30.
Graphics settings are broadly comparable to what you’d get on a good gaming PC, if not quite at the top. The game always looks beautiful when you’re high in the air, and any seams in the experience are only really apparent when you fly close to the ground. That usually has more to do with how the photogrammetry streaming technology works — again, if you’re flying fast to Manhattan or Shinjuku, not every skyscraper is always loaded into memory right away, meaning some buildings can seem a little wobbly at first. I also occasionally noticed some funny glitches, such as cars driving on the surface of the River Thames in London instead of Tower Bridge directly above it.
As for the Series S, my colleague Tom Warren has been testing that version for some time and the results are impressive for a small box of $299. The game runs at 1080p with reduced graphics effects and drawing spacing, but as you’ll see in the video, delivers a solid Flight Simulator experience and is by far the cheapest way to achieve it.
Microsoft Flight Simulator has improved a lot since its launch last year, with “world updates” expanding the more detailed photogrammetry data around the world. There’s all that in the Xbox version, too, including the most recent Nordics update with handcrafted airports and landmarks in Scandinavia, Iceland, and Finland. (It’s also worth noting that the PC version is getting another update this week that Microsoft promises to dramatically improve performance across the board — stay tuned to see how that works in practice.)
If anything, the Xbox version can seem a little too close to the PC version at times, with an occasionally clunky cursor-driven interface. It’s a bit noticeable to have a graphical settings menu where the only option is to toggle HDR on and off, for example. But it’s better to leave too much in than to leave out too much: the point is that the flight experience is as good as it is with the available hardware.
From what I’ve played from Microsoft Flight Simulator on the Xbox Series X, I don’t feel like Asobo left much on the table. It’s still an incredible feat of engineering and well worth checking out when it hits Game Pass tomorrow.