'll admit I hat flight sims have never really caught my attention. I never really saw the appeal of sitting hunched over the keyboard, frantically leafing through a manual thicker than your local telephone directory for a key control to lower my under carriage, while the horizon bobbed and swirled in front of me. It just all seemed rather pointless. You take off, press around 4000 keys, then set your course, press a further 1000 or so keys and land. Things get slightly more appealing when a combat scenario is introduced. At least you have something to do like shoot the enemy, your wingmen or even a tree, depending on how droll the whole experience happens to be.
I suppose the biggest let down for me has always been the graphics. Correct me if I'm wrong, but at least part of the whole flying experience is not just controlling something that is in real terms very heavy and keeping it off the ground, but looking down at the world below, pointing excitedly to the horizon and remarking how everything looks just like a toy town. Flying around (and into) a murky, flat and usually rather dull environment via my pc therefore does very little to excite me. On top of this, the control system always seems too far removed from the real thing to be anywhere near accurate (even when wielding a mighty Thrustmaster) and it juj didn't feel like I was. well, flying Arcadey type flight sims like TFX are okay, and as long as the emphasis is on flash graphics, there aren't more than a dozen different keys and I have something to do, like shoot at something, then I'm moderately happy. Call me a simple minded Philistine who wouldn't know his rudder from his flaps, but I know what I like and I like what I know. Flight sims tha attempt to simulate what flying a real aircraft is like are boring - period. Airline pilots get paid an awful lot of money and it's pretty obvious why. Those inane grins and cool aviator shades aren't anything to do with the money they earn, or the fact that they get to shack up with all the air hostesses on long haul flights. They're there to hide the expressions of pain and boredom that inevitably come to be a permanent fixture after sitting for hours it a cock-pit with nothing to do but read the in-flight manuals and have farting contests with the co-pilot.
Flight conversion comer
blight Unlimited, I was promised, would change my life forever, and I would be converted into a propeller head before I knew it. I was yet to be convinced. A quick look at the press release confirmed my worst suspicions. You get to take off, fly around one of five areas measuring a measly six square miles and then land again. No combat, no jets to crash at high speed into the ground, no flying over Italy and flushing the toilet - no way!
When the day came that Flight Unlimited was ready for preview. I thought about swinging a sicky. You know the scene. You had a bit of a heavy sesh the night before. The next thing you know, you're wide awake with a thumping headache, fumbling with the alarm dock. What day is it today? Flight sim preview day. You lay back in bed thinking up exotic illnesses that you could have feasibly contracted in the space of to hours. Malaria? No. Dan tried that one the other week and everyone laughed at him. A sore throat, or just a good old-fashioned cold? Sounds a bit wimpy. Better get up and face the music.
Take me higher
I'm sitting in my plane now, a rather sporty single engined affair that looks a bit special. The engine is droning, my hand is gripped tightly around my Thrust-master and I'm looking at the view out of the window. The sun is shining (still), there isn't a cloud in the sky and my chin is resting comfortably on my lap. The view is amazing, stunning in fact. It's not a collection of grey and green blobs, it's full of hills, mountains, rivers and the odd road. Tin sure if you looked hard enough you'd see birds singing in the trees and small, furry animals gathering nuts. I want to move to Maine, build myself a log cabin, wear checked shirts and I want my own plane.
Of course, the closer to the ground you fly, the less - detailed and blocky it all looks, but as long as you remain at a "sensible" height it's all pretty impressive. Although the flying area, at around six square miles is quite small, it's set on a loop so you can't fly off the end of the world or anything stupid. Apparently, there are more areas on the way. so you may (in theory at least) be able to tty over, or near a region you are familiar with.
The reason Flight Unlimited looks so much better than any other flight sim currently on the market is that it uses aerial photos of actual scenic locations that have been digitised, "stereo imaged" and "texture mapped" to give the pilot the most amazing views possible - and it works a treat. It also handles realistically thanks to a rather complicated flight engine that accurately recreates the behaviour of the air flow as ir hits the plane. As a result, you'll find yourself battling with thermals, swooping through valleys and struggling with the controls as you perform any of the 25 stunts or an emergency landing. In fact, it's so realistic, Looking Glass Technologies (the developers and people behind System shock and Chuck Yeager) maintain that with extensive use it actually reduces the number of lessons required to obtain a light aircraft pilot's licence.
At the moment there's talk of a combat version that will use the same engine, but that won't be for a while yet. In the mean time, you'll have to make do with learning to fly (there's an on-board tutor to teach you), master the 25 special manoeuvres or stunts (again with full instructions and assessment) or try your hand at one of the many daring racecourses (you can view these later using the in-game playback feature). 'There are also plans for a multi-player link up and vr compatibility. Okay, I'm converted.
(In) stalling into a dive
Unusual aeroplanes and nothing to shoot at. Now I know that so far it sounds about as exciting as an add-on pack for Flight Simulator 4. but it gets better. Much better. So what do I get? The first thing you'll notice when you break into the shrink-wrapped package and stuff it into your cd drive is that the install program isn't especially user-friendly. It works, but it won't help you much. This bodes ill for the next bits, and as a result you go through the set-up and intro routines with more than a little trepidation. Have you made an incredibly terrible mistake?
Bursting through to the game itself, suddenly everything becomes clear. Very clear. And. if you've set things up properly, it becomes very detailed, too...
...You are in a crew room. There are coffee stains on the carpet. If you go up to the chairs and look closely, you'll probably find ten pence down the side of one of the cushions. There are posters on the walls. Aeroplanes, of course. You can almost smell the AvGas and stale tobacco which you just know permeates the room. "Shit!" you think. "Why can't Doom look this good?"
The gentle buzz of piston engines mingles with the sound of the birds. You wander around (using the mouse), and notice that as you approach things they sort of highlight themselves. There are posters on the wall. There are books. There is a notice board. There is a table with model aeroplanes on it (it's uncannily just like my bedroom). And. as you approach the table, an aeroplane will start to rotate. Look to either side of it. and whichever plane you're looking at now will turn. Click the left mouse button, strap yourself in and go.
At the moment you actually start in the air although when you get your grubby mitts on the game, you'll be able to take off. Suddenly any thought you may have had about comparing this to Flight Simulator 4 goes out of the window. You look around and are instantly sure that if you had the right maps you could fly home using the real world outside your plane. This is unbelievably good. Just look at the pics to see what I mean.
Not just a pretty face
Is it just a pretty face? Now, we've all seen games that look great but have all the long-term attractiveness of herpes. We've seen games that look crappy, but which are really good to play. We've seen games which look crap and play even worse. But recently, we have seen a couple of games that do both, and do both well. Just a couple, mind. Well, I've got new one for you. Flight Unlimited kicks anything else so far into touch that the comparison bit at the end is gonna be bloody hard.
I never thought that I'd say it but it really doesn't matter that you don't get to kill anything (although you can take part in some pretty scary low-level races). If you are in the least bit interested in flying for the sake of it. then this game will keep you grinning like an idiot for weeks. It flies right. It sounds right. It looks wonderful. I'm told that you could use this to reduce the number of hours you would need to get up to speed for a pilot's license. Normally my reply would be short and to the point. But this time I think it may actually be true. Are you getting my drift yet?
Back to flight school
If we go back to the hut on the airfield (which, being American, they refer to as a "Fixed Operations Base" or "FBO"). we can wander around until we come to a notice board. We go to the notice that is marked "Lessons" and select it. All the menus, by the way are presented like notes or icons. 'Hie whole thing just oozes atmosphere in exactly the way that most simulators of this genre don't.
Sorry, back to the plot. Select a lesson and we're presented with an animated whiteboard drawing which takes us through the manoeuvre diagrammatically. Just like you would get in the classroom at groundschool.
Although this beta version didn't quite work right, the instructor will be talking you through the whole way. You can watch the flying aircrafts as many times as you like and then go fly it yourself. Again, the reassuring voice of the instructor is there to help you avoid cocking it up completely.
A word about the instructor, here. Remember Chuck Yeager? Same comments no matter what actually happened? Okay, now forget it Flight Unlimited seems to have used the resources most sims would use for running the enemy brains to run the instructor. In other words, he gives you advice that is relevant and helpful for the situation you're in right then. He'll shut up if you want, as well.
So anyway, on with the flight. You listen to what the instructor tells you, flying straight and level at 80 knots. The engine sounds fine and all your gauges are reading fine. You fix your eyes on the horizon and roll inverted. Keep the nose level until your wings are straight, then pull back to achieve 4-5G and keep pulling until you are almost level again. Watch your speed so as to avoid overstressing the aeroplane. Level off and perhaps convert some of your speed back to altitude. There... a perfect split—s.
Altogether there are 25 such manoeuvres available for you to learn, and the excellent flight recorder means that you can put together a full aerobatic display sequence, fly it and then bore youi friends to death by getting them to watch it again and again. Actually, the first time they watch it. they will be so gobsmacked b) the graphics that they'll probably want to see it again. In fact, if you're really sad you could do an Aresti diagram (that's a system ol squiggles which show aerobatic sequences), clip it to your screen and pretend that you're doing it for real.
Planes, trainers and a real feel
Okay, let's talk about flight. I mentioned a whole bundle of aeroplanes. most of which you have probably never heard. The Su-3I is a brutish, little aerobatic monoplane and is what I saw at Farn-borough. You've all seen a Pitts - you just may not have realised it. If you've ever been to an airshow anywhere you'll undoubtedly have seen someone chucking a tiny little biplane that sounds like a chainsaw all over the sky. Well, that's a Pitts.
It says a lot. by the way. that people now regard the Pitts as a trainer because it is soft. The Extra is like an American Su-31.
Real-life flight model
Mthough the graphics are great and the external views are fantastic, they are secondary to the excellence of the flight model. Apparently, the guys at Looking Glass have developed a system which actually treats air like a fluid (which, of course, it is) and makes it interact with the aeroplane in the right way. I know I've said that other sims fly right, and it's true that there arc certainly others which are pretty good. But at the end of the day. regardless of how well they've coded the aircraft to behave, the air remains rather sterile and lifeless. Not any more, matey. You want to experience turbulence, ride thermals and the like? You got it. The only thing missing is the peculiar feeling as you flirt with the stall just before one wing drops. That's only because you can't feel the aircraft moving and your gut isn't being thrown around. The good thing about this, of course, is that you don't get bruised by the straps after a good session (Oooh-cr) like you do in the real thing.
What was that about the graphics? Oh yes. Looking Glass took pictures of the areas they were interested in from two slightly different angles. By merging them, they got a 3D effect which they then translated onto a computer, mapped out and pixellated to get I a terrific digital landscape which looks amazing - from a height, anyway. The aircraft themselves are exact copies of the real thing, and they look just so. So am I saying its perfect? Well, no, Not quite. What I am saying is that it is pretty damn close to being perfect. The problem is that by being so clever it puts at least 80 per cent of potential buyers out of reach.
Flight Unlimited uses more processing power to handle airflow dynamics alone than most simulators use to do everything. And that means you need a chip to match. I am assured that this will run on a DX2 with just 8mb ram. I gotta say that I don't believe it. If it worked, the detail levels would have to be at minimum, and that would be a real shame.
So what do you really need? Okay, to get the best out of this. I reckon you need a p/66 minimum with i6mb ram and a really quick video card, such as a 2MB Kelvin. The bigger the monitor the better. You need the best cd-rom that you can get, with a fast interface to minimise access times. You also want a good 16-bit stereo sound card. Finally, you need a lull set of Thrustmaster gear (including rudder pedals), headphones for sound (more atmospheric), a nice.
comfortable chair, a darkened room, an understanding spousc/group of friends/dog and loads of spare time.
Would I buy it? The 64 million dollar question. Yes, I definitely would. I'd also recommend it to my friends, provided they had the kit to use it. Trouble is, though, if you enjoy flying for the sake of it there isn't much about. Sure, you can set up most combat sims for free flight with no enemy, but that's a pretty empty experience because it isn't what the game was meant for. Then there are what I would call the "anorak simulators'', like FS 4 and ATP. You can tell they're dull because they have such racy titles. These games are fine if you really want to fly a Leaijet from Oakland to St Louis using radio navigation aids, or if you want to practice landing an Airbus at JFK. All very worthy but a bit limited graphically (though PS4 isn't bad), and they still don't have realistic air (like a cockney Action Man). But yes. Not only would I buy it. but I'd say it makes it worth buying that new machine. Then you can really fly in this, and when you've got good you can go kill things with US Navy Fighters. Excellent!
After Reading All The Blurb About how 'real' Flight Unlimited II is and how it's amazingly detailed and accurate and how you can use it to learn to fly for real, I guess the basic question has to be: why would anyone want to buy a flight sim that doesn't have guns? I mean, just how much enjoyment is there to be had from patiently flying along predefined commercial routes? From carefully ensuring you don't deviate from established aviation protocol in the slightest? From steadfastly taxiing around busy airports, waiting for clearance so that you can take a short hop from one part of San Francisco Bay to, er, a slightly different part of San Francisco Bay? How many times can you say, "Sod it, I'm going for it" and fly under the Golden Gate Bridge before it becomes just a part of your routine daily existence, like shopping for milk and masturbating to Bay watch? (Waaaoy too much information - Ed)
Come in number 7, your time's up
Let's be excruciatingly honest about things here. This is a truly anal game - but then that's true of all 'real-life' flight sims. There's nothing sexy or cool about flying a Cessna from one airport to another - it's not like strapping on a pair of Ray-Bans, jumping into the latest in killer jets and screaming off to give this month's Harry Hun substitute a good bombing before flying home, buzzing the tower and getting off with the base's sexy psychiatrist. The real world is dull - deathly so. That's why we play games to get away from it. The only way to derive pleasure from this sort of thing is by being the kind of person for whom 'routine' and 'procedure' gets you hot and keeps you simmering.
Which, rather annoyingly, doesn't really explain why I like Flight Unlimited II (Actually I think it might - Ed). I have to confess that after an admittedly shaky start which had me questioning everything from why games like this even exist to what my role in this dark and lonely universe is (you get a lot of time to think during trips from Rio Vista to Palo Alto), I found myself getting into the whole routine of it. I actually rather enjoyed the concept of manually tuning in my radio to different frequencies to pick up different airfield broadcasts. I warmed to the idea of just taking the old bird up for a quick spin, so to speak.
The gameplay options help to vary things. Missions, as it were, include all sorts of interesting situations. Everything it seems is on offer, from picking up a pair of escaped prisoners from Alcatraz under cover of night to dropping a load of frozen turkeys over a football stadium to surviving in all sorts of adverse weather conditions and engine failures.
I don't want to kid anyone here. Flight Unlimited II is hardly the most technically proficient flight sim ever made - at least cosmetically. I'm sure the flight dynamics are accurate to the fifteenth decimal point (more so, probably) - it's the visual dynamics I'm referring to. Remember Interactive Magic's iF-22? How their use of photo-realistic graphics meant that when flying above 5000ft everything looked superb, but flying at anything lower meant the scenery looked like your gran had knitted it? It's a similar story here. Things aren't actually that bad at low heights, at least not with a 3Dfx card (which I would highly recommend), but it doesn't really compare to the visual excellence of something like F-22 Advanced Defence Fighter.
And I can't help but feel that the landscape looks a bit empty. There are the occasional 'points of interest' to explore, but other than a few skyscrapers, large city areas are represented by flat texture maps, so there's no real feeling of flying over anywhere really populated. It just doesn't feel real, and consequently damages the real-life atmosphere that a sim of this nature desperately needs to create. This didn't matter too much in the aerobatics-oriented Flight Unlimited, where you're only interested in a bit of up-diddly-upping and down-diddly-downing, but with the sequel, it's a killer.
Eidos' response to this would probably be something like: 'It isn't physically possible to simulate every building in an entire city on today's machines. You'd have frame rates of one per week!' My answer to this is that if something's worth doing, it's worth doing properly. Most of the other available flight sims manage it, so why not Flight Unlimited II? Whatever the reasons may be, the fact remains that what we're left with doesn't feel right and suffers as a result.
Technical hang-ups aside, the bottom line is that Flight Unlimited II does retain a certain appeal. It's a specialist simulation, make no mistake about it, but it's one that has a fair amount of addictive appeal to it. It isn't nearly as deep or varied as Microsoft's Flight Simulator '98 and the lack of any kind of expansion into other cities or multi-player options is rather annoying. But that said, there's still an underlying playability that makes it all seem worthwhile.
I can see Flight Unlimited It's limitations. Despite frequent urges to just turn it on and have a quick buzz around, almost every flight tends to degenerate quickly into seeing how much I can piss off the air traffic controllers, how many bridges I can fly under, how many hangars I can fly through and how quickly I can turn my plane into a mangled pile of steaming metal, the likes of which haven't been seen since the last Paris airshow. Rather amusingly, I once managed to get my speed up to the 600 knots mark, at which point the sheer force of the air pressure ripped my wings clean off and out of the sky I fell.
But the urge remains. I'd like to have been able to take Flight Unlimited II more seriously, but once again we're in the world of Unfriendly To Novices. The in-game lessons attempt to cover all the aspects of civil aviation, but don't really explain things in sufficient step-by-step detail to leave you feeling really comfortable - some sort of flying instructor sitting alongside you guiding you through each stage would have been a nice idea. Given time though, I reckon I could master everything. At least I can get the thing up in the air, which is good, and once there I've got a fair idea of what to do to keep it there.
So Flight Unlimited II is worthwhile. Maybe not if you've already got Microsoft's title, and definitely not if you're deep into the world of guns and bombs, strafing and barrel rolls. But as a time-waster, a novelty item or an office toy, it does the job and it does it well.
Download Flight Unlimited
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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2018-12-18 Flight Unlimited game added.