Flight Simulator Games have been a small but popular niche market for over three decades now. Man has always dreamed of flight and since Man first developed an affordable computer there have been dozens of games trying to offer an accurate portrayal of flight with all its intricacies. The military has long used realistic simulators for the training of pilots but it wasn’t until the late nineties and early aughties that the common man also got a chance to see what life was like from inside a realistic looking cockpit. Today the graphics on flight sim games are getting more and more realistic and we are one VR set away from total immersion. Here’s a list of the top 10 greatest Flight Sim PC Games of today and yesterday.
10. Microsoft Flight Simulator X
This beautiful sim was on the cutting edge amongst Flight Sim PC Games in 2006. Flight Simulator 9 as it was initially called was a breakthrough in both physics and graphics and it is no wonder that it had the staying power that it did. Today a lot of people still play FSX despite the fact that newer, better games exist.
Flightgear is revolutionary not because of graphics or physics but because of its vision. Flightgear was developed by volunteers and released as freeware for everyone in 1996. Thousand of development hours later and it is still perhaps the most heavily modded sim out there and one of the most respected. It is so good that some unscrupulous people copied it bit by bit and sold it as a ‘different’ product, VirtualPilot3D.
8. X-Plane 9
X-plane was a breakthrough, as one of the best and most widely available flight simulators… on the Mac. Microsoft was the king of simulators since the 1980s but its products were only available for Windows machines so people on the Mac were left behind. X-Plane changed all that and provided a better physics model to boot, making it popular on Windows machines too.
7. DCS A-10 Warthog
While you can run combat scenarios in some sims, it takes a dedicated game like the A-10 to make combat truly exciting. The A-10 is the US Air Force primary ground strike aircraft and this game puts that into a new light. The game is incredibly fun and refuses to compromise on the handling for the sake of a more arcade feeling, making it a real, honest simulator for the most rabid pilots to enjoy… while blowing up tanks.
6. Lock On Platinum
Speaking of realistic combat simulators, Lock On is about as real as it gets. This game pulls no punches and you will likely need a joystick, throttle and even more advanced gear, like IR pointers to enjoy it at its full face value. It is, simply put stunningly detailed and it has a steep learning curve but in the end, if you can ‘play’ Lock On, you can fly a jet fighter, and that is an achievement to be proud of.
5. Microsoft Combat Simulator
The Microsoft Combat Simulator series is not the most graphically impressive out there but it is important because of its historical recreations of battle, realistic physics of old fighters and for generally being the pinnacle of Second World War dog fight simulation. While the likes of Lock On perfect the combat simulation of modern fighters to exquisite detail, MSCS does Second World War fighters better than everyone ele.. while having fun.
4. X-Plane 10
X-Plane is not the best sim on the market right now but it does have one significant advantage: it is a cross platform game that is available on mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops. So, no matter where you are you can pilot your airplane or helicopter of choice. It also boasts one of the best physics engines on the market right now.
3. Fly! Legacy
Fly is not the best looking sim out there but it is 100% free, boasts some great looking instrument panels, has support for plugging in street maps so it can render the buildings in your neighborhood if you want to fly over them. The best part however isn’t the way the sim looks but the way it runs. Fly! Runs at a constant 60 fps even on five to six year old machines. It might not look as pretty as its main competitors but it runs a lot better.
2. Microsoft Flight
Flight was discontinued in July but it still is the best-looking flight sim out there. The game was released as free to play with players able to opt into buying different DLC packages mostly dealing with airplane models but also including two incredibly detailed scenery packs of Alaska and the Hawaiian archipelago. Flight was stunningly real, particularly for a free program so everybody was a bit disappointed when further development was discontinued.
1. Lockheed Martin Prepar3d
Fortunately by the time Flight got cancelled Prepar3d was already catching up to it fast. Developed by a company that actually builds airplanes, Prepar3d is a cutting edge tool meant to realistically simulate a plane down to its smallest details. It is so realistic that it is used in ‘hardware’ flight simulators around the world for commercial and military applications. The plane library is huge and ever expanding, maps are beautifully rendered down to the smallest details (culture-specific textures, cartography and topography) and the physics have been developed for each plane to be in conformity with its real counterpart. The downside? Prepare3D is aimed at actual pilots and students and is therefore very expensive (200$) and costs even more for add-ons.