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Have you ever wanted to be a pilot? Now is your chance. Time to do your checks, get your briefing and take to the skies! Microsoft's Flight Simulator 98 will get you off the ground and let you take yourself to places you've only read about...
The latest version of FS 98 feels and looks like the previous version, but everything is executed better. Graphics and topography are improved as are sounds and motion. FS 98 is using 3D technology and can accept a Force Feedback joystick for added realism. Microsoft has really put an emphasis on flight education and it is evident in the on-line lessons and flight school as well as the extensive aviation library. An instructor will talk you through all of the lesson step by step with a demonstration.
Microsoft has revamped its FS world by adding some much needed photo realism to its landscape. You can actually fly quite low and still get a feel of real scenery and topography. While still not up to the level of recent flight games like DID's EF 2000, the view is much improved. Landmarks are more easily recognized in many more areas than the previous versions. Lighting and shadows are better rendered using 3D technology. A 3D graphics card is really a plus for this simulator. I ran this on a Pentium 100 with 32 MB and a 2D card, then ran it on a 233 with 32 MB and a 3D card and the difference was drastic. The virtual cockpit will not run without the card, and it is worth having this view available as it is extremely realistic. The perspective approaches the real thing in the Cessna. This is very important if you are going to use this for learning as you do get your cues from what you see inside as well as outside. It is important to note that the revision of software I was given did not have virtual views for the 737-400 or the Extra 300.
Microsoft has clearly made an effort to cover more territory in this latest release. You get the whole world when you buy the software instead of having to purchase add-on scenery later. There are supposed to be more than 300 airports to take off from in this version, while I didn't count them I'd be inclined to believe them. They have got almost all of the major international airports from Kansai to Dorval, and have added significant navigation landmarks like churches, Olympic stadiums and even radio towers. The ground has more texture as does the water with detailed ripples that help give some depth of field. There is new dynamic scenery added; F-18 fighters taking off from the aircraft carrier. Pay attention because they do move quickly! One item to note: you can land your Cessna in the blue shore of the San Francisco bay though I don't think this was Microsoft's intention.
The aircraft flight models have been well executed with the exception of the Bell 206 helicopter. The Cessna is right on with its stall speeds, takeoff and landing speeds. The 737 performs in a manner you would expect from a craft of that size; slower roll rates and tons more of inertia to keep in mind when you are trying to bring it in for that "on schedule" landing. It is a docile machine and will give the big plane feel.
The virtual cockpit of the Learjet 45 really puts you into the pilot's seat. A lot of work has gone into the detail. Zooming your view in or out will give the look of moving the seat forward or back until you are comfortable. This was one of the only views that would slow the simulation down. Even a 233 Pentium couldn't keep up with the full view of the virtual cockpit and moving scenery. The Learjet has all of the auto functions you would want in an executive jet. Just about the only thing not automated is the takeoff. The Extra 300 is a handful as you would expect and is definitely a "hands on" bird. Do not let this plane alone for a second. As with all good aerobatic planes, it is dynamically unstable and once disturbed from a particular flying attitude, will continue increase this deviation. It is as happy to fly inverted as it is to fly right side up. This plane is wonderfully nimble and once you get familiar with its sensitive characteristics, you'll feel confident enough to try anything. Just remember, in this wonderful world of simulations the pieces of your shattered craft will magically mend themselves whole in contrast to reality! Speaking of which, the pieces take a while to fall if you are at altitude and decide to overstress the craft and they spread in what I suppose would be a realistic pattern, but let's not find out, OK? The Schweizer 2-32 glider is unchanged and unimproved. The VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) is not calibrated for airspeed and jumps wildly from pin to pin. If you are going to practice soaring, this little piece of equipment is critical. A yaw string would really be nice too as even the most modern of sailplanes with turn and bank indicators still sport a trusty piece of yarn. The Bell 206 helicopter is a real disappointment as it is unrealistically difficult. They have put the center of gravity in such a place that flying it is similar to standing on top of a vertical stack of two basketballs. It can be done, but it's not much fun... It is not at all like other helicopter simulators like Novalogic's Comanche 3, which was tested by pilots and used documentation from Boeing and Sikorsky. Microsoft's Bell 206 is not a good example of helicopter flying.
As an owner of previous versions of Microsoft's Flight Simulator, I feel I must speak up for the fellow enthusiasts and express my disappointment that none of my eighty six "Flightshop" planes will work with the new version. These are planes that were designed using a Microsoft licenced software called "Flightshop". It allowed anyone to make favorite versions of classic planes and fly them on FS5.1. Microsoft bought out BAO and hence, no more flightshop. Flightsim enthusiasts who have webpages dedicated to making these planes have expressed similar disappointment. Some to the point of uninstalling their new FS 98! By not having a DOS version of this simulator, Microsoft is kind of shooting themselves in the foot. I know they want to push Windows and all, but this version runs much slower than my DOS version and anyone who reads the system requirements and thinks it will run on a 486/66 is in for an interesting slide show instead of a simulator. Windows does have a tendency to slow these games down.
There are new adventures with FS98 and they are as real as can be made. The radio communication is truly realistic with your co-pilot taking care of most of it. Immersion into the adventure is nearly complete and you`ll get caught up in the action in no time. Flying lessons are also greatly improved. These computers are patient instructors, but even they have their limits. If you go too long without following their advice, they will simply leave; fearing for their lives, no doubt and you'll be all alone in that cockpit. The lessons are so good that even Mom started taking them and we've never been able to get her to try these simulators before. Something else that helps are the pop-up labels that appear when you point with your mouse. The on-line help is comprehensive, but I miss the printed manual. There are not as many approach plates as on the old version. If you want to really read the manual, you are forced to print out the sections you need, which means stopping the simulation to look something up. There is plenty there to keep a student busy for hours. I recommend rudder pedals if your are serious about using this as beginner trainer. Although rudders seldom come into use in modern jets with their yaw dampeners, they are still essential for smaller craft. Nothing will get your stick and rudder coordinated like flying a glider.
Creating situations has become a lot easier. The pop-up menus ease the process and you can choose your plane, weather conditions, airport and time. Airport selection can be done by name or identification code. Instant replays are still available as are graphs of your final moments of flight.
At the time of this article, I have not had the opportunity to try multiplayer on the net or via modem but I don't anticipate any problems. The on-line registration webpage has a bug in it and I sent my comments and E:Mail address to Microsoft but have yet to see a reply.
Flight Simulator 98 is everything it claims to be in a flight simulator and it is as good as it gets. Nobody else to date is doing it this well but I hope somebody tries. Competition always brings out improvements...Written by Jeffrey Waters
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Multimedia PC with a 486DX/66Mhz or higher processor (Pentium recommended),
Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT Workstation operating system version 4.0 or later,
8 MB of RAM for Windows 95; 12 MB for Windows NT Workstation (16 MB recommended),
100 MB of available hard-disk space,
Double-speed or faster CD-ROM drive,
Super VGA, 256 color monitor,
Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device (joystick recommended),
Sound card with speakers or headphones required for audio.
3-D graphics accelerator compatible with Microsoft Direct3D,
Force feedback peripherals compatible with Directinput.
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