When Microsoft let the FSX team go, I was pretty concerned. Flight Simulation is a niche market and I worried that perhaps this was the beginning of the end of our favourite hobby. Boy, was I wrong!
In the two years since the demise of ACES, we have seen no fewer than six stand-alone flight simulators released; DCS A-10, IL2: Cliffs of Dover, X-Plane 10, Take on Helicopters, Microsoft’s new Flight and now AeroflyFS. In fact, the world of desktop flight simulation actually got more diverse, with a clear split between the hardcore general multi-role sims such as X-Plane and Cliffs of Dover, the study sims such as DCS A-10, and now entry level simgames such as Take On Helicopters and Flight. AeroflyFS fits into the latter category.
Despite my ignorance, Ikarus is not really a newcomer to the world of simulated flight. The company’s AeroflyRC product range has become quite popular among radio control flyers thanks to its variety of simulated models and great flight dynamics. AeroflyFS then is the evolution of that product, a first person true flight simulator.
Well, sim-game. X-Plane, FSX and the DCS series are hardcore simulations, not only of flight, but also of the world of flight. Sure, you could just jump in and aim skywards, but the delight of those products comes from relentless study and practice. AeroflyFS, like Microsoft Flight, answers the question so many newcomers to simulation have:
“Why can’t I just go flying?”
This is a VFR-only simulator. It models the whole of Switzerland in photo-realistic detail down to an accuracy of 40cm, and encourages you to simply jump in and just go flying in any one of the included eight aircraft comprising Extra 330, Sopwith Camel, Swift S1, Discus BM Glider, Pitts S-2B, Robin DR 400, F/A-18 Hornet and Cessna 172. There’s no ATC, there’s no taxiing to the runway, no navigation systems to mess with. It’s all about you, and the aircraft and the experience of flying.
Now, I know at this point some of you are about to turn the page. Please don’t – bear with me here. This is a simulator that Ikarus has said it intends to grow based on feedback. What’s not currently included now is likely to be added later, so in the meantime what we’re left with is a foundation that’s going to be built on. The question then is, is the product strong enough at present?
Surprisingly, yes – but it’s not perfect. Take the Skyhawk for example. On the ground, she’s a little too twitchy for my taste, but in the air the little Cessna flies pretty much by the numbers. In fact, once you get airborne the combination of the flight model and the phenomenal sounds make this one of the most immersive simulated Cessnas I’ve ever flown – that is until you start to turn. All turns seem to be auto-coordinated, which is a bit of a let down. The stall characteristics of the aircraft are also a little unconvincing. Same thing applies with the Extra. At times it feels amazing, such as crabbing towards the runway (just like in the real aircraft) before finally putting her down with a satisfying squeak.
But then at other times it’s just plain odd! The Extra will occasionally snap roll rather than stall, but nowhere near as bad as its aerobatic sibling, the Pitts S-2B. That aircraft, for me, needs more work in terms of its behaviour. It feels incredibly unstable and twitchy, and while the developer has tried to model the phenomenal roll rate of the Pitts, they do seem to have gone a little too far. For example, I managed to record almost 720 degrees of roll per second, compared to about 300 in the real aircraft.
Just when I was ready to dismiss the whole affair though, I discovered the gliders. I don’t fly gliders. I don’t ‘sim-fly’ Gliders either. But I spent almost an entire Saturday roaming around the Swiss Alps looking for thermals and updrafts in Aerofly’s two included gliders and now I’m a convert. In short, the gliders are breathtaking. The level of realism is out of this world – they fly and handle just as they should (on paper), they feel amazing, and the challenge in keeping them aloft is only surpassed by the sheer joy that comes when you find that one particular thermal that will propel you heavenwards at 1,000 feet per minute! When you couple the amazing flight modelling of these aircraft with the phenomenal visuals outside of the cockpit, you’re on to something potentially very big.
Is this the real world?
Given the diversity in visual quality currently available within the simulation market, AeroflyFS is by far the single most attractive flight sim I’ve ever spent time with – plus it’s silky smooth too! The landscape outside the cockpit is always photo-realistic and stunning and choosing to base the whole affair in Switzerland (the home of the developers) was positively inspired.
It’s one of the most scenic places on earth and absolutely the right choice for a VFR simulation. Everything about the Swiss landscape is modelled in exacting detail, from winding rivers to the ominous rock and snow-strewn faces of the alpine peaks and valleys.
The aircraft models too are delightful. All accurately cast shadows, glint and shine as the sunlight passes over them. All have full animations on the parts that are supposed to be animated. None have interactive cockpits, which is an obvious negative, and none have fully modelled systems (which is a huge omission if you’re going to let people jump into an F/A 18 Hornet), but regardless they are all truly works-of-art.
On the downside you can’t adjust the time of day within the sim, or download real world weather. However, you can adjust the weather using a fairly standard set of sliders and buttons and it’s surprisingly authentic.
Sitting on a runway you can slide the wind strength up and see the flags and windsocks around you instantly respond as their environment changes. This is not even possible in FSX. For the glider pilots and those still starting out, you can even turn on ‘visual’ cues within the sim – enabling you to see wind currents and thermals visualized within the virtual world. At this point, it’s worth mentioning the audio element of the simulation.
The sounds are great, but just as with the flight modelling there are disappointing areas. For example, the reproduction of the sound of the Sopwith Camel’s rotary engine has been done well. However, on the flip side, in the more modern aircraft there are no sounds for things such as flaps, or increased wind sound when they are deployed.
Is this just fantasy?
Back at the start of this review I called AeroflyFS a sim-game. While you can jump in and indulge in VFR flying to your heart’s content, the package also includes a whole set of challenges. These cover the basics of flight, such as level flight, level turns as well as aerobatics, plus challenges to see if you can loop, roll or even make accurate four-point rolls. Each is presented in the form of a mini game, with the objective of having to pass through various glowing green boxes strategically placed in the sky. It may appear a little simplistic, but in practice it’s very hard.
Each challenge is scored and at the end you’re given a virtual medal to rate your performance. It’s actually quite good fun trying to attain the gold medal on each of them, but perhaps not at all what we’re used to seeing in more ‘traditional’ sims such as Flight Simulator. That said, Microsoft Flight also adopts the same pattern, and it’s a fun way to introduce people to flying. My only concern is that if the challenges are there as a way of coaxing people into the world of simulated flight, then perhaps they need to be a little more user-friendly. Perhaps adding voice narration and encouragement would also be a big win, rather than the on-screen text cues currently in place.
You have probably noticed that there’s a recurring theme throughout this review. I keep saying: “It’s really good, but…” For me that sums up AeroflyFS as a whole. It’s really good, but! As a game based on flying, it’s great. I loved the gliders, the graphics, the sound, the scenery – all of these features are amazing. As a ‘heavyweight’ flight simulator though, it falls short in many areas. However, Ikarus has committed to extending it over time and I hope it does. If you’re new to flying, I heartily recommend it. If not, well, I will leave it to your own opinion after reading this review.
Addendum – our score
This has been a tricky sim to review. It has got a lot of potential as a platform for future expansion and even to be the absolute best VFR simulator on the market. However, it is aimed at the ‘everyman’ – a flight simulator for all, rather than those who are more into the hardcore depth of say FSX or X-Plane. We debated how to score it and decided two scores would be the best way to go. For newcomers we would award 80% and for the more seasoned flight simmer – 75%.
By Peter Wright
PUBLISHER & DEVELOPER: Ikarus
PRICE: AeroflyFS is now available on DVD from SimWare Simulations
website:www.simw.com for €39.99 or from the Ikarus website: www.aeroflyfs.com for $49.99
AT A GLANCE: An entry-level flight sim with a lot of potential.
MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:
Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon64 X2;
2 GB of System RAM; 24GB free hard
disk space; Graphic card: ATI Radeon HD
4850 or NVIDIA GeForce 9600 or faster
with at least 512 MB; PC: Windows XP/ Windows Vista / Windows 7;
Mac: Intel based Apple Mac computersrunning Mac OS X – 10.6.8 or 10.7.3 or newer