What Happened To The Flight Sim?
Posted on 14th Oct 2009 at 09:59 by Antony Leather with 24 comments
Fleet Defender, Aces over Europe, Red Baron, Battle of Britain, Hind, 1942: Pacific Air War, Air Warrior 3, Apache Longbow, Operation Overlord. I could go on for quite a while before I have to mention Microsoft Flight Simulator which was just a drop in the pond. But this isn't a list of flight sims released in the last 20 years, it's that of those to hit the shelves in a fraction of that time in the 1990's when the PC gaming isle in your average Game store was a little longer. It was also crammed full of flight sim titles.
So what happened? In case you haven't noticed, flight sims have been listed in the endangered species list of PC game genres for several years now. With the demise of ACES Studio, the guys behind Microsoft Flight Simulator, the longest running game franchise on the PC, there are but a handful of companies actually left in the genre now - and even fewer produce combat flight sims!
The saving grace for flight sim fans like me has been the WWII IL2 Sturmovik series and indeed titles like the more modern Lockon: Modern Air Combat. They were few and far between but extremely well polished and supported, meaning that half a decade on they are still very playable.
The rise of the console has definitely had an impact not just on flight sims, but on the PC gaming industry as a whole. However, one thing many people forget is that it's currently impossible to have a decent flight sim on a console. While other genres have spread their wings and span the PC and several consoles, flight sim fans still only have one medium on which to play. The fan base is still there, waiting, hungrily for the likes of 1C Publishing and Microsoft to throw them another scrap of meat.
Flight sims are tricky to get right too and take a long time to produce. They're usually amongst the most demanding games out there too and even the fastest modern PC will be battered into single digit frame rates if you ramp up all the settings in FSX despite it being three years old. Even so, modern flight sims have undergone giant leaps in terms of graphics and realism in the last few years and it's a great shame Microsoft axed the studio behind Flight Simulator when it did.
Tom Clancy's HAWX, (forgive me for mentioning this in a blog about flight sims!) isn't a flight sim by any means but something interesting happened to me a few months after its release. Friends started emailing me asking if I "knew any good flight sims?". I happily pointed them in the direction of IL2 and LOMAC, but wished there was something newer and not too complex I could have suggested.
In short HAWX had revived some interest in this genre and I remain totally convinced that despite the lack of titles, the flight sim fan base for the PC is alive and kicking. There's certainly no shortage of new peripherals either with Thrustmaster and Logitech having released new joysticks and other flight sim related gear in just the last few months. The modding community is also alive and well, as are third party addons.
The next game in the IL2 series, Storm of War: Battle of Britain has been in development now for what seems like an age and is (probably) due for release in the next 6 months - but it only covers WWII. There's been a distinct lack of modern combat flight sims for a while and this is where some considerable interest is. With Flight Simulator gone and little happening on the combat side of things, there's a huge gap in the market that's waiting to be filled.