AVSIM Commercial Simulator Review

Flight Simulator 2004


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Our select team of reviewers has been at work these past three weeks to bring you this in-depth look at Microsoft's just-released Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight.. Here's our Team lineup:

– Associate Editor Aidan Williams
– Associate Editor Pardave Lehry
– Sr. Staff Reviewer Steve (Bear) Cartwright
– Sr. Staff Reviewer Craig Wyzik
– Staff Reviewer Ian Scott
– Staff Reviewer James Webb
– Technology Manager Matt Johnson

In addition, Steve assisted throughout this review, adding insights and illustrations for numerous topics. I also want to acknowledge Managing Editor Bill Dailey for his assistance in many areas of this review. In all this has been very much of a team effort, as each reviewer interacted closely with the others in comparing impressions and verifying findings.

Pilot James Webb shuts down a Robinson R22

A note about our review team's credentials in undertaking this task is in order. All are dedicated (some would say passionate) flight simulation enthusiasts, in most cases going back to simulation's origins. But we've been especially fortunate to have certified pilots Steve, Ian and James to lend their first-hand knowledge in areas they cover in this review.

Steve, as everyone who follows his "Bear's Cave" feature knows, has flown Cessnas, the Beech Baron, and even the float version of the SuperCub; Ian flew the DC-3 early in his aviation career, more recently flying Cessnas; and James flys the Robinson R22 out of John Wayne Airport in Southern California.

I want to extend my thanks to all—Microsoft for answering questions early during our preparation for this review, and providing us with advance copies of FS2004 (the 'Press Gold' release); and to those cited above for making this review what it is: perhaps the most informative and thoroughly illustrated assessment of what Microsoft's FS2004 team has achieved you're likely to find.

What rating does AVSIM Online grant this product? You'll learn of that when we post the second part of this review tomorrow!

—Maury Pratt
Chief Managing Editor


Overall impressions

Here's our take in how well Microsoft has succeeded in building upon their FS legacy, with this release adding a time dimension themed to celebrate this year's anniversary of a "Century of Flight." To get directly to that question we asked Steve Cartwright and Ian Scott to lead off our multi-part review with their overall impressions of FS2004:

I've been using Flight Simulator for nearly 18+ years now, though in the beginning it was very much an occasional thing, but I must admit I got hooked early. By the time FS95 was released, I found myself using Flight Simulator on a fairly regular basis and from there it has become an obsession, to say the least.

When FS2000 was released, I kept FS98 on my harddrive for nearly 6 months, that was due to some early performance problems I was experiencing with FS2K and if I wanted to have something comfortable to work with, FS98 was always there.

With the release of FS2002, though I intended to keep FS2K for some time, FS2000 was off my system within 60 days, as FS2002 was such a huge improvement.

I have to tell you that FS2002 was off my harddrive within 24 hours of my using FS2004: A Century of Flight, it's that good! I only installed FS2002 onto another computer, I have here at home, so that I could make direct comparisons between the two for my review, but now that I'm done, I will delete FS2002 here shortly.

Flight Simulator 2004, a Century of Flight is a true revelation as you experience an almost real-world like environment—with the dynamic weather, new clouds, improved sky, ground textures, ATC, AI aircraft, the default airfiles, improved autogen scenery, and the surprisingly improved performance on my mediocre computer (as compared to FS2002 on the same system). Yet, there's little about FS2004 that's totally new, just a massive collection of subtleties that when experienced together you have an extraordinary aviation simulator.

With the exception of the additional aircraft for the Century of Flight theme, there are few new or never-before-seen features with FS2004, but the overwhelming attention to the details by the MSFS team has provided an extraordinary PC based simulator that I'm sure no one expected just a few short years ago! A few weeks ago, when I was finishing up my Tribute to FS2002, I had the opportunity to directly compare FS98-FS2000-FS2002 to my Gold Edition FS2004. The comparison of FS2004 to FS98 was no less than startling, to say the least; in fact it was somewhat like comparing a Boeing 777 to the original Wright Brothers' Flyer, there's been that much improvement. Considering that I paid $34.95 for FS98 just 7 years ago and now FS2004 is selling for only $54.95, really drives home the level of accomplishment that the MSFS team has achieved.

Overall, I could find only one area or item that I'm still not quite sure about and that is the appearance of water in FS2004, whether it be an ocean, a lake, or a river. I can't seem to get a happy medium, as I believe the intent was to provide water reflections that are dynamic to the weather or atmosphere conditions, but what occurs is you get water that looks extremely realistic one minute and then looks extremely unrealistic the next. Not a big problem with me, but it is perplexing at times.

In the final judgment, there are going to be a very small percentage of individuals that will be unsatisfied with FS2004 (there always are), but I believe the vast majority are going to be astonished and in the long run, I also predict that this will be the most successful version of Flight Simulator ever!

Steve (Bear) Cartwright


For me, the true "superstars" of FS2004 are the wonderful new weather engine, the vastly improved AI traffic and the more realistic yet generally frame-rate friendly scenery. Like most "hard core" FS fans, I will only use the default aircraft for a short time until FS2002 add-on favorites are patched for FS2004 and new add-ons become available.

Of the default aircraft, in my view the best is of all things, the Learjet, an aircraft that I have thought was utterly useless in the past. It has been completely redesigned and is definitely a "keeper" though with a new 2D panel that I hope will soon be made available by some talented person out there. The other favorite is also a huge surprise to me, the R22 helicopter. I have never had the slightest success in flying MSFS choppers before and have found this delightful airplane to be quite addictive. Other than these two, and perhaps the Kingair with its improved flight model, I see the traditional default aircraft as serving little purpose. As AI aircraft they are not ideal and as flyable aircraft they are simply not up to par with the developments of the past two years or so.

But the historic aircraft that come with the Century of Flight are all unique in their own ways and will provide many of us with hundreds of hours of enjoyment and learning. Of them all, I suspect the DC-3 will be the one that will get the most attention. And so my old love affair will continue, aided from time to time with a brown paper bag full of smelly nostalgia. The grand old lady will continue to drone through the virtual skies, and in the real skies also, for a very long time. Mr. Douglas, take a bow! You deserve the honor sir.

Ian Scott


Though we'll be discussing FS2004's Scenery and Weather features in Part 3, be sure to feast your eyes today on Steve's images (throughout Part 2 – GA and "COF" aircraft) for their backgrounds as well. Notice especially advances in realism with both sky and lighting effects. At times we're tempted to ask, "Are these actually photographs?" Look at these samples and you'll see what we mean:

Click for larger view Just having fun among the new default FS clouds and the new beautifully presented blue skies! Click for larger view Soaring over the Southwestern tip of England, we have a commanding view of the new European ground textures in FS2004.

Up Next

Has this whet your appetite? In Part Two today Steve Cartwright describes FS2004's General Aviation Aircraft and adds a historical background for each of the FS2004's new Century of Flight aircraft. Ian Scott contributes extended pieces on two of his personal favorites, the Cessna 172 and the Douglas DC-3. Pardave Lehry comments briefly on the Air Transports carried over from FS2004; James Webb describes the helicopters. Steve Cartwright rounds out the section with other aircraft-related features, the Multimedia-based "Century of Flight" documentation, and finally, the COF-themed Adventures. And there's more to come!


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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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