How do you know when you have picked a GOOD flight simulator? Finding a good simulator is becoming harder and harder as a large number of flight simulator games have hit the market in recent years. I remember when flight simulation began and ended with Microsoft Flight Simulator '95. Today, Microsoft is still a BIG name in the flight simulator game despite their last release being a few years ago with FSX. What keeps these giants in the market are simply third-party software releases which enhance your experience in various ways. I have previously installed gigabyte after gigabyte of extra scenery, extra aircraft and various small additions to aircraft and airport realism. My main gripe with this has always been - to run this properly I'd need to spend literally thousands upgrading my computer. YouTube is a classic example of this, a brief search will yield some amazing videos of almost lifelike graphics and ultra smooth visuals; however, the hardware setup to achieve such graphics is simply out of most people's budgets.
There are a number of factors to look for in a good flight simulator:
Realistic flight model
Something that is able to be run on your home computer
Challenging - flying is always challenging so why should flight simulation be any different?
Getting a simulator with a realistic flight model is a HUGE must for most flight sim enthusiasts, the best flight simulator to date which achieves this (for me anyway) is Professional Flight Simulator. NASA flight dynamics are hard to beat and they are replicated in spades with this flight simulator, now don't get me wrong, I have purchased quite a few excellent aircraft add-ons for FSX which have a fantastic flight model, but until now have never had the pleasure of it being built into the simulator.
Realistic scenery, this is a huge bone of contention amongst many within the simulation community. How much are you willing to sacrifice for pretty visuals outside the cockpit? The sacrifice you make or at least that I have made to date is frame rates. There are some FANTASTIC additions to scenery available now and the developers have done an absolutely magic job of creating these. However, again I find myself stuck with ridiculously low frame rates, so what's the point? There is a school of thought out there that scenery really doesn't matter, as long as the aircraft behaves like the real aircraft would then graphics are just a waste of time. To some extent I agree with this, however, I can't help but be a wee bit jealous of those people who have spent thousands on a simulator setup that runs these visuals perfectly.
So this leads perfectly into finding something that runs well on your home computer, and no I don't mean something that runs on a computer that cost 6000 dollars to build. Something that runs on my machine and your machine yet gives us that elusive realism that we keep looking to achieve. Pro Flight Simulator does that thankfully, I've found that as flight sims develop the requirements for a high-end PC progressively gets stronger. Something new has happened lately, developers of ALL games have realised that to reach the full potential of their target markets, they need to create something that will run well on EVERYONE'S computer. So there is a lot more work going into simulators that whilst still look GOOD, will run on your average PC.
So let's say we have achieved all of the above, we have a flight sim that runs well with our computer hardware, and looks fantastic when we manage to drag ourselves away from those instrument panels. The last thing I want is to be challenged! Challenge in a flight simulator is the ONE thing that keeps us flying. The challenge of that ILS approach, or crosswind landing, or setting up a flight plan that WORKS from start to finish. There is an immense sense of satisfaction for me when I achieve the above, a perfectly planned flight that results in a (landing I can walk away from) and a 737 full of content passengers. After fifteen years of struggling to achieve all of the above, I think I'm finally there, I genuinely hope that you are as well.