Flight Unlimited is a tough act to follow. A detailed physical model, lavish graphics, and a selection of high-performance planes set a new standard for aviation sims. After most of the original team responsible for FU departed, Looking Glass needed to start over and reconceive its product line. It did this by moving away from the aerobatic emphasis of the original FU in order to create a thorough and exacting simulation of civil aviation in one region, with results that are as impressive as they are innovative.
Unlike the thousands of international airports offered by MS Flight Sim (the other major civil-aviation sim), Flight Unlimited II concentrates on 46major airports (and many minor ones) within the confined area of the San Francisco Bay area. This decision cuts two ways. Microsoft Flight Sim folk will undoubtedly be disappointed to find only one region mapped, since they are used to cross-country jaunts. But by narrowing the range, Looking Glass has been able to re-create its little spot of terra firma in exacting detail.
Graphically, it is probably one of the most complex representations of a single region available in any sim. With its 3D-accelerated graphics, terrain and objects flow smoothly on even the higher resolutions, though things do begin to bog down once you go much over 800x600. Software acceleration is also available, providing a good show even without the hardware. The result of all this detail is to provide the pilot with true visual flight rules and terrain following. Navigation with the Mark 1 eyeball is rarely this well implemented. A full complement of locations (Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz) and beautiful scenery makes it all the more enjoyable.
Graphics are only one part of the equation that creates the quite realistic feeling of FU II. Looking Glass has spent a great deal of time perfecting the physics, the instrumentation, and, most importantly, the traffic and tower AI. Instead of the high-performance stunt planes of the original, FU II models some staples of civilian flight: the Beechcraft Baron twin-engine, Piper Arrow single, de Havilland Beaver float plane, P51-D Mustang, and the "Trainer 172" (which looks like a Cessna to me). The performance and handling are top-notch across the board, right down to the weather effects and the unique handling of the Beaver during water takeoffs and landings. These are tight, effective flight models that truly capture the feel of these planes, two of which I've actually flown. Each has a full complement of instruments for true cross-country instrument flying, unlike the simpler cockpits of the original FU.
Adding to the sense of realism is a complex re-creation of air traffic, radio messages, and tower controls. Flight II is as much a radio and air-traffic sim as it is a flight sim, with detailed, smoothly edited cockpit chatter. Dealing with the ATCs at various airports adds greatly to the feeling of airspace restrictions, takeoff, landing, and other aspects of flight control. There are also allegedly some provisions made for restricted military airspace, but no matter how many times I buzzed Travis, I couldn't stir the hornets out of their nests.
Gameplay is pretty open-ended, as one would expect from a pure sim. You can set up flight plans and save them, then fly point-to-point. A couple dozen special missions are also included, and they run the gamut from dropping chickens on Candlestick Park to breaking some prisoners out of Alcatraz. Creating a custom flight in any condition and at any location is very simple with the planner, and the variety of weather conditions (with the best weather effects in any sim, bar none) can make for some harrowing flights. The interface that ties all this together is easy and intuitive.
There were some problems with the initial release that have been largely hammered out and some that are due to be. Tower AI goes daffy now and then, and the aforementioned lack of a proper response in restricted airspace comes to mind. A problem with the center trim on the elevator has been fixed (this was very annoying). The Mustang has several bugs in it that have been mostly fixed. Control and joystick routines are overall pretty clean, and while there were some instances of graphical glitches, there were no hard crashes.
Flight Unlimited II is a very different experience from the original. For fans of civil aviation, it offers a whole new way to look at flight without the fight. It doesn't have the globe-spanning sweep of Microsoft Flight Simulator, but it renders its own little corner of the world with admirable fidelity.