Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1 is unquestionably the most realistic flight simulator on the market today. Not only are all four aircraft painstakingly reproduced, but Microsoft has managed to recreate an entire world with realistic weather, air traffic, and scenery for you to fly in. In fact, FS 5.1 is so real that it begs the question, Is it fun to play?
Just as police officers spend an hour behind a desk for every 15 minutes on the street, FS 5.1 pilots spend most of their time performing relatively mundane navigation tasks. The only real thrill occurs when you try something ridiculously dangerous, such as the infamous Golden Gate Loop. This take off at point A and land at point B gameplay simply can't compete with the violent action found in military simulators. Fortunately, Flight Simulator more than compensates for the lack of excitement by offering a genuine sensation of flight that is unparalleled. As a result, even routine flights can create an incredibly satisfying experience. Put simply, if you prefer flying to dogfighting, Microsoft Flight Simulator is for you.
Since so much of your time is spent sightseeing, special mention should be made of the graphics. In general, the graphics in FS 5.1 are solid, but a few glitches detract from the experience. First, the detailed scenery depicted on the box is found only in a few cities, with all points in between filled by endlessly repeating generic scenery that corresponds to terrain type. If you stick to flying among the pleasantly rendered cities, you encounter a second problem: screen updates that often dip into the single digit range when you fly close to detailed objects. While Flight Simulator allows you to customize the detail levels, the in-flight frame rate varies to such a degree that choosing the best settings for your machine is more of an art than a science.
In summary, Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1 is easy to admire for its complexity, but difficult to play for the same reason. If you want to know what it's really like to be a pilot, I strongly suggest you give it a try. If you are looking for a little excitement, however, you are better off looking elsewhere.