Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Acceleration Hands-On

This expansion to Flight Simulator X adds three new aircraft, dozens of new missions, and a load of new detail.

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When you get down to it, Microsoft Flight Simulator X may very well be one of the most ambitious games ever made. After all, Flight Simulator is about more than just capturing the sensation of realistic flight. This is a game that spans the whole world and not only models the entire surface of the planet, but also maps thousands of the brightest stars in the sky to allow for celestial navigation. It's also proven to be a highly successful game; Microsoft says that FSX is the fastest-selling version of Flight Simulator in the 25-year history of the series. Although the previous games in the series went without a single patch or expansion, Microsoft has already issued Service Pack 1, a significant, free update to FSX. Now the company is putting the finishing touches on Flight Simulator: X Acceleration, an expansion pack that will add three new aircraft, a slew of new missions, and even more detail for an already impressive simulation.

Do you feel the need for speed?
Do you feel the need for speed?

With a name like Acceleration, you expect something fast. Speed comes mainly in the form of the new F/A-18A Hornet, the Navy's sleek and deadly fighter. Keep in mind that there is no combat or military ordinance in the expansion pack, so the Hornet's main appeal is your ability to fly a nimble and zippy jet. Additionally, you can practice your carrier takeoffs and landings on the new, fully functional aircraft carrier in the expansion. Carrier landings, particularly at night, are some of the most difficult tasks in all of aviation, and you can practice until you can pull them off without a hitch. The carrier actually maneuvers in the world, so you're landing on a moving platform, and you have to master the "meatball," which is the elaborate light signal that indicates whether you've got the right angle and descent for landing.

Those who prefer more vintage craft will like the P-51D Mustang, the acclaimed long-range fighter from World War II. The Mustang is particularly useful in many of the new races in the game. The Acceleration pack will add, among others, the famous Reno Air Racing circuit, as well as cross-country racing. It will also introduce multiplayer races so you can test your skill against others online. The third and final new craft is the AgustaWestland EH101, the first dual-turbine helicopter in Flight Simulator. This is a medium-lift helicopter, a fact that is represented in some of the missions. For instance, you'll have to learn how to use the hoist to pick up and deliver pallets and other cargo. Another mission has you trying to interdict drug-running aircraft in South Florida. The EH101 is a nice addition, and given that it's the basis for the upcoming presidential helicopter (Marine One), we hope that fans in the community will be able to easily tweak the chopper in the expansion for some VIP flying.

Microsoft credits the new missions introduced in FSX with helping to broaden the series' appeal. The focus on Flight Simulator's gameplay for much of its existence was on the idea of open flight. You would choose whichever aircraft you wanted and then fly it anywhere you wanted. Missions added more structure to the gameplay in the form of challenges such as rescuing crewmen aboard a burning oil rig, or landing a jetliner in distress over the South Pacific. To that extent, Acceleration will add more missions that cover a wide range of scenarios, from emergency missions, noncombat military missions, law enforcement, pilot-for-hire, and more.

The EH101 opens up a new range of helicopter missions.
The EH101 opens up a new range of helicopter missions.

One thing that we didn't get to see was the DirectX 10 version of the game. From the early days of Flight Simulator X's development, Microsoft said that it would ship a DX10 renderer in the post-launch period, and it would provide more lush visuals. The company is still working on the renderer, and at this point it's still not clear whether the company can ship Acceleration with DX10 support or add it at a later date with Service Pack 2. To be clear, you will not need to own Acceleration to get DX10 support. That, and other fixes, will be included free in SP2 for all owners of FSX. Nevertheless, Microsoft has done an incredible job at optimizing the game with SP1. We played on slightly older systems, and yet the frame rate was smooth, and the level of detail was still pretty sharp. That's a far cry from the early days of FSX, when the game would send even the mightiest of PCs to their knees. Acceleration looks like a must-have expansion for FSX owners, particularly if you want to try out naval aviation. It's due out later this year.

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