With Microsoft Flight Simulator, Looking Glass' Flight Unlimited, and Sierra Pro Pilot on the market, do we really need another civilian aviation simulator? Terminal Reality thinks so and makes a largely convincing argument with its premier flight sim, Fly.
The exclamatory title and the boast that this is "the ultimate flight simulator" make it clear that Terminal Reality isn't interested in second place. It aims to take the Microsoft beast head-on, unlike Flight Unlimited whose smaller and more intimate scale lets it avoid direct conflict with Microsoft's sim, which offers unrestricted cross-country flight from airport to airport and fair scenery detail along the way. Flight Simulator doesn't have any real stunt planes or fancy flying maneuvers, but just nice, steady, realistic flight. And that's exactly what Fly does too, and despite some flaws, it does a better job in many ways.
Fly's appeal hinges on two important and remarkable features: its cockpits and its flight model. That pretty much covers everything of importance for the serious flight enthusiast, so the other problems probably won't matter much. Five airplanes are included in the simulation: the Cessna 172R, the Piper Malibu Mirage, the Piper Navajo Chieftain, the Beechcraft King Air B200, and the Raytheon Hawker 800XP jet. Performance on each feels on target, though I can only attest to the accuracy of the humble 172. Stalls, speed bleeding, and the rest of the litany of sim hot points are spot-on in the various aircraft. You'll find that the auto-correcting features of the 800XP accurately limit stupid moves, while the 172 recovers easily. More detail has gone into engine start-up and performance than in any other sim to date.
In fact, they could practically call this game Engine Start-Up Simulator. When set to full realism (and thankfully you can turn this off), you must go through every stage of engine start-up in sequence. An automated start-up sequence can also be used to guide you through the process with little arrows. Engine performance is variable according to aircraft model and is affected by mixture, altitude, and other variables. Sound effects are so precise you can tell from listening when you need to adjust mixture.
The one major problem with the flight model is that none of these planes can be crashed. They just don't crash at all, ever. Run 'em into mountains, ground, water, and they just skip like a stone or bounce and roll over like one of those crazy-wheel remote-control trucks. Not only do they not break up: They take off again. This is just too much. I also found weather modeling inadequate, despite cranking it up to the heaviest levels. I could not force an instrument malfunction either and did not experience any in the course of my flying. Throwing some instrument failures at a pilot is standard operating procedure. They may well be in here somewhere, but I couldn't find them. You should also be able to configure a plane for certain failures to customize a situation, and that option is not offered.
The other key selling point of Fly is the incredible cockpits. Every single button, dial, instrument, and rivet is not only here, but also completely interactive (except for the rivets). Instrumentation is the most detailed seen to date, with very accurate nav-comm systems, complete simulation of the GPS, backup instruments, and more. All the instruments can be used with the mouse, but many do not have keyboard equivalents or the option to add them. This creates some awkward twisting for people who use their right hand for both stick and mouse. Cockpit views are good, with accurate blind spots. Transparent cockpits with small instrument overlays are also available. Different windows with vital information can be overlaid and configured, so you can display the main view; a second camera view; charts; the vector map; an axis window graphically representing ailerons, rudder, elevators, and trim; and the GPS. The vector map lets you quickly call up frequencies and runway layouts for different airports and navaids.
Since it has 9,500 airports, 13,500 runways, 200 countries, and 16,000 navaids, Fly seems highly detailed. Indeed, runways are remarkably realistic, with lighting configurations, surfacing type, markings, wind socks, and taxiways. Navaids and all nav-comm frequencies are based on the real thing and are handled at a depth heretofore unseen. Despite this, airport buildings, towers, and parked aircraft are extremely rare outside the major areas, which brings us to another major weakness of Fly: The graphics and terrain modeling are very uneven. Five major areas are done in a slightly higher level of detail: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, and Chicago. These feature buildings, bridges, and airport structures. The rest of the world is done with terrain textures that are merely adequate and elevation models that are unconvincing. Major city airports rarely even have towers. The graphics model seems ill equipped to handle abrupt changes in elevation, rendering the landscape mostly rolling or flat. On the whole, the visuals are good but not great, and frame rates are inconsistent. They soar to over 20fps but regularly crash to 10fps, a big no-no for a flight sim.
Two modes of play are offered: quick flight "missions" and a very detailed flight planner. The missions are a lackluster array of start-up situations (night in Chicago, heavy weather in Dallas) with few twists or specific, focused challenges. The flight planner is far more interesting. Using a simple map and the massive database, you can search for any airport in the world, select a runway, select a destination, and create a route. The program malfunctions on occasion, refusing to plot some short jumps for no specific reason, but it usually works pretty well. You can even set the weight loadout and quantity of passengers on the plane for your flight.
In short, Fly has it where it counts: in the cockpit and, for the most part, in the flight model. The terrain will be of less concern to serious simmers. More problematic are the regular frame rate hits, which can adversely affect control. This is Terminal Reality's freshman effort in the highly competitive world of flight sims, and as such, it heralds a talented group worth watching. Will it topple Microsoft Flight as the top sim? Not a chance. Everyone else is just vying for second place. And Fly is a worthy contender for that spot.