July 28, 2021

Microsoft Flight Simulator tech review: a brilliant port to Xbox Series X/S

Microsoft Flight Simulator has finally arrived on Xbox Series X and Series S consoles - and it's simply terrific. We like to talk about 'next generation experiences' at Digital Foundry and this is up there with the best. In fact, in many respects, it is simply in a class of its own. When it launched on PC, we described it as the new Crysis in terms of the way it's able to push hardware to the limit, so successfully executing a console port was never going to be easy, no matter how capable the console is. Yes there are some drawbacks, but the takeaway is that Series X is delivering a visual experience up there with PC at its best, while Series S - although compromised - is borderline miraculous to behold bearing in mind this is a $299/£249 console with onerous memory constraints.

But it's all there. Microsoft Flight Simulator literally gives you access to the entire world thanks to its unique world generation systems, backed up by streaming from the cloud. Developer Asobo Studio delivers incredible visuals on multiple fronts: terrain rendering is first class, the sheer density from the cityscapes is still awe-inspiring while atmospheric rendering, cloud simulation and weather characteristics look simply phenomenal. In the past, we've talked about how challenging this game is to run - in fact, we've embedded a library video further on down the page from the RTX 3080 launch showing that even one of the most powerful GPUs on the planet can't deliver 4K60, even with our carefully blended range of optimised settings.

Xbox Series X? Certainly in terms of overall level of detail, it's comparable to PC running at ultra settings. In terms of how this is achieved, Asobo Studio makes a number of sensible nips and tucks. Microsoft Flight Simulator is not an arcade experience, so capping frame-rate to 30fps in its standard presentation makes a lot of sense. It levels off CPU and GPU load, allowing Asobo to deliver the top-end visual experience. The output is 4K but as is the standard these days for demanding games, temporal reconstruction is used: frames are natively rendered at 1440p, with data from prior frames injected to increase the detail level. The effect is only really compromised with fast moving objects near to the camera, but that doesn't happen so much in Flight Simulator. There can be aliasing artefacts in motion, however, especially on hard edges on the planes in chase camera view. Overall though, the core spectacle is there and it's beautiful.

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