I've never been birthed by Enya. I've never even gestated inside her womb. But I imagine the experience of floating around inside her amniotic fluid as a foetus is similar to visiting Microsoft Flight's main menu.
The flight sim wastes no time in serenading you in an echoing, listless wail of lyric-free yawning and aspirational, muffled lady-howls, albeit set against a rolling, majestic cloudscape rather than the Gaelic songstress's pelvic floor. It's quite relaxing really, a bit like being dead.
Flight is an extensive whittling down of the MS Flight Sim series, to a hyper-refined free-to-play stub that leaves the flight model of Flight Simulator X intact but pops it into a lovely grass skirt. Rather than an entire planet of airports to explore, the game focuses exclusively on Hawaii, recreating that tropical paradise with more precision than previous games and featuring all of its most (and many of its least) recognisable landmarks.
It's also taken some giant, hardcore-baiting steps towards mass appeal: planes can now be flown competently under the command of a mouse and keyboard or Xbox 360 gamepad, without the need for joysticks and independent, authentically weighted throttle controls. It runs well on lower spec machines, and you gain experience, level up and unlock more content as you play. Most of the realism sliders have been torn out in favour of four simple checkboxes, you can skip the most boring bits of long-haul flights, and in the free version, you have access to just two planes, one island and a handful of short challenges.
Those challenges are reminiscent of Nintendo classic Pilotwings, as you chuck your plane through floating rings, volcanic craters and narrow canyons, weave through wind farms and high-rise towers and perform challenging landings in increasingly iffy weather conditions. Additional XP is awarded for aerobatic manoeuvres, smooth landings and flying by night.
You also undertake scripted missions, such as escorting a photographer around Hawaii's historic landing strips, or flying an astronomer above the cloud layer for a glimpse of a rare celestial event. You'll also find recurring jobs posted at airports. Missions and jobs are all voice-acted, by proper voice-actors too, lending Flight some unexpected character and warmth. Aerosadists can even upset passengers by flying inverted, or freeze them by climbing above 12,000 feet.
Your two free starter planes are the prototype Icon A5, a futuristic twoseater seaplane that resembles a jet ski crossed with a Reliant Robin, and an agile Stearman crop duster that's ideal for the game's stunt show challenges. Two additional planes can be purchased at the time of writing, though the highlight of the bunch – the beautiful World War II era P-51 Mustang – is oddly missing a cockpit view.
Also available is the Hawaiian Adventure Pack (1600 Microsoft points, about £13), which unlocks the remaining Hawaiian islands, a further plane and a dozens of missions and challenges. This is Microsoft Flight's actual asking price, as it's where the bulk of the game's missions live once you've exhausted the free larks.
Fusty purists might choke on their joysticks at the shift in focus away from hobbyist aviators and towards sun-and-sea casual gamers, but this is a fun and exciting deviation from a sadly mothballed series. Download it, and if you're still playing after two hours, that Hawaiian Adventure Pack is worth prying open your virtual space-wallet.
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