Considering Laminar don’t have an impatient publisher breathing down their neck, the number of gremlins in this release is startling. Every day in addition to those ATC meltdowns, I’ve endured three or four crashes. CTD causes range from bad saves and corrupt plane files, to systems failures (X-Plane features wonderfully sophisticated aircraft malfunction modelling. Almost every element of a plane is vulnerable to random failures). In normal circumstances, I’d be dismayed. Knowing the way that Austin and his crew work, I’m merely disappointed.
Buying an edition of X-Plane isn’t like buying the latest iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator. You’re effectively purchasing the sim plus the next few years’ worth of updates and improvements. By the time version 11 flops onto the runway, many of the issues highlighted in this review will have vanished like windcombed vapour trails.
The question is: will you have vanished too? Does X-Plane 10 have enough going for it to warrant a few months of stiff-upper-lip stoicism? If you’re a Microsoft Flight Sim user still bitter about FSX’s feeble framerates, I reckon the answer is a clear ‘aye’. Though the swiftness that characterised the indie pretender in its early days has been sacrificed on the altar of autogen and fancy rendering, it still outperforms its plodding peer in most circumstances. How much of this edge is down to cannier coding, and how much is down to emptier vistas, it’s hard to say.
For PC pilots searching for sim steeds that look and handle exactly like their real-world equivalents, the decision is more difficult. X-Plane uses ‘blade element’ theory to determine its flight models. Put crudely, the way an aircraft behaves is determined by the shape of its 3D model and the output of its engine, rather than a table of scrupulously researched data. While this unusual approach together with the sim’s bundled aeroplane editor (not for the faint of heart) is a boon for aspiring aircraft designers, its benefits to the realism-hungry simmer are questionable. Because CPUs still struggle to model the air flows swirling round fuselages and aerofoils, and modellers don’t always replicate every dimple and protuberance on those fuselages and aerofoils, X-Plane’s Cessna 172 and Beechcraft Baron don’t necessarily fly more plausibly than FSX’s Cessna 172 and Beechcraft Baron.
As in Microsoft Aces’ swansong, many of your finest flying experiences are likely to come via payware and freeware add-ons. Though the large default hangar houses some very fine machines (the new Jumbo and Stinson are especially lovely) a lot of its exotic inmates are inherited from older versions, and have, frankly, seen better days. Strong candidates for the cutter’s torch include virtual cockpit-less old-timers like the Sea Harrier and 777.
Other groups that may not cleave to X-Plane include sim novices and those who like their aviation structured and spiced with adventure. There are no formal tutorials in X-Plane and the closest thing to scenarios are ‘situations’. With a couple of clicks you can set up a carrier or oil rig approach, fight a forest fire, or attempt mid-air refuelling. Once you’ve tired of these sideshows, the assumption is that you’ll spend most of your time making your own fun by gallivanting around the globe on self-generated sorties.
It’s a reasonable assumption. With an entire Earth to roam – an Earth enveloped by Laminar’s impressively fluid/fearsome weather fronts – and an Aladdin’s aerodrome of usermade content waiting to be downloaded, X-Plane 10 is more of a hobby than a game.
Is it better sim than FSX? Possibly not, but choosing between these two winged wonders is becoming increasingly tricky.
Plenty of progress especially in areas like graphics and aTc, but don’t toss aside Microsoft’s FSX quite yet.