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Best Innovation 2020: Microsoft Flight Simulator

Our Best Innovation award goes to Microsoft Flight Simulator.
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a ridiculous achievement, and thus gets our Best Innovation award. We'll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.

James Davenport: It's easy to get reductive and say Microsoft Flight Simulator's greatest trick is just Bing maps in an airplane suit, but it's the flight simulation wrapper that grounds a free web application in reality like no other game I've played. Flying over your hometown in an airplane hits different from typing its name into a search bar. 

I can't speak to the depth of the flying simulation. It's not why I keep revisiting Microsoft Flight Simulator. Like so many of us, I'm stuck at home waiting out a pandemic. But in MFS I've charted a course from a remote Siberian airport to the Tunguska meteor crater; I've skimmed the top of the Tetons; I flew to the northern tip of Iceland, turned on active pause, and stared out at the edge of everything. Microsoft Flight Simulator's to-scale rendition of earth is so much more than a bullet point, it's the closest I've felt to the world glued to a monitor.

Andy Kelly: Before the pandemic I travelled a lot, and with every day I’m stuck at home I miss it more and more. Which is probably part of the reason why Microsoft Flight Simulator landed so perfectly for me this year. It’s an astonishing technical achievement, and the feeling of picking somewhere in the world—anywhere—and near-instantly flying over a photorealistic representation of it still rules, even after doing it a thousand times. Whether it’s some dramatic landmark like the Grand Canyon, or just the small Scottish suburb I grew up in, it all looks amazing, with volumetric clouds, cities lighting up at night, and some of the prettiest, most realistic skies I’ve ever seen in a videogame.

When you find yourself sailing through giant towers of clouds, those great fluffy masses all around you, you feel like you’re playing a game from the future. And when a storm brews and the clouds start exploding with lightning, making your plane bounce around violently, it’s actually kinda terrifying. Microsoft Flight Simulator is great because it captures the drama and beauty of flight, not just the cold, hard simulation. It reminds you what a miracle planes are, how these giant hunks of metal can defy gravity and soar gracefully through the air.

I also love how customisable the experience is. Sometimes I like clipping the full yoke and throttle setup to my desk and really getting into the simulation. But it’s just as easy to plug in an Xbox controller, stream my PC to the TV, and play it on the couch. That’s a remarkable thing to say about a hardcore flight simulator, but a good example of how Microsoft Flight Simulator is more open and accessible than it’s ever been. And I like that you can enable the autopilot at any time if you wanna just sit back, let the AI do the flying, and admire the scenery. I’m not enough of a flight enthusiast to really understand how well it simulates actual flight, but as a way to explore the world in a pandemic-ravaged world, it’s priceless.

Hey folks, beloved mascot Coconut Monkey here representing the collective PC Gamer editorial team, who worked together to write this article!