Microsoft Flight Simulator is the perfect pandemic game — and Xbox Series X needs it

Microsoft Flight Simulator
(Image credit: Xbox)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Microsoft Flight Simulator won "best PC game" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

I’ve spent the past week visiting everywhere from Los Angeles to Tokyo, all without leaving my bedroom in Queens. That’s thanks to Microsoft Flight Simulator, a stunning PC simulation game that’s the perfect escape from these pandemic times — and could soon be the ultimate showpiece for Xbox Series X

I’m not much of an aviation enthusiast, but since Microsoft Flight Simulator is part of my Xbox Game Pass subscription, I couldn’t help but fire it up, if only to see how pretty its recreation of the entire world would look on my PC. And pretty is an understatement — Asobo Studio’s game is absolutely breathtaking, recreating every mile of the planet with near-photorealistic accuracy.

Microsoft Flight Simulator can be as realistic and hardcore as you want it to be, allowing you to complete an international flight in real-time while managing every part of your plane, from takeoff to landing. But that’s not how I’ve been playing. 

(Image credit: Xbox)

Instead, I’ll pick a city and simply hover around, reliving visits to places like San Francisco and Nashville while reminiscing over times when hopping on a plane was a regular part of my life. It made me both overwhelmed with nostalgia for a simpler time, and in awe of the technical achievement that Microsoft and Asobo were able to pull off. 

Since booting up Flight Simulator, I’ve been able to pinpoint my apartment, my childhood home, my college campus and some of my favorite landmarks around the world. And thanks to the game’s Active Pause and drone camera features, I can freeze the action and freely zoom into New York City to spot the office I haven’t been able to visit in months. Playing Flight Simulator is like using a much more immersive, detailed version of Google Maps, and I can’t stop. 

Paying a visit to Tom's Guide HQ in Midtown Manhattan.

Paying a visit to Tom's Guide HQ in Midtown Manhattan. (Image credit: Xbox)

That’s no coincidence, either. Flight Simulator taps into Microsoft technologies such as Azure cloud computing and Bing Maps to realistically map out the entire planet. It’s not perfect, as players have spotted some structural anomalies and out-of-date areas. But when you’re flying over New York or California from a distance, it feels like you’re looking down at the real thing.

That’s if you have the right rig to run it, of course. My system with a Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti graphics card is running the game at medium settings by default, and Microsoft recommends an RTX 2080 or AMD Radeon VII for the ideal experience.

The Xbox Series X factor 

(Image credit: Xbox)

This is where the Xbox Series X comes in. Flight Simulator is slated to eventually come to the Xbox family, but doesn’t have a release date just yet. When it does, it could prove to be the ultimate technical showpiece for Microsoft’s new box, much like the Forza Motorsport series has been for the Xbox One generation. And with Halo Infinite delayed until next year, a surprise fall console release for Flight Simulator could be a great way to sell gamers on the power of the Xbox Series X.

Sure, a flight simulation game isn’t going to garner the same hype as a Halo, Spider-Man or God of War. But thanks to Xbox Game Pass, it doesn’t need to. Microsoft’s subscription service (which costs between $5 and $15 per month) already boasts more than 10 million subscribers and includes all first-party games the moment they release. As such, folks who wouldn’t normally shell out $60 for a hardcore simulation game may decide to fire it up since it’s already part of their subscription. I certainly fall into that camp, and I don’t think I’m alone.

In short, Microsoft Flight Simulator is a stunning technical achievement that anyone with a solid gaming PC and a Game Pass membership should check out, especially if you yearn to see more of the world at a time when we’re all stuck inside. And that breathtaking exploration experience could very well prove to be Xbox Series X’s ace in the hole soon. 

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.