Updated: July 4, 2015
Most people think they have serious hobbies, that they invest time and money perfecting these hobbies. But then you come across a would-be innocent flight simulator software like X-Plane, and you realize how wrong you are. The full game weighs some 85GB, and it costs a non-meager USD59.99. But that's just the game. Let's not forget the fact you can accessorize your flight experience with thousands of dollars worth of flight equipment, including seats, pedals, controls, and such. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing X-Plane, the will sapper.
All I wanted to do was sample a game, similar to the FlightGear, which offers you a stunning range of authentic scenery, realistically modeled aircraft, and non-compromising approach to physics. And this is why I grabbed the very modest, very unassuming demo, to see what this piece of code can do. In no way can I claim anything but a trivial one-hour experience, but it should suffice to deliver the message. This review.
You know this isn't just a simple game soon after downloading the game installer. It weighs a handful of MB, but it's just a stub, and then, it will spend some three to four hours downloading a total of 4.7GB worth of initial data, and that's just to get you flying a single plane over water. That's your demo. Impressive and daunting.
The interface is every bit as archaic, cluttered and terrifying as it is in FlightGear. But if you thought flying a plane was just about wrist action and WASD keyboard wear, you're mistaken. The game menu has hundreds of options, there are hundreds of keys and key sequences you must memorize and use, and flying is not advised without a proper joystick, although you can use the mouse, the way I did, to embarrass yourself enough to justify a review.
I first tried X-Plane on my now-retired T400 laptop, but the generic Intel card was not good enough, and you need something that can support OpenGL 2.0. So I tried my oldie but goodie HP machine, with its Nvidia GT 320M card, and that was sufficient for the experiment, although far from ideal. This game can easily eat memory if you let it.
Learning to fly
Got the pun? Good. So yes. It took me a while to figure out what to do. Eventually, I mapped all the right keys, throttle up and down, brakes, trim, flaps, and all that. Got myself into the air, although the first few attempts were terrible, and I ended crashing into the water. Mouse control is the biggest problem. You need to click in the middle of the screen, then use the drawn white rectangle as your input area. Of course, it works like a joystick, and the up and down directions are reversed. The feedback is almost analogous, and the harder you accelerate your mouse, the harder your plane will respond. It's all about being gentle and sensitive, much like driving, and probably the same rules applies to flying.
In the demo, you're restricted to a single aircraft type, C400, and after fifteen minutes, the plane will stop responding to inputs, so you will have to restart and try again. There's not much to do except bank and roll and turn, stall and crash, and try to land on a carrier-like landing strip conveniently painted on a water background. Not the most astounding setting to blow your mind and senses, but the graphics are pretty neat, you get sunset reflections and such. Not bad. Some might say this can't compare to some cool shooters and such, but that's not the point. Exactly the opposite.
After several minutes or hours playing around, you will still majestically suck, the way no one hath sucketh before. You will sort of pretend to be able to control the aircraft, but that's easy when you're not aiming to do anything fancy, like staying alive, not breaking any FAA rules, trying to land in bad weather, and such. Free flight shenanigans are a great joy. And that's what the demo is all about. To deceive you and distract you from the devilish mission that X-Plane carries, and that's realistic simulation of flight, and you should not use the word game, like evar.
X-Plane is a formidable, unforgiving, extremely brutally realistic flight simulator that you should not play, under any circumstances, unless you are committed, mind, body, soul, and three pints of virgin blood, to wrestle with its cruel, wicked, real-life mechanics, until you've spent an eternity honing in your skills to perfection, and spent hundreds of dollars out of your own pocket, to get it marginally right. Kapish?
So, if you're just looking for a game, nope. If you want to save money, nope. If you want to preserve your sanity, nope. For most of us, amateurs, plebeians and people with no desire to conquer the skies, there are safer, cheaper options. FlightGear is about the same level of nerdy clunkiness, bandwidth toll and difficulty, so you can start there and expand should the passion sweep you away. At the very least, FlightGear has no restrictions when it comes to airports, planes or regions, so you will at least enjoy some fancy world graphics as you struggle with the yoke and plummet down to ground. Ah, there. That's it. Seriously, from what little fun I had fighting this monster, X-Plane cannot be summed in a single review, especially not based on the demo, not by someone like me. It warrants a whole different league of judgment, and so, all I can say is, you've been warned. Now, try it.