It’s hard to beat the feeling of freedom and escapism you can get from flight simulators. There’s something about taking up the cockpit of your favourite aircraft and launching yourself into the sky, leaving the ground – and your worries – far behind you. There’s a good reason Microsoft Flight Simulator’s fanbase is still going strong after all these years.
This type of game has its history in flight training programs given to pilots during wartime, but it’s easy to see where the public commercial appeal lies too. You’d be forgiven for thinking that flight sims are all but gone in 2019, but that’s just not the case. If you’re a fan of this genre, there’s still plenty for you to sample. Here are the top 10 flight simulator games available for you to check out this year.
For unparalleled flight simulator realism, look no further than Laminar Research’s excellent X-Plane 11. This game takes the word verisimilitude to new heights. With a realistic and intuitive user interface, a revamped effects engine, and a frankly exhaustive approach to airports, X-Plane 11 is clearly the flight simulator of choice for those who want to revisit the glory days of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series. There’s also a ludicrous amount of extra content available, so if you do like the game and want more of it, you’ll find plenty.
Despite being pipped to the post (narrowly) by the marginally superior X-Plane 11, there’s still plenty of mileage in Microsoft Flight Simulator X. Microsoft’s world-famous flight sim series may have launched its latest instalment way back in 2006, but it’s still more than worth a look. The visuals are lightyears ahead of the game’s contemporaries, while the multiplayer modes allow you to enjoy the game with other flight sim enthusiasts. Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X is more “video game”-y than X-Plane 11, but that makes it perfect for those who want a more relaxing experience from their flight sims.
We’re cheating a little bit with this one, since Elite Dangerous is technically a space sim rather than an out-and-out flight simulator. Still, it’s hard to find a better game for mastering a set of complex controls and completing surprisingly relaxing tasks. Elite Dangerous offers a connected world in which you can chase down bandits, become a successful trader, or simply cruise through space accompanied by your favourite podcast or YouTube video. It may not be a conventional flight sim, but Elite Dangerous deserves to take its place among the pantheon of greats.
Kerbal Space Program
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Kerbal Space Program asks one question: what if the hapless but inventive Kerbal race managed to develop a space program, and what if you were in charge of it? The result is as hilarious and madcap as it sounds. You’ll build countless rockets and spacecraft using an intuitive yet in-depth interface. Many of these rockets will fail, leaving you flailing in space as you hurtle back down towards earth. “Try, try, and try again” is the Kerbal Space Program motto, so if you’re not in the mood for a physics-based trial and error flight sim, look elsewhere. If you are, though, this is an excellent game.
IL-2 Sturmovik is a flight simulator with a difference. Where many games in this genre emphasise relaxation and detail, IL-2 Sturmovik puts you right in the thick of a World War II dogfight. You’ll need seriously good reflexes and combat nous if you want to survive the high-octane battles this game presents. There’s a mission builder for customisation, as well as a 32-player online mode for true realism. The visuals are pretty excellent here too, so if you’ve got any interest whatsoever in World War II-era flight, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
This game was created by the minds behind ultra-realistic army sim Arma 2, so you know there’s a pedigree here. Take On Helicopters tasks you with reinvigorating a struggling aviation empire, but don’t worry; you’re more of a pilot than a business tycoon. You’ll need to take on myriad tasks and missions if your company is to have a hope of surviving. The helicopter modeling and city visuals are stunning, while the gameplay is as close to flying a real-life helicopter as it’s possible to get. Drink in the scenery while you’re playing this one, because it’s clear Bohemia Interactive worked very hard indeed on it.
Technically, Superflight isn’t actually a flight simulator. There aren’t any complex controls to master, there are no runways to carefully navigate, and there’s no takeoff and landing checklist to meticulously peruse. Instead, Superflight takes the one part of flight sims everyone loves – the flying – and makes the core gameplay all about that one feature. Superflight is all about soaring through procedurally-generated landscapes, twisting and turning and aiming for a high score. It’s truly relaxing gaming at its finest.
Unlike Superflight, FlyInside aims for realism and scores a bullseye. Picking this game up on PC nets you access to a truly beautiful, expansive, and feature-rich flight sim that’s totally playable in VR. It’s a wonder most flight sims aren’t also chasing this obvious market. FlyInside goes one step further than most flight sims and actually places you in the cockpit, allowing you to truly experience what it’s like to be a pilot. The visuals are top-notch, the gameplay is solid, and there’s nothing like it for immersion. FlyInside should be the top choice for true aficionados.
Pairing a realistic flight sim with a dramatic and absorbing storyline is a true stroke of genius, and it’s one Bandai Namco has been repeating since the auspicious beginnings of the Ace Combat franchise. Skies Unknown is the seventh game in the series and it’s arguably the best one yet. With full 360-degree movement, true-to-life air combat mechanics, and some of the most stunning visuals you’ll ever encounter in a flight sim, Ace Combat 7 is one of the best experiences around for budding pilots. It may not quite have the po-faced realism of some of its contemporaries, but that just makes it more exciting in our books.
What better way to send off the ailing 3DS than with a fond look back at Pilotwings Resort? This short-but-sweet experience was a launch title for the 3DS, and while the stereoscopic 3D gave more people headaches than joy, it’s still a superlative flight game with some surprisingly varied mechanics to enjoy. Wuhu Island is a joy to explore, with plenty of secrets to discover, and the three different air disciplines on offer should keep even the most dedicated aircraft enthusiast happy for a little while. Flight sims on the go don’t get much better than this.