The year was 1967. Horseless carriages, as they were then referred, were proving a bit too fatal. It began innocently enough with legislation requiring strips of fabric to secure passengers to their seats. Seat belts had come to the New World.

What the founding fathers didn’t realize was that by passing this legislation they were beginning a trend of safety that would send a ripple into the very fabric of time…

Star wipe. The year is 2012. The world is a very different place. Safety razors, safe playgrounds, the Safety Dance. Safety is the name of the game. We’re literally* taught to fear our own shadows. No more van rides from strangers. Even when they have candy. We’ve become soft. It has affected videogames too.

We’ve dispensed with the customary five lives. We’ve even thrown out health bars. Instead, we have this amorphous ketchup-screen effect, cured by cowardly hiding for some undetermined amount of time. And that’s in our shooters. So what hope does a game like Microsoft Flight have? What hope at all?

It seems clear that Microsoft Studios pondered this question long and hard before reaching their conclusion. None. It’s with this preface that I begin this review:

“Never look a gift horse in the propellers” goes the old adage, if I recall correctly. With an initial price tag of absolutely free, Microsoft Flight represents a new marketing strategy for the computer behemoth. (Additional content sold separately.)

Free-to-play is a relatively new evolution in videogames. Developers open their doors to all in the hopes of attracting an audience that will then willingly part with its money for additional content. It’s an approach with a proven track record. I get the feeling, though, that it might not work out so well for Microsoft.

Flight is not a simulator. If the title’s conspicuous exclusion of “Simulator” didn’t clue you off, the gameplay will. Even adjusting the sparse realism settings, the game’s flight model is incredibly forgiving. The planes are overly responsive and easy to control. So easy, in fact, that it’s difficult—if not impossible—to intentionally lose control of the aircraft.

I’ve put the flight model through its paces. Hard turns at low speeds, deliberate engine stalls, and even moderate collisions are all forgivable offenses. It’s very easy to recover the aircraft even at perilously low altitudes. You can drag your wings across the runway, skim the surface of the water at 120 MPH (in the amphibious plane) before lowering your landing gear, and land at relatively sharp angles without consequence. That’s not to say crashing is impossible. It has just been made such a difficult task that even novice flyers would be hard-pressed to accidentally destroy their aircraft.

Simply put, realism has been de-emphasized.

That shuts dedicated simulator fans out of the target audience. By its own admission Microsoft Studios is trying to cast a wider net than it has in the past. It wants to bring flying to an audience that has never experienced the thrill. Easier flying is one half of the recipe.

Improved graphics is the other. The aircraft and their interiors are meticulously detailed. The environments feature striking topography and vivid foliage. Cities, although static and desolate, are impressively saturated with buildings. With such limited content, Microsoft can afford to give attention to these kinds of details. It’s odd then that cloud formations and weather effects can get away with being embarrassingly bad—on par with the game’s 2006 predecessor. For a game that lets you so near to the clouds, it’s strange that they don’t get the amount of detail that the rest of the world does.

Missions and challenges are easily completed, with additional points being awarded for skill shows, whether through acrobatics, clean landings, or flying in difficult conditions. Multiplayer tosses groups of free-to-wander planes throughout Hawaii while some fly missions and other free fly.

Flight delivers a visually stunning, but arcadey, experience that ultimately feels shallow. Like a skateboard covered in bubble wrap, it’s just not very fun. The game is clearly not for everyone.
Microsoft would have been better served by offering sliders that allowed players to choose their realism. As it stands, the game plays it safe and ends up offering nothing new.

At any rate, since it’s free you can feel free to judge it for yourself. If you don’t like it you can always ask for a refund.

*Figuratively.