Microsoft Flight Simulator has finally hit the Xbox Series X and Series S consoles – and it’s just awesome. At Digital Foundry we like to talk about “Next Generation Experiences” and that is one of the best. In fact, in many ways, it’s just in a class of its own. When it hit the PC, we called it the new Crysis in terms of the way it’s capable of pushing hardware to the limit. Hence, successfully running a console port has never been easy, no matter how powerful the console is. Yes, there are some downsides, but the bottom line is that the X Series offers a visual experience on the best PC, while the S Series – although compromised – is borderline to look at considering this is a $ 299/249 console £ is onerous storage restrictions.
But it’s all there. Thanks to its unique world generation systems, Microsoft Flight Simulator literally gives you access to the whole world, supported by streaming from the cloud. Developer Asobo Studio delivers incredible visuals on several fronts: terrain rendering is top notch, the sheer density of cityscapes is still impressive, while atmospheric rendering, cloud simulation, and weather characteristics just look phenomenal. In the past we’ve talked about how difficult this game is to run – in fact, we’ve embedded a library video of the RTX 3080 launch further down the page, showing that even one of the most powerful GPUs in the world can’t deliver a 4K60, even with our carefully coordinated range of optimized settings.
Xbox Series X? In terms of overall level of detail, it is certainly comparable to a PC with Ultra settings. To achieve this, Asobo Studio makes a number of useful nips and tucks. Microsoft Flight Simulator is not an arcade experience, so limiting the frame rate to 30 fps in its default presentation makes a lot of sense. It balances the CPU and GPU load and allows Asobo to deliver the top-notch visual experience. The output is 4K, but as is standard for demanding games these days, temporal reconstruction is used: frames are natively rendered at 1440p, with data from previous frames being injected to increase the level of detail. The effect is only really impaired with fast-moving objects close to the camera, but that doesn’t happen that much in Flight Simulator. However, there may be aliasing artifacts in motion, especially at hard edges in the layers in the tracking camera view. Overall, however, the core spectacle is there and it’s beautiful.
The S Series is fascinating because Flight Simulator is a beast on the PC, so the concept of getting it up and running and looking good on a four teraflop GPU paired with only 8GB of accessible storage is an extremely challenging one. The resolution is therefore reduced to 1080p without reconstruction. It’s native 1080p with a 1080p user interface, but just like the X Series, there’s no evidence of dynamic resolution scaling. However, there is a feeling that the Series S is compromised in other ways beyond the pixel count and the level of detail is the main sacrifice – character removal is indulged (in my eyes, this is more like the PC’s average setting) and while the terrain is generally good looks like it’s the cities that suffer the most. Not only is the drawing spacing reduced, more details seem to show models with less fidelity. It still looks fine by its own terms, but clearly took some hard work here to get this to work.
So there’s an interesting balance between the series consoles: the X leans on image reconstruction at the expense of core resolution and frees up GPU resources to double detail. The S Series has reduced details (may be required given storage constraints), but it looks like a full 1080p presentation. In my view, Asobo made wise decisions to get the best flight simulator experience out of each of the machines – but this creates an interesting inequality that actually favors the junior Xbox. To put it simply, Flight Simulator runs smoother on the Xbox Series S.
Yes, 30fps is the goal and for the majority of the experience it works fine on both computers. The streaming system requirements become really clear with the Xbox Series X, however – the sheer detailing by the system places additional demands on the CPU and memory (both are very similar on both consoles in the series). What this means is stuttering and stuttering on the Xbox Series X as you enter the denser areas, especially cityscapes. In similar tests, the Xbox Series S flies through at its limited 30fps – less details streaming, remember. I’ve also noticed performance drops in other areas of the X Series where the S is fine: in the cockpit of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for example. Performance is fine for big game play, but the S is undeniably smoother.
There is one additional fold, however. Similar to A Plague Tale Innocence, there is an unlocked performance mode that was developed for 120 Hz screens with VRR support. At least on paper, removing the frame rate limit brings a huge performance improvement, with the S and X series routinely hitting 90 fps and even briefly flirting at 120 fps – like real-time update monitoring on a LG CX OLED TV (it is shown above in the video and there’s more b-roll about the Digital Foundry Supporter Program). The frame rate, however, is very variable, from 50 fps to 120 fps, and while the improvement is clear, it also serves to make the stuttering issues more apparent with the Series X (the Series S is more consistent overall). Well worth a try if you have the means.
Criticisms? Microsoft Flight Simulator is a PC game through and through, and this is a PC port without the kind of streamlined user interface you might want in a console game. That starts with an initial two-minute load (yes, two minutes on a next-generation system) and is quickly followed by a rather clunky, unintuitive interface, obviously designed to be navigated with a mouse. Even after the approx. 100GB download you are not really finished: Visit the marketplace, go to the ‘free’ area and there are various extra packs that you should grab. On the one hand, that’s a lot of additional downloads, but on the other hand, you have at least some flexibility with the game’s memory footprint. Loading is certainly a chore, but luckily it is mitigated by Quick Resume, which is invaluable in this title by bypassing the initial loading and getting you right back on your flight.
It is ironic, perhaps, that our only criticisms of the game all stem from the fact that it is essentially a PC port – and it’s hard to be overly disappointed with that considering we are the PC game Playing and playing for over a year So we understand how exhausting and challenging it is to run well. To put it in a nutshell, all of the performance drops that we noticed with the Series X – right down to the 787 Dreamliner cockpit problem – are also present in the PC version of the game, so we primarily noticed them with one game of it enormous size! With this in mind, the PC game has also been improved with much-needed CPU optimizations, which Asobo presentations suggest as transformative. We’ll get into that – and share more about the console versions of Flight Simulator – shortly.