By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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Bored with slashing orcs, carjacking vehicles or rotating puzzle pieces? Climb into a different gaming entertainment experience with "Flight Simulator X," the latest in the best-selling, 25-year-old franchise.
Microsoft Game Studios' ambitious title lets you fly two dozen commercial aircraft -- from the giant Boeing 747-400 to the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver floatplane to the Bell 206B helicopter -- with incredibly lifelike graphics, such as authentically re-created cockpits, airports and scenery.
Imagine soaring over San Francisco in an Air Creation ultralight, weaving around the bay and its famous bridges, around Alcatraz Island and over downtown. You can even choose a preferred season, time of day, weather conditions and more.
And talk about attention to detail: The game lets you fly to or from more than 24,000 airports on seven continents. Yes, that's 24,000.
But be forewarned -- having access to a photorealistic world at your fingertips comes at a price as you must install two full DVD-ROMs on your Windows-based machine, totaling an incredible 14 gigabytes of hard-drive space.
What's more, the installation process took about 35 minutes, not to mention another 10 minutes to launch the first time you play because the program must load scenery and terrain data. After this, however, it's smooth flying.
In addition to free flight modes, by either starting in the air or by working with Air Traffic Control to follow protocol and take off from a busy airport, you also can accept more than 50 challenging missions such as completing a trans-Atlantic flight, demonstrating an Airbus A321 at the Paris Air Show, dropping relief materials in the Congo or landing a stunt plane on top of a moving school bus. This mission-based game play adds depth and replayability to the simulation.
You can also log online to join other players, whereby one chooses to fly the plane while others assume the role of co-pilot, ATC and so on, all the while chatting via a headset.
Don't own a flight stick peripheral? No problem. While armchair pilots may balk at the idea, you can easily use a regular consolelike game pad to maneuver the various aircraft. A recommended pick is the Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for Windows ($29.99), which can be used with both the PC and the Xbox 360.
If you want to try "Flight Simulator X" before you buy, visit the official Web site -- www.microsoft.com/games/flightsimulatorx -- to download the playable 817-megabyte demo.
The full version, available at your local electronics store or online, costs $49.99 for the standard edition or $69.99 for the deluxe edition, which contains additional aircraft, scenery and tools to create and share your own content.
Before you buy, be sure your computer meets the minimum system requirements listed on the back of the box or posted on the Web site.
"Flight Simulator X" lets a player fly two dozen commercial aircraft.
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