Microsoft Flight Simulator Accessibility Review — Flying with Assistance

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Microsoft Flight Simulator Accessibility

Individual scores

  • Visual Representation of Dialogue - 8
  • Visual Representation of Sound - 4
  • Visual Cues - 8
  • Remappable Controls - 7.5
  • Assist Modes - 8.5
  • Necessity of Text (Scored higher if the text is unnecessary) - 4
  • Level of Precision Required - 4
  • Controller Vibration - 7
  • Player Communications - 1

There’s something comforting about the concept of jumping in a plane and getting as far away from people as possible. Of course, I can’t fly a real plane, but I can at least pretend in Asobo Studio’s Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, I’m here to see exactly how accessible the game is, and please strap yourselves in, because it’s going to be a bumpy, and long flight.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is exactly what it says it is. It’s a simulator. So understandably there are going to be barriers. However, it has options and features that gamify it to make it more enticing for those after the heavily toned-down experience. Before I get into those features and gameplay, let’s start from the beginning with the setting up.

Setting Up

Accessibility menu for Microsoft Flight Simulator

At launch, the first thing you’re presented with is an accessibility menu. So before you jump into the game, you can use sliders to adjust the text size, interface size, background opacity of UI/UX elements, and the level of controller vibration. You can also choose from different colorblind options, having menu animations, having tooltips, and the choice to automatically skip the pre-flight cinematics. This screen only appears at first-ever boot but is available from the options menu at any time.

Next up is the option to set up your experience, similarly to the above, this screen only appears for the first-ever boot, but each area can be found in various options sub-menus. The first three are for graphical settings, services for real-time flight traffic and weather, and then connected input devices. Then there’s the fourth option that’s “Assistance”. This is essentially your difficulty options and can be changed at any time.

You can choose from three modifiable presets: 

All Assists: The AI basically does everything outside of flying for you in this mode, and you’ll have instructions and notifications fed to you as well as airport and city markers to help with navigation.

Middle-Ground: This offers you a more realistic experience by removing some navigational aids and gets you doing a bit more work in the cockpit.

True to Life: This allows you to set the game to a more realistic experience where you have to do everything yourself and without navigational aids.

The assistance settings available at boot for Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator uses this assistance mode to let you build your experience. You can go in and manually toggle precisely what features you want to be set to what. I personally set navigation aids to hard which removes city markers and the like, but I also throw on the aid for landing markers, and airport markers.

I also prefer to have everything set to make the co-pilot deal with traffic communications and any minor flight checks like flaps and landing gear. You can even make the co-pilot take over the plane for you entirely. I’m forever thanking my co-pilot for saving my ass.

Interfaces

Cockpit view with transcript, map, co-pilot options, and the quick menu

Microsoft Flight Simulator lets you take control of your interface with remarkable control. Focusing on the cockpit view firstly, you have all of the instruments in front of you, but you also have the option to throw up a bunch of on-screen windows such as the map, the transmission transcript, and even a checklist. You can move these windows anywhere you want on the screen and resize them. You can also minimize them so they’re available to open, but out of your way.

Another thing I liked was the quick menu. The quick menu is located near the top of the screen and is hidden unless hovered over. From here you can select from a range of interfaces to open and display on your screen. This is hugely convenient and allows you to seamlessly bring up a new interface window. As you can see above, I have the map available, the transcript for comms, and co-pilot options.

Microsoft Flight Simulator third-person flight with UI elements

When flying in third-person from behind the plane, your key instruments such as flight speed, altitude, and attitude are all shown along the bottom of the screen. These elements all have a dark background and do stand out, but do run the risk of feeling a bit on the small side. But in saying that, the majority of what you need to keep eyes on is there.

You can use the mouse to hover over various buttons, switches, and whatever twiddly things you find in the cockpit. Each toggle will show the name of the function, or it’ll show ones that serve no purpose as inoperable. With each new plane, I tend to instantly hover over levels and wheels to locate the pitch trim and throttle. I really liked the way everything appeared upon hover, and despite the plethora of buttons, I never felt overwhelmed because of this handy feature.

Flight path guides with on-screen icon showing direction of location

There’s a Focus option that you can press and hold which will zoom and lock your view on the nearest point of interest. Sadly, in a bid to remain realistic, it doesn’t show a beacon, leaving you relying on squinting to see the runway from a great distance. I felt a beacon would have helped with giving a better visual representation of distance and location.

What I did like is the fact airports have visual guides for landing procedures. They’ll appear as large blocks in the sky that are red if you’re going too fast, or blue if you’re at the right speed. It’s just a shame that this level of visual help doesn’t carry over to sound and dialogue representation.

Sound

Training example showing blue glow over instruments

During training, when the instructor was explaining instruments in the cockpit, the instruments were highlighted with a blue glow. However, in-game, even with all assists on, this blue glow never surfaces again. This was a huge issue for me later on because I had no idea why the plane would be beeping at me and needed my attention. There are numerous types of warning or danger beeps and it’s not abundantly clear what instrument is having trouble.

Some planes have screens that have flashing text with the type of warning indicator, but because they are all in plane jargon and codewords I have no idea what the heck I’m supposed to be focusing my attention on. Really, with All Assists mode on, I’d have liked more guidance on drawing my attention to what needed my attention.

Throughout the gameplay, you’ll have pilots conversing with airports and doing all that flight path preparation and in training, you’ll have an instructor talking to you. However, subtitles are turned off by default. This is awkward because the conversations are usually incredibly important, talking about airspace flight speeds, or instructing you to descend to assigned altitudes.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - A plane flying toward a sunset over snowy mountains

Once subtitles are turned on, the font is thick but small and there appears to be no way to add a background or adjust the size which is disappointing given the amazing control over the UI. Thankfully there’s a real-time transcript for any radio transmissions, so if you miss anything from traffic control it’ll most likely show up in there.

These small subtitles are an issue though, During training, Microsoft Flight Simulator has you playing along with whatever the instructor has just explained. But the information given to you isn’t repeated, and because I was trying to control a plane at the same time, I’d not find the time to read the subtitles. This resulted in several training sessions having to be restarted because I missed the instruction and couldn’t figure out how to achieve what was being asked of me.

What is nice though, is the number of sound sliders. Sometimes the droning noise of the engines can get grating, so it’s possible to turn it down, along with other features such as environment sounds, user interfaces, engines, voice, etc. There’s also a way to adjust the quality of text-to-speech used by Air Traffic Control. Windows Offline mode will mean you need an English text-to-speech pack installed, whereas Azure mode uses the internet.

Controls

Microsoft Flight Simulator airbus flying over clouds in sunset

Controls are something that was confusing to me. Microsoft Flight Simulator recognized I had a keyboard, mouse, and controller all connected, but it requires the use of all three. This makes me wonder how on earth the game can come to the Xbox console unless you plug in the required peripherals to the system. But as default settings, the controller can be used to steer the plane, move your camera, adjust the throttle, use the rudders, and some other features.

The keyboard is used for a lot of shortcuts to save you having to find them on the cockpit, and the mouse lets you move the camera and activate switches and buttons. Additionally, the mouse actives the quick menu and allows you to move the interfaces around and access areas the controller doesn’t let you get to.

Microsoft Flight Simulator cockpit view with screens

You can assign keys and buttons through the options, as you can set your own presets and name them. However, the inputs you assign are available as a dropdown list of recognized inputs, so you can’t simply press the button you wish to bind. Not a huge issue, but would save you the time of scrolling through the list of inputs. Despite all of this, I still found myself switching between controller, mouse, and keyboard continually throughout a flight. Keeping the plane straight with one hand on the controller while adjusting the trim with the mouse for example.

I did find that some tips that appeared on the screen would tell me to make use of a feature that wasn’t even assigned to anything. I also found that sometimes it’d tell me what controller input to press but not the keyboard equivalent, which I thought would have been useful to know both in case I felt like playing without a controller. As it stands, controlling the plane with the keyboard is a horrible, jerky experience, and the controller offers a far more precise and enticing experience.

Gameplay

World map for Microsoft Flight Simulator

So the controls may be complicated, and the lack of visual help with understanding my cockpit issues leaves me panicking, but really, this is a fantastic game. With All Assist mode, you do get help in operating the plane so you really only have to worry about keeping the speed and flight smooth. After some fine-tuning with the pitch trim to keep the cruise straight, I found myself sitting back, inspecting the buttons, and admiring the views.

In cockpit mode, you do get the issue of having your view obstructed by your dashboard, but you can adjust your view to be higher, lower, zoomed out, or in, and even save custom camera positions and switch between them with keyboard shortcuts. The map is fairly easy to understand and doesn’t throw too many confusing grids and icons at you.

There’s also controller vibration which mostly continually rumbles for the “feel”, but at times a rumble change can indicate issues with flight which is a huge help. And despite how precise some maneuvers can be, with all assists on, you almost get that video game experience, similar to Grand Theft Auto V levels of aerial control.

There are activities for you to complete, some for landing, others for wayfinding. However, these generally turn off the assists you may need, and it’s noted that if you use the maps “Back on track” feature on the navigation activity you’ll not unlock an achievement that requires you to complete the activity without help.

Honestly, I’ve found myself enjoying free flight more than anything. You can choose your point of departure, any stop-offs, and arrivals. And you don’t even need to choose from the extensive list of airports because you can spawn anywhere, instantly flying. Want to spawn above the Amazon Rainforest? You can do that.

You can even go flying with friends. I jumped on and flew across Hawaii and other pretty places, but we had issues with seeing where we were, even with the on-screen box showing the player name. There also seems to be no way of communicating with one another, not through voice or through text, which kinda made me nostalgic for those days of jumping in a flight simulator with Teamspeak running.

Plane with ice forming on the windows

And for planes, the range of options is fantastic, but each comes with their own interiors and some can be awkward to see over, even when adjusting the camera. Some also provide friendlier dashboards of your important information, such as digital screens showing the attitude and speed indicators a lot more clearly than some of the smaller planes instruments. If you’re comfortable with third-person flying though, you shouldn’t have a problem no matter the plane. Me though, I prefer being in the seat.

I do think that a lot of my issues with Microsoft Flight Simulator comes with the lack of telling me what things are beeping or making sounds. If I’m choosing to have all assists turned on, I’d expect to be shown more around my plane than I was. The interface control is really quite fantastic, but the subtitles need the same level of freedom.

The game has plenty of assists which makes the game much more playable, but the accessibility side of things feels a little bit overshadowed by the goal of remaining as realistic as possible. It goes without saying though, Microsoft Flight Simulator feels like one of the most accessible flight simulators to date.


As always, if you wish to refer to our reviewing guide for the scores, you can read our reviewing guide.

A review copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator was provided by the developer / publisher.

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Ben Bayliss

Deaf Editor at Can I Play That? - British and enjoys games with good subtitles and will complain about bad subtitles.

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