Last year, Asobo Studio released Microsoft Flight Simulator for PC, and with it came a range of accessibility features that helped assist the player in flight. The thing is, while I enjoyed flying around the entire world making use of artificial intelligence and cloud computing to help boost the graphics of the game, I was using a controller + keyboard + mouse combination to deal with all the inputs. At the time, the console release was only confirmed back then, which left me wondering how on earth Microsoft Flight Simulator would run on a console just using a controller.
Think of it this way, there’s an incredible number of inputs to press, and there are even more buttons to twiddle in the cockpit itself, Having a large majority of these assigned to a controller while still offering that simulation feel is undoubtedly a task in itself. Several hours in with my time with the early Xbox build and I’ve found it to be a lot more inviting for new players jumping in on a console, but there are some struggles I faced.
This is your captain, please boot up
When you first load up Microsoft Flight Simulator, similarly to the PC version, you’re presented with an accessibility menu that will have screen narrator enabled at all times if you use the feature. You’re presented with various options to adjust how the narrator sounds in terms of volume, pitch, and speed. You’re also presented with options for UI such as text size, interface scale, background opacity, subtitles, and some others.
A wider range of settings, such as remapping and cursor speeds are available in the later menus. But it’s at the main menu where I encountered my first issue. The game has a very strong “PC first” feel to it which comes through in navigation. While you can use the d-pad to snap to buttons and menu elements, there are moments where it requires you to backtrack or go awkwardly around the rest of the menu areas. Sometimes it seemed to get stuck on a button and I had to revert to cursor navigation.
Cursor navigation feels somewhat overly precise as if it’s still using the tiny point of a mouse cursor, especially when it comes to trying to adjust menu sliders with it. The speed at which the cursor moves as well took me a good while to find my sweet spot, having to awkwardly and separately operate 2 sliders to make it more responsive. At its default, the cursor starts slow, accelerating faster the longer you move it.
This is your captain, please read the manual
I had made a mistake. I decided that because I could play the PC build and recall my inputs, I was going to be able to jump into Microsoft Flight Simulator on a controller and rule the skies. Instead, I found myself to be lost in what the inputs were, but before trying to locate the layout screen, I thought I’d press everything and see what happens. This is usually my way of learning a game first, it’s like refusing to read instructions before constructing something first. After pressing buttons, my plane sped up, then it slowed down, then it swayed right, then it kept dropping which meant I needed to adjust my pitch trim, then I pressed a d-pad button and something happened but it didn’t sound good.
Thankfully I knew where a lot of the instruments were on the dashboard by memory, so I shifted to moving my camera around and reading the pop-up prompts when I hovered over buttons and switches. I wanted to sort my pitch trim to stop me from dipping, actually, the first thing I wanted was to find the autopilot button but I couldn’t. The first attempt had my plane randomly crash into the ground because I wasn’t able to see where I was flying as I looked into the footwells, the second attempt, I discovered that adjusting instruments such as the pitch trim is…quite a sensitive thing with the controller and so the plane looped and crashed again.
After finding the controls in the menu, I discovered you can push the left-stick in to activate cursor mode that essentially stops you from controlling the plane while you use the cursor to open HUD elements or use instruments without moving your camera. Several hours later after some reading of the full controller inputs, I’d started to understand my plane and also discovered the autopilot settings. I was finally not crashing so much. Of course, trying to complete the challenge missions did send me back to feeling lost at my controls again, but thankfully, just for casually flying around the world map, I was able to take off, fly, and land safely. Clumsily, but safely.
It’s a weird feeling to play Microsoft Flight Simulator on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S because the basic controls you need to just fly feels a lot simpler, but I’m constantly feeling like I want more inputs that span further than holding LB or RB to do more. But then, when I’m on PC, with a controller + keyboard + mouse setup I feel like there’s an overwhelming number of inputs…but I feel comfortable. Of course, this is just me, but I’m sure players who want to just fly without the heavy simulation feel will feel somewhat comfy with the controller.
What I will say is that I never felt comfortable navigating the menus because it felt like a constant switch between d-pad navigation and cursor navigation. Then in-game, I was always trying to precisely use the cursor to change options because d-pad controls kept locking up. But this seems to be me struggling with the UX so hopefully sliders can be made thicker and the overall navigation for menus be fixed up. But for flying, it wasn’t all that bad.
This is your captain, please use the HUD
One of the beauties of using Microsoft Flight Simulator on the PC was being able to easily zoom in or move around the cockpit. Instead of using the on-screen HUD windows for a map, for example, I’d look to the map on the dashboard thanks to the fluidity of moving with the mouse. However, on the console version, I cannot seem to find the function to zoom in, but I can move my default seating area at least. I might be missing it, but after 3 times booting the game up and each time trying to find a zoom function, I still remain oblivious. Update: I found LB + down on the d-pad gets you closer to the dashboard, but you still can’t get closer.
But it’s okay because you can just use the HUD windows, one of which is a map. When you get your head around how to move and minimize these windows, they can actually prove very useful without the need to zoom in on their in-world counterparts. They do require you to be in cursor mode to use them though, so make sure you’ve got autopilot on to avoid spinning out while you’re distracted.
This is your captain, please sit back and relax
For me, I found challenges too complicated on a console with a controller, but I also found waypoints in Expeditions to be incredibly hard to see. When I first loaded an expedition over Mount Everest, I thought I was just enjoying a free flight over a stunning area. It wasn’t until I decided to heroically land on the peak that I saw a tiny blue waypoint as I approached, and then I saw more of them, realizing they were part of a route of which I was meant to be flying. Really, waypoints and other on-screen icons were easier to see at night because of the contrasting colors. But for the day, I think Microsoft Flight Simulator needs some accessibility settings for adjusting these elements.
Luckily for me, I much prefer to just find somewhere in the world to fly and lose myself up in the air. With the controller feeling simple at handling all the main flight controls, and autopilot options for various levels of assistance, I felt relaxed. Additionally, after switching the game’s UI colors to high contrast, making the text large, and the backgrounds dark, I felt like my pop-up prompts were easy to read as I lay back on the bed. And let me tell you, flying through spiraling clouds over Denver while lay on your bed is such a unique experience.
This is your captain, please disembark
I think I stand by what I said earlier in that new players will feel somewhat comfortable jumping in on Microsoft Flight Simulator, especially with the accessibility features available. There are still moments where its simulator side comes through and keeps you on your toes and if you wind up suspicious of a switch and hit it and cut the engine off, you will crash.
The fact this game is no longer tied to just a PC platform is brilliant, and even on the Series S, the quality of the game is breathtaking and runs wonderfully smooth over a lot of areas. But because it still has that “PC first” feel to it lingering in the background, my review on the PC build still stands and goes hand-in-hand with the points made above.
A copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator was provided by the developer/publisher.