Windows - 2000
Description of Fly! 2K
A few short months ago, it looked like the civilian flight sim market, dominated for so long by successive versions of Microsoft Flight Simulatorwas about to become a battlefield between three (count 'em, three) new challengers for the title king of the civvie sims.
How quickly the bean counters can dispel progress and innovation! Now, as we enter the second half of the bleak year 2000, a visit to that same battlefield finds the monolithic titan Microsoft Flight Simulator trampling the bones of Sierra's Pro Pilot and the Flight Unlimited series from the late lamented Looking Glass into the dust, both challengers slain by the foul spectre of insufficient cashflow. But wait! One opponents still remains, skipping between the feet of the behemoth in an effort to remain solvent and to keep the punters interested, Fly from Terminal Reality.
In his of the original version of Fly with the kind of prescience rarely found in lesser gaming sites, our very own Martin Smith said, The game title is short, only contains a single punctuation character and has no reference to the end of the century. It could well have been 'Fly! 2000 Gold! Millenium Edition! Professional!!!!'
Welcome gentle reader to the world of Fly 2K.
There can only be one
For some reason, I never got around to trying out Fly when it was originally released. Having spent a fair amount of time recently with the latest incarnation of Microsoft Flight Simulator for another review, I jumped at the chance of trying out its one remaining rival.
Fly was one of those titles which seemed to polarise the simming community when it was first released with gamers either loving or hating it. Those belonging to the first group who presumably already own a copy of Fly need hardly rush out to buy this new release since as we shall see, F2K offers little over the original release which cannot be obtained by other means. The question is, will the improvements in this latest version be enough to win over those who spurned the original release?
Now with added clouds!
So what improvements have those who held out for F2K benefited from? Firstly, they get a version of Fly which has been patched up to the latest standard, no minor thing in itself since the patches for Fly are both numerous and extensive. Next, they get the intriguingly titled Sky Environmental Exciter which enhances the graphics of Fly and allows the player to easily set up weather conditions without having to resort to the somewhat tortuous environmental controls contained within Fly itself. InfoMETAR allows the player to download current worldwide weather conditions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Roger Wilco is a real-time voice chat solution for online pilots (it says here). This is a slightly strange inclusion since the original version of Fly supposedly included online chat facilities without having to resort to an external program. Too many tough bugs I suppose. Last but not least, they get a new IFR panel for the Cessna which as far as I can make out doesn't add any new instruments to the control panel but does make them easier to read and an expanded global elevation database featuring many new hills to crash into. It should be noted that all of these features can be downloaded from the web by existing owners. Existing owners can also upgrade to F2K by sending CD 1 from their existing copy of Fly along with $5. See the Fly website for details of this once in a life time offer.
What the new F2K owner doesn't get is any aircraft or scenery which didn't come with the original release. These are becoming available from sites such as flightsim.com, though. On the bright side, the patching process seems to have taken care of most of the bugs Martin mentions in his review.
These additions to the Fly package are, I suppose, nice to have but with the exception of the bug fixes provided by the patches, none of them are really what I would call must-haves. Some companies would nonetheless charge their eager existing customers an arm and a leg for this stuff so all credit to Terminal Reality for resisting the temptation.
More Knobs Than The House Of Lords
What did I think of Fly? Being a detail freak, I was highly taken by Fly 's numerous, highly detailed panels, most of them featuring a plethora of operating switches, buttons and dials. At relatively low resolutions (I mostly ran Fly at 640x480 at which performance was quite acceptable with graphical detail turned up to the maximum), only a small portion of the control panel is on show at any given time, and this, combined with the fact that most of the planes in Fly come with three or more different panels, means that the player will need to do a lot of scrolling around and swapping between panels during work-intensive times such as engine startup. This is rendered much less of a pain by the ability within Fly to define camera positions which allow you to return to a certain position on a certain panel at the press of a function key. It therefore becomes child's play to switch between the engine instruments, the throttle quadrant and the fuel controls.
Outside the cockpit the appearance of the sky around your aircraft is splendid, especially when enhanced by the Sky wrapper program. Unfortunately, while the sky may look a treat, glancing towards the ground is far less rewarding. Even in the five detailed areas provided with Fly, the landscape looks a little sparse compared to the opposition and when the player leaves these areas, the scenery grows even more deserted. This sparseness extends to the airports featured in Fly. It's just as well that when the player requests permission to taxi, arrows appear pointing the way to the appropriate runway because there has been a dire lack of signs labelling the runways and taxiways in any of the airports I have visited. The Flight Unlimited series portrayed this aspect of aviation much better. Mind you, in all fairness to Fly, at many airports this isn't a problem anyway because taxiways aren't modelled.
Scenery aside, I was really quite taken by Fly. As I have already mentioned, the level of detail modelled in the sim strongly appealed to me. The GPS for instance is far more realistically modelled in Fly than in its Microsoft rival and provides hours of entertaining clicking on its own, though I fear the level of detail provided might prove too much for many simmers. The ability to adjust the loadout of the aircraft is fun, though sadly it seems impossible to set things up so that the CG moves outside the acceptable limits. It would have been fun trying some aerobatics with the CG way too close to the tail of the aircraft. I found the user interface easy to use and was particularly impressed by both varieties of on-screen map provided which allow the player to determine his position, locate the nearest airport and tune in the radio appropriately with a few clicks of the mouse. They may not have the appeal of the paper map which used to come with Flight Simulator but they're a joy to use.
The sounds are good, too, though I don't know how true to life they are. Every time the player deploys the Chieftain's flaps, it sounds like someone is taking a chainsaw to the wings. On the other hand, the sound of rain hitting the windscreen in the middle of a storm is just about perfect. The flight models seemed fine as well and I didn't notice the sensitivity in pitch of the Cessna mentioned by Martin. This may be due to the problem having been fixed in a patch, different joysticks or simply that Martin is more sensitive to these things than I am.
Another area in which I hold a different opinion to that of Martin is the manual. I found the 288-page manual helpful and informative and a highly enjoyable read. Unfortunately, something appears to have gone terribly wrong somewhere between the proofreading and final typesetting of the manual because in many cases, the last page of a section or chapter is simply not there! I don't think that the manual has changed much from the one which came with the original release of Fly and I would be interested to know if it was afflicted with the same problem.
The other problem with the manual is that there are several places where the manual simply does not correspond to how the sim actually operates. For example, when starting the King Air's engines, the author of the manual advises the reader to check the battery voltage before starting the engines to avoid risking a hot start. Unfortunately, the player can't do this since the voltmeters will resolutely read 0 volts until one of the engines is started. Not to worry though because as it turns out hot starts are impossible to do in Fly anyway. I've done my very best but I simply can't get that ITT gauge to go over the 800 degree mark, no matter how soon I turn off the starter.
This is actually emblematic of a bigger problem with Fly, namely, that nothing ever goes wrong. It's all very well for the manual author to go into great detail about how to cope when one of the Chieftain's engines gives up the ghost on the take-off run (and interesting reading it is, too) but when you know full well that the only way this is going to happen is if you yank one of the throttles shut and feather the prop, it detracts somewhat. Further to this, there's no damage model, either, and while it's fun for a while to catch the side of a building and see if you can to a complete 360-degree spin before continuing the flight (and you can do just this) I still feel that in any serious sim worthy of the name, making contact with the ground at high speed should result in immediate catastrophic termination of the flight.
One final whinge. It soon becomes obvious why no seaplanes were included in Fly. Any of the aircraft can land on the sea without harmful side effects.
Clash of the Titans
Despite the odd irritation, most of which I've covered here, I found a lot to like in Fly and I look forward eagerly to the release of Fly 2, currently scheduled for later this year. It's certainly better than the last version of Pro Pilot, and though I will always have a fondness for the Flight Unlimited series, it may even match their high standards.
All of this counts for nothing, though, for these titles are no longer rivals. The obstacle Fly has to overcome to become top dog in the civvie sim scene is the mighty Flight Simulator 2000 and I'm afraid that here Fly in its present incarnation isn't quite good enough, at least as far as I'm concerned.
To be honest, I'm not quite sure why I feel this way. The mechanics of flying the aircraft in Fly are more detailed and I love detail. The Fly interface is easier to use and the view out the windows is easier on the eyes. Yet I do know that I would happily spend hours pottering between airfields in FS2000 and I don't feel any inclination to do in Fly. It may just be that in FS2000, if I land at Edinburgh Airport, I at least see some buildings out of the window. That and the vast amount of third party add-ons available for the older title gives it the edge as far as I'm concerned.
If you are at all keen on civilian flight sims, Fly is certainly worth a look, especially at the very reasonable price F2K is on sale for. If the series can avoid the attention of the bean counters for a little longer, it may well become a serious rival to the Microsoft product and that would be a good thing for all of us.
Review By GamesDomain
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