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Publisher: Laminar Research    Genre: Flight Sim
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: 601 @ 400 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 250 MB    Graphics: 800x600


X-Plane 6
May 29, 2002 | Tim Morgan
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An X-15 glides back to Earth.

The view from the ípit
Cockpits in X-Plane, like world scenery, vary wildly in their graphic realism. Aircraft designers are severely handicapped by X-Planeís mediocre support for realistic cockpits. All the important cockpit elements are there: the Sacred Six gauges, GPS systems, radio stacks, and other cockpit commodities. However, their operation doesnít always match that of their real-life counterparts.

These cockpit elements are set atop an image backdrop. The images can sometimes be near photorealistic, but because of the limitations of X-Planeís cockpit design (for instance, mousable items and interactive elements can only be present in the forward view and not side or back views), the functional implementation is almost always far from realistic. There are a number of graphical oddities, too: a few cockpits have mousable elements hanging in mid-air, and almost all of the aircraft lack cockpit images for any direction except forward. However, the cockpits do get the job done, and the engine, when compared to the expandability of other flight sims, allows for quite a bit of freedom in creating or modifying cockpits.

Taking her out for a spin
X-Plane comes with a very large number of aircraft, from the basic all the way to the exotic and unrealistic. Included is a full fleet of general-aviation aircraft, from the Cessna 172 up to the heavy metal jets like the Boeing 777. In addition, the player can take a number of military aircraft to the skies, such as the aging F-105 Thunderchief and the nimble F-22 Raptor.

What X-Plane lacks in graphical eye candy it makes up in versatility. X-Plane can handle a large variety of aircraft, from the conventional turboprops, turbojets, and helicopters to the most bizarre of prototypes. X-Plane supports the vertically-mounted jet engine on the X-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the fifty-seven thousand pounds of thrust put out by the X-15ís liquid-rocket engine, the vectored-thrust engines on the F-22 Raptor and Su-37, and even the unique design of a gyrocopter, which uses both vertical-thrust helicopter blades and a horizontal-thrust prop engine to provide lift and power. The versatility does not end with engines: X-Plane correctly models the F-14 Tomcatís sweeping wings and the lift produced by a blimpís expansive chambers of gas.

All of these features allow the game to support aircraft that essentially force the player to relearn the art of flying. Even the most seasoned Cessna 172 pilot will be taking baby steps at the controls of a Carter Copter, which requires a different kind of finesse. When flying VTOL aircraft such as the AV-8B Harrier and the infamous V-22 Osprey, it takes a bit of a loving touch to bring these birds from a dead hover to full-speed forward flight. Trying my hand at these hovering aircraft gives me new appreciation for the scores of Harrier pilots flying for the RAF.

Even in more conventional aircraft, X-Plane offers a surprisingly detailed flight model engine. The physics engine in X-Plane simulates prop wash, differential lift forces across a wingís surface, and other arcane minutiae to produce a very accurate flying experience. About the only thing the flight model does not handle well is crashes: when the playerís airplane strikes the ground in X-Plane, it either comes to a dead stop (after which the player is transported to the nearest airport) or it bounces comically into the air. However, newer versions of X-Plane are introducing an array of new features to add some complexity to the damage model, from tire blowouts to severed engines.



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