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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

Click to enlarge

A water bomber heads to the rescue.

Where no one has gone before
One of X-Plane’s more unique and more exciting features is its portfolio of special situations in which it can place the player. X-Plane allows players to select from a variety of pre-determined scenarios with historical or practical significance. For starters, there’s the typical glider tow and in-flight refueling scenarios, allowing simmers to try their hands at riding a column or flying the boom. It gets more interesting, however: X-Plane includes a B-52 drop option designed for the X-15, carrier takeoff and landing situations, ship-based helipad landings, and more.

Probably the most enticing option is the four separate space-shuttle scenarios, each placing the player at a different stage of a typical space shuttle reentry and landing. Whether he or she wants to simply bring the behemoth glider in for a dead-stick landing at Edwards Air Force Base or maintain that magical glideslope as the shuttle screams through the exosphere, X-Plane offers full support for the landing procedure. Controlling a lumbering shuttle as it descends through the upper atmosphere at over Mach 5 creates a thrill previously reserved for elite NASA astronauts.

Note that X-Plane’s support for outer space is seamless — outer space is modeled whether one is flying a Saturn V or a mere Glasair. Space is not something reserved for a few special scenarios. The same is true for the situations in many other scenarios: peppered across lakes, oceans, and rivers are freight ships with helipads and aircraft carriers upon which the player can spontaneously decide to land. Flying across mountain forests will yield a few random forest fires that the player can dowse if he hops into a B-26 water bomber.

A truly unique feature of X-Plane’s is its support for Mars flight. X-Plane simulates not only the planet Earth, but also has a rudimentary Martian environment included. Mars, with its low gravity and ultra-thin atmosphere, offers a number of unique challenges to advanced pilots. Obviously, your typical F-16 cannot simply take to the sky in Mars’s alien atmosphere, but X-Plane includes two vehicles designed to fly on the Red Planet, one an aircraft, the other a rocket. Also, two fictional spaceports have been placed on the surface of Mars for takeoffs and landings.

Talk the talk
No modern general-aviation sim would be complete without support for radio communication. Radio controllers direct the steady pulse of air traffic into, out of, and between airports. X-Plane does indeed have support for radio communication, and like its graphical realism, radio communication is splendid in some situations and disappointingly simplistic in others. Pilots communicate over the virtual radio using a menu system, invoked by pressing the Return key. X-Plane offers all of the usual radio commands, allowing players to file and open flight plans, get weather information from local ATIS stations, and modify their flight parameters to take changing weather patterns into account. However, radio communications are decidedly solo: there is no ground traffic coordination and other planes are never factored into ATC’s traffic pattern decisions; rather, ATC simply guides your plane in predetermined patterns. Furthermore, radio tuning is not as paramount as it is in Fly! 2K and Fly! II: the game is happy to automatically tune the radio for the player. Finally, flight plan creation, when compared to these games, is simple: players merely choose starting points, destinations, and cruising configurations.

Radio commands are relayed in print on the screen and also aurally through Apple’s speech synthesis technology, which does an acceptable job, although it occasionally mispronounces some of the more arcane jargon. In addition to useful radio communication, X-Plane plays a looping background of real-life prerecorded radio chatter. Although it adds aura, the radio chatter is merely ear candy and serves no true purpose in the game, nor does it align with the actual actions of AI airplanes as they fly from point to point.


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