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Publisher: GraphSim Entertainment    Genre: Flight Sim
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G4 @ 800 MHz    RAM: 512 MB    Hard Disk: 8192 MB    2x CD-ROM    Graphics: 1024x768 @ 16-bit, 16 MB VRAM

X-Plane 8
April 11, 2005 | Tim Morgan

Click to enlarge

In low-earth orbit

The global perspective
In addition to new city graphics, X-Plane 8 offers better coastlines and better topography. Gamers will enjoy very accurate beaches, banks, and deltas, as well as higher resolution topography. Terrain texture mapping is improved as well, with a much lower occurrence of repeating textures, ensuring that terrain is more interesting over long distances.

Armchair astronauts will enjoy improvements in low-earth orbit (LEO) flights. With version 8 are new high-resolution textures of the Earth from space, appropriate for very low-altitude space flights. These textures significantly improve the appearance of the Earth at altitudes of around 500,000 feet, roughly. Be sure to keep the cabin air pressure high enough, though, or you may slowly watch your screen fade to black as hypoxia grips you.

One need not travel into outer space to enjoy these new graphics, though. The zooming capabilities of both the camera and the map can take you from a cozy view of your aircraft out to the distance of the Moon (quite literally). This exhilarating ride without even starting the aircraft's engines is demonstrated with this video.

From the flight deck
The outside world certainly got a facelift in version 8, but cockpits aren't remaining stagnant in this release. Certainly one of the most significant features is the addition of 3D cockpits. Only a few of the included aircraft have full 3D cockpit support (with working dials and whatnot), but even aircraft with 2D cockpits can have those cockpits positioned in 3D space as a point of reference. (It's a start, at least.)

In practice, though, I was only able to get the 3D cockpit mode to work for a little while. I must have accidentally toggled a setting somewhere, because now the game is permanently stuck in 2D cockpit mode. I searched up and down the menus but for the life of me cannot find out what I did. When I did have working 3D cockpit support, it was nice, if a bit underwhelming; the included 3D cockpits were low-detail compared to what gamers are used to these days (and sometimes the texture mapping was completely off). Hopefully future cockpit artists will fix this.

Cleared for takeoff
There's a lot more to love in X-Plane 8, too much to list here. New configuration options for joystick users allows gamers to specify in more precise detail their control configuration. A new aircraft format allows designers to specify more precise aircraft configurations. And most noticeably, the game runs much faster thanks to optimizations in many areas of the simulation.

Some of X-Plane's old faults still exist in version 8. Air traffic control is lax and isn't as immersive as it is in, say, Fly! II. Oftentimes when launching the game my joystick configurations became scrambled, and I had to reconfigure from scratch. Some will like, but some will hate, X-Plane's graphics and sound.

At the time of this writing the 8.0-series of X-Plane is already up to version 8.10, with improvements and bug fixes mounting. Developer Austin Meyer is still churning out new updates at an alarming rate, and the young version 8.0-series will likely be around for more than a little while.

X-Plane users come in many flavors: casual gamers, professional pilots, aeronautical engineers, and specialists from many disciplines. X-Plane caters to all of these audiences, offering features that are a necessity to some owners but completely useless for others. (Most casual gamers don't think of buying a real Garmin GPS system to plug into their computer and use with X-Plane, but a pilot who recently purchased the system may value the opportunity to get some ground training with it before using it up in the skies.) With the loads of scenery improvements in version 8, the gaming audience will find a lot to love in the update. Flying over cities is a sight to behold now, and the view in the cockpit is much improved as well (assuming you can get it to work better than I did). And version 8 is only at the beginning of its life, so the $50 purchase may buy the gamer a long relationship with a versatile and ever-growing simulator.

• Still incredibly versatile
• Vastly improved terrain
• Runs faster than version 7

• 3D cockpit implementation is weak
• Still a lack of immersive ATC
• Beautiful cities choke even the fastest CPU's

X-Plane 8
Publisher: GraphSim
Developer: Laminar Research
Download X-Plane 8 Demo
Buy X-Plane 8 now at


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