Flight Simulator X Acceleration Expansion Pack
By Andrew Herd (26 November 2007)
t is big. Very big. It eats hard disk. Even the box is big, far bigger than the contents would lead you to expect, given that they consist of a single DVD and a flimsy 21 page manual. It takes longer than forever to install, it has to be validated over the Internet, it contains 'mild violence' (and so in theory is unsuitable if you are aged less than ten), the minimum system spec given on the box uses type so tiny that only nine year olds or less are likely to have good enough eyesight to read it, it rewrites all the key commands, and FSX spends about four hours rebuilding its scenery database the next time you load it, but...
...Acceleration is the first addon Microsoft have released for Flight Simulator in a long, long while and it definitely grows on you. You get three new aircraft; a ton of missions, ranging across every level from beginner to expert; and a slew of new detailed scenery, including a ski resort, a carrier and a distressed trawler. The theme of Acceleration is that 'lives are on the line and fans are in the stands', so if you are looking for some good, old fashioned fun, Acceleration could be the place to find it. This is an addon for FSX and you must have FSX to run it.
System requirements are quoted as being: FSX, Windows XP SP2 or Vista, a 2.0 Ghz processor or better, a gig of RAM, 4 gigs or more of hard disk space, a DirectX 9 or better video card with at least 128 Mb of RAM and Shader Model 1.1 or better. I quote from the website - it possibly says this on the box, but I am considerably older than ten. The installation takes a long, long time to complete, what with copying over, expanding and installing all the files and then the first time you run FSX, you have to validate Acceleration over the 'net and then there is another delay while FSX rebuilds its scenery database, but at least you only have to suffer the pain once. I did the review on a 2.66 Core2Duo with 4 Gb of RAM and a 768 Mb GeForce 8800GTX running Vista and it had no problems running any of the new aircraft or missions.
The new aircraft are: an Augusta Westland EH101 chopper, in thirteen different liveries including the RAF, USAF, USN, US Coast Guard, US Customs, RCAF, Tokyo Police, Portugese Army, Danish SAR and some civilian schemes; a Boeing F/A-18 in Blue Angels, NASA, RAAF, RCAF, SAF, USN, USMC, and some generic liveries, making fourteen in all; and a racing P-51D in nine different schemes, including Miss America.
The aircraft look great in spot plane view and are much the same standard as the default planes internally, which isn't surprising, given that both sets were developed by Aces Studio. This means that you get solid code, but can expect to find simplified panels and some non-functional systems in the virtual cockpits of the more complex aircraft. This must have been a conscious marketing decision, because the developers are capable of far better than this, but it does have the advantage that it doesn't take forever to get your head around flying them. Where it does become a problem is with the EH101, because in order to navigate it, you need to use the virtual cockpit and the way the panel has been implemented makes the task something of a nightmare - chiefly because the POV has been set so far back that the gauges are unreadable. Yeah, okay, that is what the A key is for and you can move the POV around if you use TrackIR or assign keys on your yoke, but to read the gauges properly, you have to go in so close it isn't possible to see over the top of the glareshield, which isn't the best idea when you are flying in tough weather on missions which demand you keep your wits about you. Of course, you can navigate in the missions by following the Mission Compass and Mission Pointer, which can be turned on and off by pressing U, but if you are the kind of simmer who likes to do everything by the book and whose idea of as real as it gets does not include following big green arrows in the sky, then Acceleration is not for you. If your bag is correct procedural flight, this addon isn't going to deliver - but on the other hand, if you like to destress by blasting off a carrier and screaming skyward on full afterburner, we are talking.
Acceleration includes three planes, several detailed locations and 37 new missions, the catch being that the missions are a mixed bag and the locations aren't much use for anything else, unless you enjoy flying airliners around inflatable pylons, or have the urge to fly choppers around basic Alpine resorts, or like to visit Reno on race day. Another issue is that the blurb really lays it on and if your expectations of what FSX can deliver aren't grounded on experience, disappointment looms: take, for instance, the trawler rescue, which is pictured on the back of the box. The artist has really gone to town and we are treated to a fantastic image of a fishing vessel struggling in huge seas - the catch being that the worst sea state FSX can generate is a gentle swell - so in reality, what you actually get is a fairly boring chopper flight in poor-ish weather, followed by an even less exciting search for the trawler, which (assuming you do manage to find it) is bobbing about on the sort of waves that wouldn't trouble a kid on a lilo. Okay, so the wind does make it tricky to lower the winch accurately, but given that the trawler is a sitting duck, thanks to the calm seas, so it shouldn't tax the average simmer to rescue the virtual crew and head home. The flight has you heading southeast toward the Danish town of Trelleborg, then outbound from the Kastrup VOR (112.5) radial 130 for 19 miles (30.5 km), then flying to the Barth NDB (373.0), roughly following the ferry route to Rostock, at which point you can stop admiring the glorious skies that Aces have supplied to stop you wondering why you don't just go and make a cup of coffee instead of concentrating on the less than completely fascinating task of wandering about the German Bight like a lost soul.
If you gain the impression that I think some of the missions lack pizazz, you have got the general idea. There are a couple of beginner level missions, one of which involves flying the Secretary of Defense around Edwards AFB in the King Air (see what I mean about exciting), the other has you supplying virtual apples to a couple of resorts and picking up an abandoned plane. After that, we get into the more interesting stuff, starting with a 'tactical approach' to Edwards in the Lear, helped by your virtual co-pilot, who gives instructions; a couple of practice Reno Air Racing missions; a rhino rescue in Kwazulu (about as exciting as rescuing the lost baby elephant in the default missions); finding a missing worker in a snow-storm in the Cascades, flying the Maule; flying air cover for a rocket launch test, which puts you in the F/A-18 for a carrier launch, and is more like it; three Red Bull pylon racing practice missions at Istanbul, Templehof and Longlet, giving you an opportunity to view some of the new scenery; a high altitude UFO intercept in the F/A-18; a trip in the default 737 to simulate weightless flight for your passengers; a customs intercept of a bandit, using the EH-101; and a carrier tutorial. Then you are into the advanced missions, starting with rescuing geologists off Mount Helen in the EH101; more carrier practice (you have to land, this time); lugging a heavy pulley up to repair the cablecar to Rio's Sugarloaf in the EH101; more Red Bull practice against a plane flown by the computer at the same three locations; an EH101 kayak rescue off the Keys; another mission in the chopper to find a B-58 and bring it back to Edwards; the recovery of a rocket payload from an aborted launch, again in the EH101; a tricky flight to a fishing lake and back in the Caravan; an EH101 relocation flight; an advanced sling load tutorial in the chopper; an avalanche rescue in the Cascades; and a mission in the chopper that is so secret I can't tell you what it is about. Finally there are the advanced missions, starting with the Baltic sea rescue described above, which in fairness is quite tricky; a carrier landing in instrument conditions; and finally, six different Red Bull air races, including three of the actual courses used last year.
The inclusion of the Red Bull Races in each difficulty level might seem like a cheat, but as you move from beginner to intermediate and beyond, so does the time needed to complete the course decrease, making you fly more and more accurately and perform tighter and tighter turns, before ultimately, aerobatic manouevers are necessary if you even hope to remain in contention. If you have flown the pylon racing missions in vanilla FSX, you will be aware that getting around the course ain't the easiest task in creation and all I can say is that if you thought that was bad - just wait for Acceleration. I had to try extremely hard to keep up against the computer even at Intermediate level and even then, I kept on missing out the odd pylon.
If you do buy the addon for the pylon racing, it is well worth while investing in TrackIR, as some of the turns are incredibly tight and require you to look 'upward' through the canopy, while performing a 90 degree bank if you have any chance of getting to the next gate. So the pylons are fun, but very demanding; and there is no way of fooling yourself about how well you did, because at the end of the mission, your stats pop up. Although the pylon racing is probably the hardest challenge in the pack, each mission has a set of goals that must be satisfied in order to complete it successfully - so, for instance, the 'vomit comet' zero-G trip in the 737 requires you to fly at least four parabolic push-over maneuvers, each of which keeps the G-force between +0.1 and -0.2 G for at least 20 seconds, once agan, easier said than done, although it must be said that getting this right doesn't exactly make the blood boil. The carrier launches and recoveries are probably the most exciting aspect of the addon after the pylon racing and require no less skill, given that even getting the aircraft to engage the catapult is a challenge - just make sure you have checked out what the key codes required for this are before you start, because otherwise you will end up rewinding and starting over. Fortunately, the virtual co-pilot is there to help you throughout and his advice is well worth listening to; just remember not to release the brakes on the carrier missions without the engines started, because if you do, several million dollars of airplane will roll backward and go splosh into the ocean.
Verdict? Aces have tried to please everyone, which makes the addon something of a mixed bag. The name implies speed and the box promises 'heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping action' but some of the missions are anything but that, requiring long flights with limited reward at the end of them. However, the air racing is very exciting indeed and the average simmer will need a great deal of practice to complete the courses, let alone to get placed at expert level. The additional scenery favors the air racing and you get a great new plane in the form of the Mustang to fly at Reno, while the F/A-18 gives you the chance to play Top Gun to your heart's content. All in all, when you throw in the EH101, there isn't anything quite like this addon out there and if Acceleration isn't perfect, it offers plenty of challenges and the chance to have a lot of fun.