By FlightSim.Com Staff (6 Oct 1997)
Note: click on any of the pictures to view a full size version of the same image.
he long awaited sequel to the world's most popular flight simulation software is out. The anticipation ended abruptly as it was released sooner than expected...it was like having Christmas come early. As you know the buildup to any new Microsoft flight sim release starts a good six months before it actually hits the shelves, and through sneak peeks and previews from the media and various beta testers one can get a good feeling for what's in store. I am happy to report that FS98 is every bit as fantastic as people who had already used it reported it to be.
I honestly didn't believe all the "Boycott FS98" group, and activists who forecast the release of another buggy version like FS6. At the same time I have been using FS98 for two weeks now, and will honestly tell you it's better than I expected! Microsoft has proven to me that they do listen to consumer requests to some extent and that they realized the previous version was indeed plagued with bugs and fatal errors.
This new version is much more than just an upgrade. It has been refined, polished and has been built to last. In two weeks of flying FS98, I have yet to experience one hang, crash or illegal operation. This is a miracle! It is not 100% bug-free however. Most of the bugs are small and easily ignored and despite them FS98 is so enjoyable. I have lost many hours of sleep thinking of my flights!
INSTALLATIONFirst of all the installation for me went as easy as pie. No problems, no questions or doubts of the outcome. If you know or are not sure if you are using DirectX version 5, you must use the install button and take care of that matter before attempting to run FS98.
The other question I had that I easily answered myself is whether or not to do a "typical" install or a full-blown 500 meg install of every component. Well, I chose the big one, as I could tell in FS98 the full install will take care of all that fiddling I did on FS6 with boosters and copying scenery files to hard disk. I want to spend time flying and not fiddling. I am happy to say, FS98's full install did just that. Install it full, and put the CDRom in your box - you won't need it and you won't need to fiddle with the program internally at all!
After the installation, I quickly changed my joystick drivers, realism, window and spot plane preferences the way I like them. It was all so easy. The menus were similar to other FS version, and worked quicker than in FS6. After setting up everything the way I like it I was ready to fly.
I didn't have a 3D card at the time I first installed FS98 and on my P133 with 48 meg of ram I was surprised how good the frame rate was in 640x480 mode. At Meigs in Very Dense, I was getting out the cockpit about an 11. I was afraid it would be worse. I enjoyed the newer effects of having "image smoothing" turned on. It made the sparkly grass textures blurrier and better looking from up high.
THE NEW CESSNAOnce I jumped in the Cessna and heard the new engine sounds I almost fell out of my chair! As a pilot who has a lot of Skylane time, I thought that idling rumbling that the C182S has was very well done. Without a long story I found the Cessna flew right on the mark for realism and accuracy. And the external views of the C182S are just fantastic. Almost photographic in appearance. By far, the nicest looking Cessna I've ever seen in FSland.
THE BOEING 737I tried out the 737-"300". I pretend it's a -300 because externally it has the body of a 737-300. So anyway it's the same "cartooney" looking plane from the outside. Compared to many of the 3rd party airliners, this one is slightly disappointing to look at. But at least it's to scale, and after knowing it's the only airliner I have at this time, I accepted its visual model.
I am happy to say the flight model is accurate. I don't know if it's better than the FS6 737, but it flies just fine. If you're fully loaded with fuel, don't expect more than a 1000 fpm climb rate to hold a climbing speed of M.70 above let's say FL180. If you're lightly loaded, a healthier climb rate of 2500 fpm can be held up to the FL350 level.
You must realize in flying a jet airliner performance will be poor at heavy weight. I have seen sim pilots complaining they are not able to cruise fast or high when fully loaded. That's true. But I have flown the "737-300" at FL370 and M.76 just fine. Nurse it up to altitude, and you'll get what you expect out of it. That's what they do in real life. However, if at max weight plan a cruise altitude of FL270 or so until you lighten yourself up a bit.
The sounds on the 737 are better than FS6, and the reverse thrust sounds are more robust. The power of the reversers is stronger too. You won't need much braking action to stop. Realize too, that in real life, airline pilots seldom use full reverse as it scares passengers and throws them out of their seats. So, in FS98 use just partial reverse unless you want to really stop fast!
The instrument panel is worse in 640x480 than the FS6 panel was. Worse in the sense that the autopilot panel is done in a tiny font and is nearly impossible to read. The good thing about FS98 is you can "drag" and resize the panels to your liking, so there is a cure for tiny lettering. The instrumentation has been improved and all needles run very smoothly. Airline pilots will be happy that FS98 has an autothrottle and autospoilers. Now, you can take long unmonitored trips without a 3rd party add-on. It took me some time configuring my control sensitivities to my liking, but once I did I must say I am very pleased with the flight quality of the 737.
THE NEW LEARJET 45Next I mastered flying the Learjet. One day recently I flew the LR45 from Montana to New York, stopping in various places along the way. At first I found the Lear very touchy just as a real one is. The hardest thing about flying a real Learjet is to discipline yourself into "undercontroling" it. It's like riding a wild horse. The Learjet must be tamed! Try takeoffs with no flaps. Flaps of 8 degrees results in a violent pitch up. Use of flaps in departures should be done only when the runway length is short - perhaps 4000 feet or less.
Another hint on steadier Lear flying is to take off with your trim well down below the neutral line. At least several marks below the middle. This way your nose up tendency will be reduced greatly and the takeoff climb will be steady. Reducing power immediately after takeoff will keep your plane under control and keep you from busting the 250kt speed limit below 10,000 feet.
The Learjet proved to me its flight model is accurate. I have flown as high as FL410 around M.77. The visual model of the LR45 isn't bad. I especially like the visible ailerons, rudder and flaps that move on the exterior of the airplane. The animation for the landing gear is nicely done too. The sounds of the turbofan engines is fabulous. You'll get a completely different set of sounds when watching from the outside. FS98's use of several individual sound files for each aircraft makes for one of the best features of FS98.
The instrument panel on the Learjet is a disappointment. It is tiny and many details on the real plane were left out. However it is flyable none the less. The Lear's autopilot is large and easy to read. I wish the Lear's autopilot was on the 737! I did stretch my Learjet panel to suit my taste and was able to add in the popup compass and throttle quadrant graphic. This popup panel is very nicely done, and it clearly shows the throttle, labeling, reverser range, flap unit and spoiler handle. It's too bad the detail on this panel wasn't used on the whole Learjet panel itself. But I can accept the Lear's "wimpy" panel because the flight model and sounds are so outstanding. Anyways, soon new panels will be hitting the net as 3rd party designers "crack the code".
BELL JET RANGER HELICOPTERI never mastered the Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopter, but I have had a great time trying! The visual model, flight model and sounds make this a truly enjoyable add-on aircraft that I am sure will result in quite a few new "helo-simmers" being born. The 3D cockpit view is especially breathtaking while in flight. Try flying over city buildings (or even landing on them) at night. The view between your feet is nauseatingly realistic! To date, I have been able to hover at about 15 kts. The other night I buzzed over the city of Washington D.C. and landed the chopper at the White House. Adjusting the landing light on the Jet Ranger is fun too! I woke up Bill and Hillary.
As you can see, the only new aircraft on FS98 are the Lear45, Bell 206 and the 1997 Cessna 182S. Some people have shown disappointment for not having more of a selection to choose from. I too wish something like a general aviation twin or commuter turboprop aircraft would have been included. But soon, the Microsoft Converter will be available and you will be able to use all your favorite airplanes again. With the quality of the planes provided, I set forth to master each one of them. Right now I enjoy not being tempted by other airplanes and am having fun learning the default planes.
THE NEW SOUNDSAll aircraft feature individual sound effects like tire squeals, engine sounds, flap sounds and unique warning and stall sounds. The program is supposed to present "wind noise" while flying, but for some reason I hear none on my SB16, while everyone else tells me they hear it.
The FS98 sounds are a huge improvement over all previous versions. Each aircraft has .wav files assigned to them and are kept in their own folders. The neatest sound is the wheel chirp, rumbling and rattling that occurs in the Cessna on touchdown. They clearly sampled the true landing noises for this one!
The engine sounds more precisely change with varying power settings. And unlike in FS6, the 737 does not get silent when you pull the power to idle. Another first is the "ident" feature on the nav radios. You can tune and ident the Morse code sounds just like in a real plane. And the audio of the Morse code is crisp and clear.
MENUSAll menus are easy to use, and work fast. I was very impressed with the FS98 interface and found it very user friendly. If you're familiar with FS5 or FS6 you'll find the new menus very similar so you'll quickly be able to find your way around.
AIRPORT FACILITY DIRECTORYThe online Airport Facility Directory works like a charm. All you do is interact with the world map, to home in on your desired area, and then you can select to view complete details on any airports or navaids included in the simulator. Lacking, however, is a search feature so once you have a list of an area you'll have to scroll through it to find the information you're looking for.
SCENERYMy favorite part of the new FS98 is that we finally have complete USA scenery! For the very first time in flightsim history we have the entire USA complete with most of the airports and terrain features found in the real world. This is a major breakthrough. Yes, FS6 had more airports than FS5, but the airports were mostly just runway slabs in the middle of nowhere. Now, these runway slabs are often accompanied by the accurate placement of taxiways and buildings! So far in my travels, I have yet to find an inaccurate airport! And when you're not landing and taking off you will see more accurate coastlines, photorealistic mountains (the bright green mountains are finally gone for good!) that rival anything you've ever seen before, improved city textures with the addition of 20+ more "3D" cities and many more real world objects placed throughout the countryside.
I have seen many towers, water tanks and other objects that never existed in previous versions (though according to Microsoft the concentration of such objects is higher in the northeast U.S. than in other areas). Nighttime lighting is pretty much the same in regular graphics mode (I will mention the full 3D effects later).
The rest of the world has always been decorated with the great add-ons of the past like Hawaii, Japan, Caribbean and others but until now, the USA has been the most boring place to visit. Now those add-ons are built into the default scenery. This alone saves install time, as many of us spent hours just setting up all our favorite sceneries in FS5 or FS6. With the world waiting for you - it's time to explore! My recommendation is to head for the great Rocky Mountains where flying the Cessna will be a challenge to say the least. Try flying from Helena MT - West Yellowstone and be sure to bring along an extra oxygen bottle!
WEATHERThe weather has not changed one bit since FS95. Yes, I would love to have rounded puffy cumulous and thunderheads to navigate through just like in the real world, but I have realized this still may be years away... at least in an FS product. With the advent of my next paragraph's subject, I finding myself not caring whether or not the weather was improved.
3D EFFECTSWell, this is the big reason FS98 is far ahead of any PC sim I have used so far. The moment I installed my Diamond Monster 3D Card my eyes could not believe what they were seeing. I wish I could capture screenshots to show you but in 3D mode, Win95 will not capture FS98 3D mode screenshots. So you have to take my word for it. It will transform your FS98 into a sim with real airline simulator style graphics. Yes, that's right! I immediately saw the mountains and ground textures to be all blended, smoothed out and sparkle-free.
The glittering ground sceneries and bright green grass between runways was now a dull, smooth green that looked like real turf, grass and dirt. There were areas of brown too. The pavement was now smooth and lifelike, and no longer looked like slates. And the external views of the airplanes were just phenomenal. I couldn't believe that 737 looked so good now. It had the sunshine glinting off its polished skin. It looked like shiny paint! And wait till you see the now polished and smoothed Cessna 182S. It looks just like the real thing!
I now felt this was the most exciting moment of my flightsim life. It was! Nothing had ever compared to the excitement I felt when first taxiing my 737 in this truly unbelievable almost photorealistic world. Plus, my frame rate had gone from an 11 to a 23. Yes, that's right. My P133 was now as good as a P200. If my wife would have been home at the time, my screaming of glee would have given her an earache for sure.
After blasting once around the traffic pattern in the 737, I realized I'd never go back to any other version of FS. And, now I can use the 3D cockpit views that FS98 employs. What used to be a choking 3 or 4 in the C182S, is now a blazing 14 in 3D view. I can actually fly, pan my views and do flights with the Cessna 3D viewpoint - something I thought I'd never be able to do in 2D. And the prop spinning in front of you and out the corners really makes you believe you're there. You can actually watch the RPM change the spinning motion of the prop. Awesome to say the least.
If you've seen the 3D inside cockpit view in 2D only, you haven't experienced it the way it was meant. And for some real fun, now fly the Jet Ranger from the 3D cockpit view and look down between your feet while flying over a city at night. You'll grab for your armrest.
The same ol' FS weather now takes on a whole new look. Clouds have no definition anymore. They are real clouds. Translucent and see-through. The most dramatic flying you can have is to set a thin broken layer near the ground and fly just above it. You will see glimpses of the ground through the undercast just as you do in real life. And since the ground textures now all look 3D (trees, houses, streetlights at night, water tanks, highways etc.) the view from foggy and cloudy skies is very impressive.
The sunrise/sunset effects are equally impressive. One end of the sky will have darker blue skies and where the sun is, you'll see an orangy-reddish glow that seems to blend with the other parts of the sky with an unlimited palette. It's photographic. With some high cirrus in the sky, you've got a really great combination. Even a sunrise on a foggy airport with low visibility will create an eerie glow.
COMPLAINTSDispite the numerous complaints many Internet forums seem to generate, I have found those experienced with "FS tweaking" and computer optimizing are extremely impressed with FS98. You'll be happy this version takes up much less time configuring than any previous version. Other than adjusting my window views and joystick sensitivities the way I like, and of course changing the flight model to realistic - I was up and running in minutes after a full installation.
There may be some missing VORs, and other navaid quirks but that's to be expected. To have everything in the world is no small task. And for just $50.00, it's even a more amazing accomplishment in my opinion. My big complaint and continuing problem is that the program produces annoying "pauses" and frame rate slowdowns in varying levels of frequency. Near New York, you may find everything just stopping for a few seconds, with no hard drive access, while out in the country or away from big cities, the flying is almost never interrupted for more than half a second. Everyone has this, but the issue has never been addressed. I don't know if it's Win95, or FS code that prevents a smooth flying environment in all locations. It may be the complexity of all the scenery. Whatever the reason, I hope in the future this is fixed. Nothing worse than a landing that's interrupted by a scenery pause. I have heard 200 MHz P2's still have pausing. In that case my P133 will remain fine for FS98.
FINAL CONCLUSIONI can finally say I will never go back to FS5.1 or FSW95. The improvements far out number any quirks I can find. The only thing that reminds me of previous versions as far back as FS4 is the weather (or lack thereof). But as I mentioned, getting a good 3D card will do wonders for your flightsimming. FS98 is truly a good add-on if you don't have a 3D card. If you do, FS98 is the most exciting and realistic "seat-of-your-pants" flightsim I have ever used to date.
I always say that Microsoft's simulator versions always just have that "something special" feeling of true flight in liquid air, and FS98 continues that basic characteristic that no other flight simulation graphics engine has rivaled as of yet. It just "feels right" to this real pilot.. and that makes me one happy simmer.