There is a selection of aircraft including a seaplane, a luxury jet and a helicopter. There’s a community devoted to adding more models to the original list, though currently I can find only aircraft designed for the previous version of Fly! The world of flight sims is divided into combat and realism genres. Personally, I can’t get excited about flying from London to San Francisco in real time, but I know people do. I would rather be launching air-to-air missiles at enemy MiGs, and trying to land on aircraft carriers. Missions like this are found in combat flight-sims, Fly! II has its own adventure scripts. The Fly! Adventures are a little less frantic – such as getting the plane across the country, but with only just enough fuel. This doesn’t get my heart pounding, but perhaps it appeals to commercial pilots when they are relaxing in the evening. That’s a good point, actually. I always thought of pilots as being dashing heroes of the sky. Not the kind of people to take pleasure in reliving their airborne exploits on the small screen. Surely they are too busy charming flight attendants while drinking gin and tonics. I can’t believe real pilots want to fly fake planes. So presumably, the people buying flight-sims are aspirational pilots, making do with the closest thing to flying. I’m an aspirational pilot, but I would much rather be dog-fighting with Fritz in a Sopwith Camel than flying executives to an urgent meeting in the Florida Keys. Fly by wire
Another level of realism is available by playing, if that’s the right word, online. You can immerse yourself in a virtual world with other virtual pilots. The level of realism in Fly! II is in some ways extremely high, yet in others very basic. The aircraft you fly are lovingly recreated in every detail, the dashboard (or whatever the aeronautical equivalent is) is based on the real thing, even including a cigarette lighter. The controls are as close to the real thing as possible, and the aircraft themselves are exact models of the full-size ones. Details like the propeller speed and windows all add to the realism. Obviously, if you were to map the whole world with the same detail as is applied to the aircraft, it would take until the end of time. So simplifications must be made. The weather is very well done, and the ground as seen from the air looks much like the real thing. You can see fields and towns and lakes. This is fine until you fly a little lower. The towns are more obviously pixelated and the landscape is very flat. Some efforts have been made to render more popular cities in greater detail – however, this just shows how the rest of the landscape is unrealistic. For example, San Francisco has the more recognizable landmarks, such as the Trans America Pyramid, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. There are other tall buildings represented, but nothing in between them. Also, the whole city is shown as being flat, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually flying the aircraft feels very realistic, though you will be well advised to have at least a joystick or yoke to control it. I found I could land my aeroplane quite easily, which probably points to the realism being a little toned down. I’m sure if I really tried flying a plane with only a cursory glance at the manual it would end in a much less gentle touchdown. The helicopter, on the other hand, proved far beyond my piloting skills. While Fly! II is a capable, intricate and highly detailed game, it doesn’t quite feel finished. Fortunately, people are dedicated to adding to it, improving the scenery, aircraft selection, audio for control-tower feedback and all sorts of other stuff. The end result is a game that forms a hub for a whole community of flight-sim fans.
If realistic flight-sims are your thing, then this is a must-have product. It isn’t without its quirks, and the manual is a little thin. It will run under OS X, but I found it too slow to be useable. So ideally you will be running OS 9, on a fast Mac, with a recent graphics card. The requirements are less than that, but if it’s realism you want, then you’ll need the latest hardware. In fact, you could spend thousands turning your house into the cockpit of a 747 if you want to – there really doesn’t seem to be any limit to what you can spend making your flight-sim more immersive. If you want realism, you won’t find more realistic aircraft on the Mac.
This review appeared in the Expo 2001 issue