Flight Unlimited II
On the six of Microsoft Flight Simulator
by Peter Smith
Looking Glass
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REVIEW: Flight Unlimited II

hen Looking Glass unleashed Flight Unlimited on the public, it created a minor sensation in the gaming world. The simulator was a technological marvel with its fluid dynamic flight model and spectacular terrain. But in the end there wasn’t all that much to do. The focus was on aerobatics – an acquired taste for many of us – and the flight area was fairly small. Eventually the game faded from the memory of all but the most dedicated flight-sim grognard.
Enter Flight Unlimited II, Looking Glass’s next iteration of the series. The flight area has been vastly expanded to 11,000 square miles of the San Francisco Bay region modeled down to four meters/pixel. Project Director Constantine Hantzopoulos estimates it would take two and a half hours to fly straight across the included flight area.

While the fluid dynamic flight model has been tweaked and enhanced so aerobatic junkies can still do their thing, the rest of us can spend lots of time touring around, exploring the nooks and crannies of San Francisco. Fly under the Golden Gate, buzz Alcatraz, then head up into the mountains for some sight-seeing. The realistic terrain allows VFR flying, which means the pilot follows roads and uses landmarks to navigate. If you’re flying at night, the program allows for celestial navigation. It checks your system clock and places stars and the moon appropriately.

Hantzopoulos stresses that the team is striving for “immersive reality” in a living, breathing world. Up to 600 other aircraft (25 different kinds, all told) can be in the air at the same time, and while the vast majority will not be in visual range, you’ll be able to hear their chatter on the radio. Contact a radio tower, and you’ll get real instructions. The computer AI uses a series of radio chatter “chunks” that it strings together into coherent sentences (the highly structured style of air traffic radio operators helps here). If the radio operator tells you there’s a commercial jet to your left, look out the window, because it is surely there. If he tells you to tune to the weather frequency, there’s going to be a good reason for you to do so.

Speaking of weather, Flight Unlimited II models day and night, cloudy and clear skies, wind and rain. The rain has to be seen to be believed. Sure, it’s eye candy, but seeing the droplets hit the windscreen and then streak up over the canopy is still pretty impressive. Wind is fully modeled. Set it to strong and take a Cessna over a mountain range. The up and down drafts will buffet your plane like a dead leaf at the tail end of autumn.

Another innovation is the seaplane, which you can land on any body of water. Botch the landing, and the thing will sink. Taxiing on water is something you’ve never seen in any sim before now. As you’re coming up to speed for take-off, the plane will start to bob around on the waves. External views show water splashing around.

Looking Glass is clearly aiming straight for the Microsoft Flight Simulator crowd with Flight Unlimited II. You get 11,000 square miles out of the box. After that, Looking Glass will periodically release add-on packs featuring more terrain, planes, or features. Already planned is a network/Internet add-on, since the initial package will only support single player mode. Hantzopoulos is also hoping to encourage the production of add-on packs by third-party developers.

Flight Unlimited II is still in the development stage, but already it looks like it might hit the target Looking Glass is reaching for: to become the ultimate civilian flight simulator. After spending a few hours with the team, seeing them feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm, it was easy to see that these gaming wizards are once again brewing up something special. And after Flight Unlimited II is out the door? Well, the wallpaper on Hantzopoulos’s Windows screen is a mock-up title screen of Flight Combat… but that’s another story.
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