Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Microsoft Flight Simulator has a great port on Xbox Series X / S

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Microsoft Flight Simulator has finally arrived on Xbox Series X and Series S consoles – and it’s simply terrific. We like to talk about ‘next generation experiences’ at Digital Foundry and this is up there with the best. In fact, in many respects, it is simply in a class of its own. When it launched on PC, we described it as the new Crysis in terms of the way it’s able to push hardware to the limit, so successfully executing a console port was never going to be easy, no matter how capable the console is. Yes there are some drawbacks, but the takeaway is that Series X is delivering a visual experience up there with PC at its best, while Series S – although compromised – is borderline miraculous to behold bearing in mind this is a $299/£249 console with onerous memory constraints.

Series S is intriguing because Flight Simulator is a beast on PC, so the concept is getting it to run and look good on a four teraflop GPU paired with only 8GB of accessible memory is an extreme challenge. Resolution is therefore cut to 1080p, with no kind of reconstruction. It’s native 1080p, with 1080p UI but just like Series X, there is no sign of dynamic resolution scaling. However, there is the sense that Series S is compromised in other respects beyond the pixel count and level of detail is the main casualty – draw distance is pulled in (to my eye, more equivalent to PC’s medium setting) and while terrain generally looks fine, it’s the cities that suffer most. Not only is the draw distance pared back, closer detail seems to show lower fidelity models streaming in. It still looks good judged by its own terms, but clearly there was some hard work needed here to get this to work.

But it’s all there. Microsoft Flight Simulator literally gives you access to the entire world thanks to its unique world generation systems, backed up by streaming from the cloud. Developer Asobo Studio delivers incredible visuals on multiple fronts: terrain rendering is first class, the sheer density from the cityscapes is still awe-inspiring while atmospheric rendering, cloud simulation and weather characteristics look simply phenomenal. In the past, we’ve talked about how challenging this game is to run – in fact, we’ve embedded a library video further on down the page from the RTX 3080 launch showing that even one of the most powerful GPUs on the planet can’t deliver 4K60, even with our carefully blended range of optimised settings.

There’s an interesting balance between Series consoles then: the X leans into image reconstruction at the expense of core resolution, freeing up GPU resources to double down on detail. For Series S, detail is pared back (perhaps necessary bearing in mind the memory constraints) but it looks like a full 1080p presentation. In my view, Asobo has made wise choices to get the best Flight Simulator experience out of each of the machines – but this does lead to an interesting disparity that actually favours the junior Xbox. To put it simply, Flight Simulator runs more smoothly on Xbox Series S.

It’s perhaps ironic that our only criticisms with the game are all derived from the fact that it is fundamentally a PC port – and it’s difficult to be too disappointed by this bearing in mind that we’ve been playing the PC game for over a year and so we understand just how taxing and challenging it is to run well. For the record, all of the performance dips we noted on Series X – right down to the 787 Dreamliner cockpit issue – are also present on the PC version of the game, which is how we found them in the first place on a game of this vast size! With that said, the PC game has also been improved with much-needed CPU optimisations that Asobo presentations suggest will be transformative. We’ll be following up on that – and sharing more on the console versions of Flight Simulator – soon.

News Summary:

  • Microsoft Flight Simulator has a great port on Xbox Series X / S
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