X-Plane’s origins reach all the way back to 1993 as a Macintosh-only flight simulator. In that time it has built a loyal fan base with a winning mix of beautiful graphics, accessible controls, and deep, immersive gameplay. On the surface at least, it seems like a tricky task to distill complex controls onto the iOS platform while retaining the core features which made X-Plane a success.
So, have developers Laminar Research pulled off this difficult feat? Read on after the break to find out.
Upon launching X-Plane there is a brief loading screen but no game menu, the user is placed directly within the cockpit. Though I am by no means an expert on flight simulators, the game feels just like I would expect a flight simulator to feel, with impressive graphics and a host of in-game options further cementing this impression.
The in-cockpit view feels a little overwhelming at first, especially when one realises that the buttons on display have a purpose and can be interacted with, but touching the screen and selecting the other first person, non-cockpit, viewing angle offers a perspective which is both visually pleasing and intuitive to use, as you can see in the screenshot above. There are also several outside viewpoints which show off the attention to detail in regard to both landscape and plane.
Hardcore flight sim enthusiasts may roll their eyes at my describing X-Plane as both realistic and challenging, but those new to the genre will be pleased that it is just that. The learning curve to begin taking off and landing is relatively steep, though not overly so, and I believe that X-Plane is the ideal balance between offering a challenge while remaining fun, thus ensuring hours are spent mastering the game.
Developers Laminar Research have opted to make full use of the iPad’s accelerometer to control the plane’s movement and though these controls are sensitive, they are also very useable and immensely satisfying.
Here lies the crux of X-Plane; it is a game which demands an investment of your time and attention, but in reward offers a feeling of satisfaction rarely matched elsewhere.
Options, Lots of Options
The basic playing of X-Plane involves the user taking off, navigating to new airports and then landing. This may not sound all that exciting but it’s actually very rewarding and the concentration required to maintain a steady course ensures that hours are notched up without boredom. Once the user has mastered the basics however, there are plenty of other features to get stuck into.
X-Plane comes with twenty two large regions to explore, each of which has several airstrips to take off from and has configurable weather and time of day/night.
One can also choose to be placed mid-air at random points on the map, on the landing strip ready for takeoff, or inserted into the cockpit for the final approach before landing.
Each of these landscape options are also matched by a healthy choice of aircraft to try out, all with unique handling, speed, and weight. The variety of aircraft on offer includes several well-known plane models and types, in addition to gliders and even helicopters. Though there are far too many to mention here, a few notables are:
- Boeing 747
- Airbus A380
- B2 Stealth Bomber
- Space Shuttle Orbiter
Different Styles of Gameplay
X-Plane’s gameplay changes depending on the user’s choice of aircraft. For example, flying the Space Shuttle results in very precise instructions on how it should be flown. Failure to do so can result in a dramatic explosion.
Choosing the Seabee water plane on the other hand, allows the option of taking off and landing on water, while flying one of the several fighter jets enables aircraft-carrier takeoff and a dogfight with an enemy plane. All this adds longevity to the game and increases its value for money.
One of X-Plane’s features which I particularly enjoyed was its extensive options on the failure of aircraft parts. One can choose from a series of failures and allot each one either a yellow (unreliable) or red (complete failure) marker – with the yellow marker often resulting in the user able to fly for a while before being hit with some major issues.
This can culminate in interesting scenarios, such as flying a Boeing 747 in Chicago on approach to land, then being hit by a bird strike and the loss of all instruments; particularly exhilarating if you’re as nervous a flyer in real life as myself!
X-Plane has been improved with updates and features since it was first launched and it can be reasonably hoped that this will continue in the future. Though I’ve only covered some of the features and options available here it should hopefully be very clear that if you’ve got any interest in playing an immersive and rewarding flight simulator on your iPad, I would not hesitate to recommend X-Plane.