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Throughout the history of PC gaming, there’s always been a back and forth between hardware and software iterations, with each new generation of games providing a reason to upgrade your hardware, and new developments in the world of hardware pushing the boundaries of the potential of what games can do. Titles like Crysis, Far Cry, Half-Life 2, Quake III, and if we go back far enough the original Doom have served not just as fantastic games in their own right, but excuses to upgrade your system, and perfect games to test the limits of an all-new or freshly upgraded gaming PC.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is available in three versions:
Today, players might look to the futuristic dystopian action RPG Cyberpunk 2077 to showcase the capabilities of their new PC, or to open-world epics like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Grand Theft Auto 5, but there’s perhaps another unassuming game that can push your hardware to its limit that is less interested in explosions and gunfights and is instead focused on the simple joy and beauty of flight. Microsoft Flight Simulator is, somewhat unexpectedly, the newest game to either test the capabilities of a new gaming rig, or even an excuse to upgrade.
It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a game that really tests the limits of what current PC hardware can handle, and it’s clear that Microsoft Flight Simulator is one such game. With accurately simulated and modeled weather effects, expansive vistas rendered at impressive scales with accurately simulated topographical data, and intricately detailed planes and airports, it’s a graphical showpiece that is designed to run not just on today’s PCs but to fully utilize future advancements in gaming hardware. The official system requirements list an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 as the “ideal” card to run this game on, although these requirements were published sometime before the latest generation of RTX 30-series cards had even been officially announced. Even with the top end card from the previous generation, you are going to struggle to max out graphical fidelity, framerate, and resolution. This makes it clear that whilst Microsoft made sure to optimize Flight Simulator to run acceptably on present-day hardware, it was also made with one eye on the future.
This game is particularly taxing on your system during takeoff and landing, and this is where you’re going to run into minor performance issues on the vast majority of gaming systems available today. It’s far from unplayable, but if you want to be able to maintain smooth performance without compromising on visuals or resolution, you’ll be wanting to keep an eye on Nvidia’s upcoming lineup of 30-series GPUs.
That’s not to say it’s a poorly optimized game, or that you can’t find any enjoyment in Flight Simulator on current systems. It’s still very playable on modest gaming PCs, but you’re going to have to settle for reduced visual fidelity and image quality. It’s going to be particularly interesting to see how well Flight Simulator runs on the base model Xbox One from 2013, which Microsoft says that it’s still coming to. What we’re looking at here is a game that has a reasonable performance floor, playable on a wide range of existing systems, but also has an extremely high-performance ceiling, where it’s built to take advantage of hardware that’s not available to buy today, but will be soon. If you’re planning on assembling the ultimate rig for playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, in addition to various other peripherals and specialized hardware, you’re going to want to seriously consider an Nvidia RTX 3090 or RTX 3080 for the ultimate graphical performance.
Beyond just the GPU, Flight Simulator is another example of games with increasingly large install sizes, with the standard install coming in at 100GB before you even consider any DLC, mods, or future updates. It is playable on a mechanical drive, but that is going to have a negative impact on load times and performance, so we’d recommend a solid-state drive of a decent capacity if you’re hoping to be able to fit more than just Flight Simulator on it.
We can certainly imagine looking back at this title in years to come, to see just how far it can push gaming hardware over time. This kind of game that also functions as a benchmarking tool useful for a barometer for progress. “Can it run Crysis?” has long been a question facing any new gaming hardware over the years, but perhaps we need to be asking “Can it run Flight Simulator?” instead, going forward.
Lewie skews Chaotic Good where possible, and loves pressing buttons, viewing pixels and listening to sounds. He's written for publications like Rock Paper Shotgun, Eurogamer, VG247 and Kotaku UK, and spent 13 years running Savy Gamer. If you ever get the chance you should ask him to tell you the story about that time he had a fight with a snake on an island off the coast of Cambodia.