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The Best Flight Sims in 2021

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Everyone has fantasised about being able to fly. It can seem like a near impossibility for some to actually end up behind the controls of a plane flying among the clouds (double so if you dream of flying around the outer reaches of space). While it may not be the real thing, the range of flight simulation games currently available are the closest to getting the feeling of air travel without ever needing to leave your own home.

Some of these sims are easy to pick up and play while others have an incredibly steep learning curve. A lot of this comes down to the control methods, some have streamlined controls that are perfectly suited for keyboard and mouse/ controller support while others will be more immersive and easier to control with a hands-on throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) setup. Bear in mind that many of these games take a beefy PC to run smoothly so you may want to invest in a *flight sim PC for the most immersive experience.

Best Flight Simulators to Download Now

Microsoft Flight Simulator

  • Release Date: August 2020
  • Base Game Price: £59.99

With this game, flight simulators broke out of their niche. The game was all over the streaming scene across Twitch and YouTube and for good reason. The game is an incredibly robust and realistic flying experience that allows you to pick from a variety of planes and fly from just about any airport in the world. It pushes the flight sim genre forward through the use of high-resolution satellite images using Bing Maps and Azure AI  to create an immensely detailed 3D scan of the entire world. The sense of realism is unmatched when flying over the world’s great monuments or even your hometown!

Although the game is compatible with keyboard and mouse it’s best experienced with a proper HOTAS setup. A basic setup like the Thrustmaster T.Flight will cost you around £109.99 for the full kit and is compatible with other games on this list. Microsoft Flight Simulator is even VR compatible with Oculus Rift, Valve Index and Windows Mixed Reality devices for full immersion. It used to be a gargantuan download at 170GB but that’s since been reduced to a more manageable 83GB. If you have any interest in flying simulators then this should be the first game you try out.

War Thunder

  • Release Date: August 2013
  • Price: Free to Play

Aerial dogfighting in military planes is a fantasy of many plane enthusiasts. One that’s been catered to through video games for many years. War Thunder may be the easiest point of entry for PC gamers. Not only does the game offer multiplayer aerial combat but it also allows you to get behind the controls of combat tanks and naval ships in all-out war simulation. Hard to believe you can play entirely for free!

For the purest simulation of aerial combat, the mode ‘Full Real Battle’ restricts you to the cockpit view and leaves the player to control every aspect of the plane with no guidance. This makes for intense aerial combat that is immensely satisfying when you shoot an enemy plane out of the sky. The game allows for complete customisation for a HOTAS setup but works perfectly well on mouse and keyboard control. At the reasonable price of £0, you have no reason to pass up giving it a try.

Elite Dangerous

  • Release Date: April 2015
  • Price: £19.99

While Microsoft Flight Simulator managed to create a stunning recreation of the world, Elite Dangerous sets its sights on creating a fully explorable Milky Way. This space exploration game puts you behind the controls of your very own spaceship as you explore the stars and perform any number of tasks from mining, trading, bounty hunting etc. The real draw of the game is in the controls of the spacecraft itself, there’s quite a big learning curve to keeping everything under control which makes simple exploration and especially space dogfighting that more immersive and intense. Being able to land the ship is an achievement in and of itself!

It also includes VR support on all major Head-Mounted Displays so you can see the cosmos through your own eyes. It also has good support for HOTAS setups and configuring your key bindings in the game’s options is pretty simple for making simple tweaks for making it feel just right. If you’ve ever dreamed of going where no man has gone before then check this game out!

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

  • Release Date: January 2019
  • Price: £49.99

Incredibly far removed from capturing any sort of realism in its gameplay, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown offers adrenaline rush arcade gameplay that the series has been known for since its origins as an arcade cabinet. The game is focused on progressing through missions where the player must take down enemy aircraft with full 360 control over the plane your pilot. There are even multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch where two teams of four try to be the last team standing or Battle Royale where it’s every pilot for themselves.

The arcade-style gameplay makes it perfect for anyone to pick up and play if you want a quick burst of aerial combat action. The game is built more with a controller in mind but there are ways of getting a HOTAS joystick to work with the game. While some may be turned away by its lack of realism, Ace Combat 7 is incredibly fun for explosive military flight sim action.

Aerofly FS 2

  • Release Date: November 2017
  • Price: £45.99

For some the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator can be a little too pricey and more than a medium-spec PC to handle. AeroFly FS 2 offers a similar experience for a little cheaper and with decent graphical fidelity to boot. With over 200 airport destinations and robust flight controls, there’s more than enough on offer here for flight junkies to sink their teeth into. There’s also VR options to push the level of immersion even further and supports USB connected HOTAS controllers. This is a great alternative if Microsoft Flight Simulator struggles to run on your PC.

Star Wars Squadrons

  • Release Date: October 2020
  • Price: £34.99

Just about everyone has fantasised about piloting an X-Wing against the army of the Empire after seeing Star Wars for the first time. Not only does Star Wars Squadrons make that a reality but it comes with VR support to make it seem all the more real! The game strikes a great balance between controls that are easy to pick up and play and difficult to master as you make your way through an original story set in the Star Wars universe.

The game allows you to view the cockpit or to go in the third person so you can see the ships from the film in all their glory. The game supports HOTAS setups to make that Star Wars fantasy come to life! While it may not be the most realistic flight sim on the list, there’s no denying that you want to fly in a Star Wars space battle. Right?

The best flight sim for you

These are just a few of the flight simulators currently on offer. From the most realistic to the most fantastical, these games give you the feeling of really being behind the controls of an aircraft. Whatever your flying fantasy maybe, grab one of these sims and take to the skies and stars!

Author Bio: James Sayers has a passion for writing on media such as music, film and video games. He works at Tillison Consulting as an SEO Campaign Manager working on blog content and SEO improvements for clients.

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