Yesterday I invested some money into an HTC Vive... Yes I am one of the early adopters which pay a lot of money for a new technology that will be outdated, or cost half that money, in a year or so. Fact is that I believe that, at this point, flight simulation developers should really start looking into virtual reality. The helmet will arrive in a few days and I cannot wait to test it.
Now, given that I know in advance that I will be disappointed by FSX/Prepar3D due to the insufficient frame rate, I have also decided to buy Aerofly FS 2 - as it should deliver a convincing VR experience.
For the few that may not know it, Aerofly FS 2 is the new version of a simple flight simulator developed by a Swiss company named IPACS.
In this new version, you can fly over a photoreal scenery that depicts a large portion of the south-western United Stated (mostly California, Nevada and Arizona) in a variety of aicrafts - from the classic C172 to the Boeing 747.
As I have read some enthusiastic reviews saying this is "awesome", "the next big thing in flight simulation" and "way better than FSX/P3D" here are my two cents for people that may be considering buying this.
First and foremost, this "simulator" is clearly meant to give you the "illusion" of flight, rather than simulate an aicraft in a complete and realistic fashion.
The "illusion" of flight is the weak spot of FSX for one big reason, IMHO... and it is frame rate. With just a few good addons, FSX and P3D can easily fall below 25-30 frames per second... and you can say goodbye to the illusion of flying. We got used to it - and we still use it for its fantastic add-ons and its the flexibility... but let's face it. In terms of frames per second, it is rarely as good as you want it.
Back to AeroflyFS 2, I should also say in advance it is the "Early Access" stage - which means you can buy it although it is still being developed. Now, even if the developers claim that, over time, the simulation will be as complex as FSX/P3D or XPlane, at the moment it is not. Actually it is far away from them... but you may not care (let me explain why below!).
Installation and Setup
The biggest hassle of the installation process is the download... 30Gb for the base software and another 65Gb for an optional, free upgrade that will enhance the texture resolution away from the airports.
Once the download is finished... you just need to setup you joystick (extremely easy) and you are good to go. May be you need to spend another 30 seconds looking through the options.
The interface is very simple, although it is inherited from the tablet version of Aerofly 2 and this shows... all in all if you are frustrated by the difficulty of configuring FSX or P3D, this is a much pleasant thing (...this also means you do not have much control over the sim of course)
In general, the 3D modeling is good - both for cockpits and external views. It is fair to say that it is significantly better than the default FSX aicrafts... but do not believe people that claim it is on pair with the best FSX/P3D addons.
Flight models are very basic - definitely not good if you want realism... but they are very easy and forgiving so beginners, or people who just want to fly around, may like it.
System modeling also is pretty basic but varies a lot from aicraft to aircraft. However if you compare the best of these with "out-of-the-box" default FSX aircrafts, they are not that bad.
In terms of modern military planes, there are two: the F/A-18 Hornet and the Airmacchi MB-339.
The Hornet looks good, although the VC has its weak spots... does not handle in a very realistic fashion IMHO, but I guess it will be OK for people just wanting to buzz the tower... The most disappointing aspect are the cockpit systems: HUD works, and so do the steam gauges... but apart from that there is a basic HSI and an even more basic moving map. Pretty much everything else does not work.
The MB.339 is modeled very well (but no Frecce Tricolori livery!!!! WHY?), and flight model is easy and forgiving. Systems are pretty basic too...but the aicraft has no complex avionics, so most people will not notice it.
Unlike FSX or P3D the main scenery is photoreal. No vectors, no landclass...just a big photoreal scenery covering California, Nevada and Arizona. The imagery is VERY sharp.
Some areas, like San Francisco and Las Vegas, do feature buildings and some vegetation... but coverage is limited. Same thing applies to airports... some are quite detailed, and some others are not. It is still WIP... so let's see. But at the moment, it is much like if you use BlueSky scenery with FSX.
....by the way, the water is a "still picture" (no waves or reflections) and there is no traffic. Also, the night lighting is limited to airports and the custom buildings... the photoreal base is "day only".
Graphic engine and performance
Unlike most other games, the graphic engine is based on OpenGL. And the initial impression is that the performance is AMAZING - on my machine (3770k and 970) it easily and constatly exceeds 100 frames per second - and maybe even much more. Flying is super smooth and the scenery looks incredibly sharp. NO BLURRIES and incredibly crisp textures. Good job.
...so it is waaaaay better than P3Dv3, for example? Well...it is not a like-for-like comparision. P3Dv3 has a more sophisticated shadow engine (e.g. no cloud shadows here!), water features, traffic, complex avionics etc. etc.
To make a like for like comparision, you should take P3Dv3, take off all shadows except cockpit and aicraft, use only BlueSky or Megascenery add-on and turn off any traffic and any other addon...and then use a simple aicraft, like my own MB.326. Which I did.
In this case, on my machine, the frame rates is between 40-70 (as usual varies a little) - while Aerofly was definitely much smoother - and with sharper textures.
I understand why some people like this. No installation or setup issues. Solid and exceptionally smooth frame rate. No thinkering with configuration and dozens options. No need to worry about flight manuals, procedures, systems, traffic or anything. Just jump into a plane and fly.
If that is what you always wanted from FSX I think you will like this a lot.
You will also like it if you are looking for a nice VR experience - in this case, as you will not be able to operate complex systems anyway, some of its shortcomings become negligible - and the smooth performance is a major plus.
...but, if you are looking for a highly realistic and complex simulation - look elsewhere (or wait). In its current state delivers a visually appealing and smooth flight "experience", but nothing close to what other simulator can deliver in terms of realism and fidelity.
Long story short: the simplicity and the amazingly smooth performance are the strong points of this simulation. If you are looking for those, you'll like AFS2.