For me, there are only two kinds of simulator games which actually get me interested – city management games and free flight simulators. However, anyone who’s looked at getting a simulation game will have quickly discovered that they are not cheap. In fact, SimCity currently goes for $60, or $80 if you consider the Deluxe Edition. Good flight simulation software isn’t much different.
So which flight simulators are both free and good enough to use? While free flight simulators are rare to find, especially good ones, here are your best options.
FlightGear is the absolute number one free flight simulation software. Usually whenever people compare both free and paid simulators, they include one of Microsoft’s flight simulators, X-Plane, and FlightGear. FlightGear is fantastic because it’s not just free but also open source, meaning anyone can submit their own code to make the software even better. Others can even fork the code and continue development on their own terms.
The very open nature of the simulator also allows people to create and test their own plane models. The simulation engine places a strong amount of emphasis on a plane’s design and how well it flies because of that. Add-ons can also be easily created.
Although FlightGear isn’t quite as good as Microsoft’s offerings or X-Plane, it still packs an impressive punch with worldwide scenery textures, a large amount of included planes (with the ability to add more), and realistic graphics. As such, you’ll also need a decent computer to run the software if you want good performance and acceptable graphics.
The free flight simulator recently got new 3D cloud and water effects included, and improvements will continue to roll in with each release. Long story short, this is by far the best-looking, most accurate flight simulator you can get for free. It’s even cross platform, allowing you to enjoy it on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
If you’re looking for something that is less taxing on your system, you may also want to take a look at the included flight simulator found in Google Earth. While it isn’t nearly as accurate or extensible as FlightGear, it offers a fun way to fly around the earth. The cockpit controls include the basics such as speed and altitude, and they are presented in a way which reminds you of a fighter jet. Plus, the amount of scenery included in Google Earth isn’t an issue because Google has satellite images of the entire planet anyway.
At least with Google Earth, when you want to fly over your house, you’ll actually be able to see and identify it, rather than seeing a more traditional flight simulator’s random house generator. As Google Earth is also available on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, you should be able to get the software and use it.
When you launch the program, go to Tools –> Flight Simulator. If you want to do more cool things with Google Earth, check out this article.
Finally, if you’re looking for a free flight simulator that’s more geared towards fun, fast-paced gaming rather than simulation, take a look at Vega Strike. This game is completely open source and available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (click here to check out more great Linux games), and uses 3D OpenGL for its graphics.
Another thing that sets Vega Strike apart from the other two is that it is based in space, where you start out life in a cargo ship and then work your way up. You can also do things like trade and bounty hunt, so this game really focuses less on the simulation and more on gameplay.
Overall, these are three good choices which should satisfy different tastes when it comes to such simulators. Of course, these solutions won’t be the best simulators out there as I still believe Microsoft’s offerings and X-Plane are the top choices. However, if you like being frugal – and there’s nothing wrong with that – then these are good too. Otherwise, the only other suggestion I can offer is to try X-Plane’s demo mode as it includes one and Microsoft’s offerings do not. However, be ready to deal with X-Plane’s methods of tampering with your gameplay in order to get you to buy the game.
Do you enjoy playing flight simulators? What could be improved in FlightGear? As I’m sure there are others out there, what other free flight simulators can you recommend that I didn’t include? Let us know in the comments!