After months of anticipation, Laminar Research has formally released X-Plane 12 into Early Access. With this new version of the long-running flight simulator comes a slew of new graphical upgrades, brand-new included aircraft, a “4D” weather engine, and more. Since X-Plane 12 has released as an Early Access title, Laminar describes it as a project that’s “still in active development.”
Heading to its product landing page makes it clear that anyone who chooses to buy it now is an Early Adopter. That said, the sim will receive free updates over time, and buying it now grants you access to those updates “for the life of v12.” Additionally, this license also includes a free copy of X-Plane 11, so users can still fly their add-on aircraft that is not yet compatible with the new X-Plane 12.
Flying in new skies
On that note, the included new aircraft include the Airbus A330 (commercial jet), Cessna Citation X (business jet), Cirrus SR 22 (single-engine prop), Piper PA-18 (single-engine prop), Van’s RV-10 (single-engine prop), Lancair Evolution (single-engine turboprop), and finally, the Robinson R-22 (helicopter).
Additionally, there are 12 aircraft returning from past iterations of the sim, including models like the Boeing 737-800, Piper PA-18 Super Cub, Cessna Skyhawk 172SP. Altogether, this makes for a total roster of 23 default aircraft, with the majority being single-engine light aircraft. As time goes on, there will be a considerable amount of payware aircraft in particular that will be available to beef up the roster, in addition to the freeware offerings.
A new world
On the airport scene, X-Plane 12 features “detailed 3D scenery for more than 17,000 airports” across the world. They all have new ground textures, towers, and pavement effects to provide more realism. The latter feature refers to some of the new graphical effects, such as rain puddles (with reflections) and water spray.
The new sim also sports a new “photometric lighting engine” that more realistically portrays the behavior of light. This affects things like brightness, intensity, and spread.
Other graphical enhancements to the new simulator include “3D water,” which uses a new rendering technique that not only looks better but has more complex physics for a more realistic simulation of how water behaves. The simulator also now takes into account the differentiation between “tropical water” and deeper parts of the ocean. For example, the colors are more vibrant near some coastlines, especially in certain parts of the world like Hawaii and The Bahamas.
Flying with new effects
X-Plane 12‘s new weather engine injects data from real sources, allowing forecasts from real-world weather stations to be portrayed inside of the simulator in real-time. Wake turbulence is also now simulated and has a noticeable effect on different aircraft. For instance, a smaller aircraft taking off shortly after a larger one will result in a very bumpy ascent.
Other weather effects in X-Plane 12 consist of elements such as microbursts (huge shifts in air pressure) and thermals (rising pockets of warm air), just to name a few.
Seasonal effects are also present in the sim, so trees will accurately shift colors (or not) depending on which region you’re in (not everywhere has fall, after all). Snow will also now accumulate over time under the right conditions. 3D forests and vegetation are also now present in the sim, with each part of the virtual world featuring accurate portrayals of different tree species.
Considering that the virtual vegetation now consists of proper 3D models, they’ll even sway in the breeze if the wind speeds are high enough. Once you shut down the engines of your aircraft, you’ll also be able to hear the new FMOD-powered soundscape of the world, which fills the surrounding area with ambient noises that matches the scene — quiet forests, bustling cities, airport ground traffic, and more.
But do you need a new rig?
To house X-Plane 12 on your system, you’ll need to have a pretty reasonable 25GB of free space.
On the hardware side, for the minimum system requirements, you’ll need an Intel Core i3, i5, i7, or i9 CPU that’s at least a quad-core processor. An AMD Ryzen 3, 5, 7 or 9 is also supported. You should have 8GB of RAM at the minimum. As for your GPU, the sim calls for a Vulkan 1.3-capable video card from Nvidia or AMD with at least 2GB VRAM.
The sim’s recommended requirements call for a far beefier set-up. An Intel Core i5 8600K or Ryzen 5 3500 are two of the recommended CPUs. RAM tops out at 24GB or more, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 is labeled as a recommended GPU.
If your system can already handle Microsoft Flight Simulator, then X-Plane 12 shouldn’t be a problem. You can download a free demo of the sim to test it out on your rig before purchasing, however.
Prepare for take-off
The initial rollout of X-Plane 12 on September 5 was hampered by server overrun. Despite more than likely preparing for a surge in traffic, servers still were temporarily disabled due to the flood of requests. The problem was fixed relatively quickly, and as of the time of publication, the official website is functioning nominally.
Like with past editions, the studio is charging $59.99 USD for a digital copy of X-Plane 12. But, considering that this also includes access to X-Plane 11, it’s technically a better value.
There’s currently no word on the sim’s update roadmap. Seeing that X-Plane 12 is an Early Access release, this suggests a slew of advancements will come to it as time goes on. Laminar is sure to detail more about those plans within the coming weeks and months, especially now that it can start gathering public feedback.
So far, player reactions have been mixed. Some are enjoying themselves, while others are having hard time seeing much of an improvement over the last edition. Then, of course, you have the comparisons to Microsoft Flight Simulator. Seeing that both of these sims will continue to evolve over time, each has aspects that will be enhanced over time. So at this point in their lifecycles, it’s basically a waiting game to see how each continues to pan out.