X-Plane by Laminar Research will probably be the first piece of software that I’ve given two grades for. I’m not sure who the “game” is marketed for. X-Plane is probably the most realistic flight sim ever created for the PC. The flight model is top-notched, it’s actually based on the planes aerodynamic configuration. That is the game takes into account the shape of the plane and the laws of physics does the rest! There are about 40 aircraft to choose from, everything ranging from helicopters, to commercials, to spacecraft. With the addition of the plane-maker, those of you who’ve got the guts to tackle it, you can create as many planes as you can imagine. All of the included aircraft comes with full panels, and all of the instruments, dials, and knobs can be access either via keyboard or with the mouse. There are over 18,000 airports, but that’s just a number, because almost all of them look alike, which is to say that most of them are pretty bland.You’ll also find that some of the airports, once you select them, are in the middle of the water. One glance at the sparse documentation revealed that you’ll have to purchase separate “World Scenery Discs”. In my opinion, this is a big “no-no” if you are releasing a game with the airports already included on the disc. This is like releasing a space sim with solar systems on the map, and then telling you that you have to buy planet discs if you want to see planets inside said solar systems! Global world data is done through satellite imagery, and the mountains look real good when you’re flying over them. Weather is modeled especially well, the clouds, rain, and snow are top-notch. You’ll also have the opportunity to download weather from the Internet weather data. There is generic radio chatter which gives a sense of company in the aircraft you are flying and there is real Air Traffic Control. Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. I don’t want to call them dated, but you will get a sense of nostalgia if you’ve been playing sims for a long time. You won’t be overwhelmed with the look of the aircraft to say the least. Now you will get a sense of speed, in terms of frame-rates when you start flying. I haven’t seen frame-rates this good since the original Jetfighter game! This is mostly due to the games modest requirements. A Pentium 2 will do just fine. The player should be aware that the frame-rates come at a price! You will be hard pressed to maintain control of your aircraft with a joystick. You’ll find yourself bouncing all over the place, there has to be at least two dozen ways to configure your controller. To the developer’s credit, I’ll have to say that I haven’t found the right combination of successfully configuring and controlling my aircraft with a joystick. So a lot of the bouncing is probably my fault.There is no gameplay so to speak, you pick planes and you fly, that’s about the gist of it. There are some scenarios included with the game, such as fire fighting, helicopter ship landings, Space Shuttle approaches, and air to air refuelings. The only thing I don’t like about the scenarios is that if you are not in the general area where a scenario takes place, the scenario won’t load. There’s so much that this sim has to offer, and I haven’t covered everything, in fact, I just barely scratched the surface. There are continual updates to the game, and excellent developer support. You’ll also find a host of websites offering dozens of downloads and extensions to X-Plane, some free, some not so free. The developer has gone a long way from earlier versions of trying to make this product accessible to the casual gamer, but one still gets the sense that this is a professional product designed for engineers. The hardcore crowd will certainly get it’s money’s worth. So, what’s the bottom line? If you are use to playing “Crimson Tide” you’ll definetly want to stay far away from this one. If you are anal retentive, then by all means, pick this one up!