Just like I assumed with the Wii, when I first heard the iPhone would have accelerometer control, I thought a flight simulator would fit perfectly on it. Shortly after the App Store launched, Laminar Research released a portable version of their PC flight sim entitled X-Plane. The portable iPhone adaptation actually starts at version 9.0 of the PC version, so anyone who has played with it on the computer beforehand should know what to expect.
First of all, flight sims are not for everyone. If you’re the type of person who wants to get behind the cockpit, dogfight with waves of bogeys and launch missiles at enemy bases, all while attempting a triple barrel-roll backflip, this game is not for you. (But damn, that does sound awesome.) This is for the more modest flight enthusiast who is content with simply taking off, going from point A to point B and landing safely. Sure, on paper that doesn’t sound like the most exciting time of your life, but again, flight sims aren’t for everybody.
For those of you still reading, let’s get into the real meat of this game. Off the bat, you’ll notice a realistic on-screen HUD with accurate altitude, speed, direction and position indicators. While it’s not cluttered with everything you’d see in a real cockpit, it’s perfect for knowing the essentials while flying around. Sliding your finger on the left of the screen controls your thrust, while the right side controls the position of your brake flaps. There are also smaller toggle buttons for landing gear and brakes on the bottom of the screen.
At takeoff, simply remove your parking brakes and slide the thrust to full capacity. Once your plane is up to speed, tilt the iPhone back slightly to gain liftoff. Flying through the air is as simple as tilting your device realistically, the way you would actually be in control inside a cockpit. The controls feel natural and responsive and allow for advanced maneuvers, like flips and rolls. Even the physics of flight seem realistic when compared to major PC flight sims.
There are four different planes to choose from, from the classic Cessna 172 to more advance airliner-like crafts. There’s only one map, but it allows for almost infinite customization. Settings for your plane include the weight and center of gravity, while you can change your environment for any time of day, wind speed, turbulence, visibility and more. There is even an accelerometer calibration so you can play in any position.
The environment looks fantastic on the iPhone. Even though the ground textures aren’t the sharpest, when you’re flying 10,000 feet in the air, it still looks incredible. The planes themselves are high-polygon models with decent textures that you can appreciate from multiple camera views. Runway lights are visible at night, and it’s easy to visually dictate your aerial position in the day. It’s easily one of the nicest looking games available on the iPhone.
There’s a lot to love in X-Plane, especially if you’re a flight sim enthusiast. It would be nice to have a few more planes and maps, but that’s what X-Plane Airliner and Helicopter is for. If you’re the type of person who’s down with flying around aimlessly in different conditions and trying to land, then this is a fantastic portable experience. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more realistic and enjoyable simulator you can fit in the palm of your hands.