Flight Unlimited III

9_1Buzzing the Bay Area for a third time.

Looking Glass Studios became famous for their Thief and System Shock games, but few people know they were in the flight sim market as well with Flight Unlimited. And the promises for Flight Unlimited III were quite impressive, covering much more accurate terrain, a new flight model and a real-time Air Traffic Control environment that combine to provide the feeling of “being there.” In short, they claimed it’s “the most realistic simulation ever created for the PC.”

The original Flight Unlimited flight model was not carried over into this sequel, so an entirely new physics-based “force” model was created. The results are generally good, although there are some questionable areas. A standard “familiarization flight” profile consisting of takeoffs, stalls, slow flight, steep turns, spins, climbs, dives and landings in the Cessena 172 show some “dumbing down” of the flight characteristics.

12_1Stalls are very gentle; even more so than a real 172. Spins never fully develop and recover far too easily. Adding full power to come out of slow flight doesn’t seem to require any rudder compensation. Most curious is that full throttle in level flight results in about a 90 knot cruise. That’s about what you should get at cruise power, so thrust or drag computations may be off a bit. These results cast some doubt upon the total accuracy of the flight model, but it’s as capable as many other sims out there making similar claims.

Pitch and power relationships are good and inertia is a factor. Flaps and gear do add some drag and cause pitch changes when raised or lowered. The simulation models controllable pitch props in aircraft that should have them and a mixture control, rare features in most games. All in all, the flight model is more than adequate for the task at hand, which is to immerse you in the experience of general aviation.

4_1The real time Air Traffic Control system does help build a convincing game environment. The calls you need to make in the game are the right calls in real life, utilizing correct terminology and occurring along a realistic timeline. In a truly accurate simulation of the real environment, the radio squawks constantly in mid to high traffic density areas. The programmers also manage to make you switch frequencies at the most inopportune times. It’s true, however, that the ATC AI sometimes gets confused and makes nonsensical requests or comments.

Overall, this simulation is somewhat above average, with excellent graphics and an impressive ATC environment. On the down side, of the five available aircraft, all are props and only one a multi-engine; a bit more variety would be welcome. The flight model needs some work; spins are too easy and thrust/drag relationships should have been reviewed. While terrain is detailed, it’s still geographically limited to the Bay Area, and an expanded flight map would enhance the game.

System Requirements: Pentium II 266 MHz, 96 MB RAM, Win96

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