Flight simulators are few and far between on the Mac, but that doesn’t mean flight simulation is a dead genre — Laminar Research’s X-Plane is a veritable industry unto itself, and while it may be a bit unconventional for some gamers, it’s definitely something that virtual pilots should look for if they’re interested in thrilling, detailed flight simulations.
X-Plane is a very carefully detailed OpenGL-rendered 3-D flight simulator for OS 9 and OS X. The basic version includes plenty of scenery, different airports, and assorted aircraft models ranging from run-of-the-mill single-engine prop models, to myriad military aircraft and rotorcraft, all the way to the Boeing 747-400. With additional scenery CD packs, which cost an extra $10 each if you buy them with X-Plane or $20 each if you buy them separately, it allows you to fly anywhere in the world (or over the surface of Mars).
What’s more, you can download new models that X-Plane enthusiasts make, and you can use the included tools to experiment with your own aircraft and scenery designs. But X-Plane’s scenery- and aircraft-building tools are enormously complex; using them isn’t a task for the casual user.
The scenery- and aircraft-building software isn’t the only intensive aspect of the program: X-Plane has a difficult learning curve, and it’s laden with complex control panels and its own user interface. This is something of a necessity, given the complexity of the simulation, but it takes some getting used to and plenty of help-manual study before you can take off for the first time. X-Plane’s documentation is electronic and readable; however, it’s very dense.
X-Plane supports joysticks and controllers. We tested version 6.51, which doesn’t support force feedback, a relatively new technology for Mac users that’s supported in OS X 10.2.3 or later. However, X-Plane does feature networking support so you can go flying with a friend. Although X-Plane isn’t a game, the developer might want to consider supporting a game-tracking service, such as GameRanger, to make networking support easier.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Complex though it may be, X-Plane is unquestionably the king of the hill in Mac flight simulators. Again, X-Plane isn’t a game, so expect to spend a few hours learning the basics and getting to know the interface. The payoff is worth the effort (and the price) if you’re serious about flying without leaving the ground.