The Ultimate Flight Simulator: X-Plane 12

The Clouds Are Calling, X-Plane 12 is the Answer

X-Plane 12 is now officially open after months of “early access” for aviation enthusiasts. During this time, Laminar Research’s developers have been working hard, introducing new features, resolving issues, and depending on user input to deliver a polished final version. Is X-Plane 12 worth the wait, and will it be able to compete with Microsoft’s outstanding Flight Simulator 2020?

Yes and no, but let’s take a deeper look.

Ready for take-off

Laminar Research, based in the United States, is the creator and publisher of the X-plane series. This license, released in 1995, is noted for being very realistic. Not only do gamers utilize X-plane, but so do amateurs and experts in the aviation sector.

Available for Windows, MacOS, and even Linux, as well as iPhone and iPad mobile versions.

Other tools available to the X-Plane community include Plane Maker, WorldEditor (WED), and the X-Plane SDK, which enables users to create their aircraft and scenery. There will be more on this later.


Realism in the skies

Maverick tom cruise
Flying a fighter plane is something else.

The flight model, designed to be as exact and realistic as possible, makes this series so popular among enthusiasts.

Let’s face it: I’ve never really sat in the yoke of a Cessna. I am more used to sitting at the rear of an Airbus Economy class.

My comparison is completely based on hundreds of hours spent behind the controls of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. To make a long story short, as much as I liked Flight Simulator 2020, going to X-plane 12 was like switching from Gran Turismo to Assetto Corsa.

Regarding realism and feeling, X-Plane 12 competes on a separate court.

Compared to the previous edition, X-Plane 11, Laminar Research fully redesigned the simulator from the ground up to make X-Plane 12 as realistic as possible. Up to and including lighting, road surface, weather, snow, and ground vehicles.

Austin Meyers’ 20-person crew took five years to finish this massive endeavor. They depended on flight manuals, test flight data, and even YouTube videos, notably those of DutchPilotGirl, a well-known YouTube pilot.

To give the most accurate and immersive flying experience possible, the objective was to come as near to the behavior of actual aircraft as feasible.

Eliminating the artificial damping slider is one of the most significant changes in X-Plane 12. With the new ultra-realistic flight model, this function is no longer required to fine-tune your aircraft’s behavior. That is the level of dedication the team has shown with X-Plane 12. According to Laminar Research’s Final Boss, X-Plane 12 is not just ultra-realistic but THE reality.

A world of possibilities

x plane 12 review

The primary menu is similar to its predecessor. X-Plane 12 includes almost identical choices. You may choose between beginning a new game, loading an existing one, restarting flight, settings, and flight school.

The game’s tutorial has nothing spectacular, simply the foundations to expose you to the principles of flying. You may practice your takeoff and landing, learn to navigate with the instruments, conduct an ILS approach, and get acquainted with flying a helicopter. Novices may be disappointed with the tutorial’s lack of depth, but remember that this is a simulator, not a game.

In X-Plane 12, there are no quests or other challenges. You may choose from 23 different plane types, like the Airbus A 330, Boeing 737, right old Cessna Skyhawk, Cirrus SR-22 (my personal favorite), and actually some fighter planes, like the F-14 Tomcat, excellent if you’re feeling inspired after viewing the current Top Gun. In addition, you may fly helicopters, gliders, and seaplanes. There is little doubt that additional aircraft will be added to the already lengthy list in future updates, not to mention the community, which has already built many aircraft that are accessible for download.

x-Plane 12 plane list
From the A330neo to the Piper, via the F14 TomCat, there is something for everyone.

After selecting the departure airport and runway, you have several factors at your disposal. You may choose your weather conditions or set them in real time, choose the time of day, and even install AI that mimics other aircraft in your area. We’re certain that the possibilities will appeal to the perfectionists. I would liked to enjoy creating a flight plan immediately from the menu rather than going through an A330 interface that mimics Windows Vista. There are plugins like Volanta that create the flight plan for you.

Highs of the flight

x plane 12 review
No wonder it takes 100 hours of theory to learn to fly.

The attention to detail is the first thing that impresses you when you feel comfy behind the yoke (or you prefer a joystick?). Almost all of the instructions work, and the interior is stunning (you can even visit and view the complete cockpit of any aircraft). If you’re still undecided about using a yoke or a joystick, see our in-depth comparison in ‘Yoke vs Joystick: Maximizing Your Flight Simulation in X-Plane 12’.

X-Plane 12 is not on the same level as Flight Simulator 2020 but is still well-made. Once your flight plan is ready (or not), we’ll move on to the part where X-plane shines. The development team’s work on the aircraft physics is incredible; whether it’s the engine’s power, gusts of wind, or even rain, you feel completely in control.


Smooth sailing

A330 X plane 12
An A330 cruising above Madrid.

There is a clear difference in the behavior of various aircraft. If you take control of a long-distance huge bird or a single-engine plane, much alone a helicopter, your flying experience will drastically differ.

Once you’ve mastered a particular one, like the A330, it’s thrilling to take off, use the autopilot to keep you on track, reclaim the controls and land this 240-tonne behemoth at the proper height. Epic. A Cessna, on the other hand, will demand you to play with the controls more. When you take off, the single-engine will steer you to the left, and you’ll need to reestablish balance with your rudder to accomplish a straight takeoff. It will take a lot of effort and concentration not to stall if the wind is strong enough.

The aircraft’s reactions seem genuine, while Flight Simulator makes you feel like you’re flying paper planes. I’m not suggesting Flight Simulator is horrible; however, X-Plane 12 significantly improves.


Nature at its best: Weather and atmospheric effects

The rendering of the runway in the rain is stunning

Let’s take a moment to appreciate something while playing, or flying, in X-Plane: weather and its effects on the surroundings. I’ve previously explained the wind’s effects, but wait till you see the rain or snow. When a drop strikes the windshield and then gently goes away… Or, if you take off in brilliant sunlight and meet threatening clouds throughout your flight, forcing you to use your wipers, assuming you have them. These may seem to be trivial elements, but at the end of the day, the little things provide the perfect level of realism and make a difference.

Cirrus SR 22 under the rain
Rain above the southwest of France

The lighting aspects play an important part in the mood. While in the cockpit, you can even watch how the shadows vary depending on which way you’re flying.

The particulars are not limited to the physical space. On the ground, the rain produces beautiful puddles on the course, just like how snow accumulates over time. The Laminar Research team did an excellent job.


Rough turbulence: Beautiful from afar, but far from being beautiful.

We must highlight the visual quality throughout the game at some point. We won’t deny it: Flight Simulator 2020’s visuals are hard to surpass.

Asobo’s title is light years ahead of the Laminar Research one. Of course, the development budget difference between the two brands is significant, and Laminar Research’s objective was not to deliver the most beautiful game of the year. However, we expect to see an upgrade to key features to enhance the flying experience.

Most of the aircraft are beautifully done. Modeling is outstanding, and texturing and interior rendering are extremely high quality. When you zoom out on the control displays, the resolution quality drops, making it difficult to understand the information. On the other hand, Laminar Research had the good notion of separating the control panels and displaying them in separate windows. This is ideal for playing on several screens.

The airports are very detailed on the ground. There is life; other aircraft may be parked here and there in full splendor. The runway, rubber tracks, taxiways, and everything else are all in the point rendering. The runway lighting is nicely done at night.

The scenery is the worst part. The view is lovely when you’re flying at 11,000 feet in your 737, but when you’re flying low in a Cessna, it’s not.

The automatically created ground textures required more attention.

When I flew over the southwest of France in search of the Dune du Pyla, I found myself in front of a pixel pile rather than a spectacular dune. Sad.


The Pyla Dune is covered in a strange texture

The same can be said about the textures of the clouds, which are, to put it mildly, weird. It appears good from a distance, but it’s pixelated up close. Let’s wait to get started on the cities. The major cities appear like Sim City, while the little towns look the same whether you’re in the New York suburbs or Kuala Lumpur. Save your time flying over Grandma’s home on your Cirrus SR 22.

It ruins the experience for a leisure pilot who likes to relax and enjoy the scenery.

However, this simulator will be available for many years, and the developers will most certainly expect the community to create landscapes worthy of the name.

The loading time is a plus since it is fairly quick, considering the game is presented on the screen at any point.


cessna 172Sp x plane 12
Flight over Paris with a Cessna.

Customise your journey: Add-ons and scenery

As is customary with this kind of game, the community plays and will play a big part in the title’s future success. Laminar Research is fully aware of this and has long relied on its devoted community. Many aircraft, airport improvements, and scenery are currently available for download.

All of these will enhance the immersive experience of flying in X-Plane. Although free modifications are available, some are payware, and the fee might be substantial.

Modeling a plane in Blender or designing landscapes in other applications takes a lot of time and ability; it’s natural for some individuals to want to monetize their abilities, and we can’t blame them.

There are plenty of others, and don’t forget to browse Reddit and use the plethora of information on there.

Ready for takeoff: System requirements

Although the graphics aren’t outstanding, the game demands a reasonably powerful PC to operate properly. Laminar Research suggests the following configuration:

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 8600k, AMD Ryzen 5 3500 or above, or Apple Silicon Valley
  • Memory: 16-24 GB RAM or more
  • NVIDIA or AMD DirectX 12-capable visual card with at most nominal 4-8 GB VRAM (GeForce RTX 2070 or greater, or comparable from AMD)

Although X-Plane is compatible with Macs, it is not the best system for enjoying it. This test was performed on a 14′ MacBook M1 Pro with 16GB and a Samsung 34′. Even though the highest settings are unusable, I was able to run the game at 30 frames per second using the settings shown below. The weather has a significant influence on performance. It works well when the skies are clear; when you switch to real-time weather, the frame rate drops—just some information to keep in mind.


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