Here’s a tidbit of news that’s been lurking behind the shadows of today’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Windows Server 8, and Visual Studio 11 announcements: Microsoft has just made Microsoft Flight available for download.

The latest installment in Microsoft’s long-running and popular Flight Simulator series, it is completely free to download and play. Also interesting is that "simulator" has been dropped from its name; though this seems justified, as it would appear that Microsoft have added a more "casual", arcade-like gameplay to this game. It’s certainly more targeted towards those who simply wish to fly around, who do not want some of the more accurate and lifelike parts of Flight Simulator X that make it well, a simulator.

MS Flight

For example, there’s an XP system in Flight that essentially acts as currency; XP is rewarded by completing certain challenges, with the quantity administered being determined by how well you achieved the mission. You can use this XP to purchase stuff like paint schemes for aircraft, but new planes would still have to be purchased with real money (as an add-on). If you are into obtaining XP, however, you can through fun in-game pilot jobs, but it is unfortunate that you won’t be able to purchase new planes with the XP. So yes, the overall feel to the game is very arcade-y and casual.

MS Flight

But, the more casual element in Flight isn’t a bad thing. It’s a free game after all, and again, many casual players will likely enjoy something that’s more simple and arcade-like; Flight seems to be a free installment of the series that’s targeted towards a different audience. Something else that Flight lacks is the massive community behind Flight Simulator X that has created a plethora of extensions to the game. Based on the casual nature of Flight, it seems like much of this diehard community will not be abandoning FS:X anytime soon. I think that, perhaps in time, Flight will eventually grow a community of casual players. Or it will serve as an introductory stepping-stone that lures people into purchasing Flight Simulator X.

But surely, if Microsoft adopts this new direction in the series and does not continue to create accurate Flight Simulator titles, there will be a very pissed niche community. They did recently close the team that was behind the original Flight Simulator series, so we’ll just have to wait and see what they’re intention with the title as a whole is.

Originally announced in August of 2010, Flight began accepting invitations to a more open beta program in December of 2011. Following this, it shortly after made an appearance at CES 2012 in January before being released yesterday.

Simply head over to this link and get started with Flight.

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