Today we’ll take a look at an interesting mission pack for FSX/P3D that features some exciting flying in the Alaskan backcountry…
TakeFlight Interactive recently released a mission pack for FSX/P3D, so I decided to give it a whirl. It is my opinion that mission packs like these – adventures, career modes, etc., are critical to the future of simulation products. Sure, we are all very much smitten with super-realistic aircraft modeling and learning the challenges of intricate aircraft operations. On the other hand, we need to attract people that enjoy playing games as well. Personally, I don’t find the two mindsets mutually exclusive. The marriage of great content such as missions and simulator enhancing products with the stunning visuals and realism of our favorite sims is a win-win proposition. So it was with great excitement that I saw the news of the release of TakeFlight Interactive’s Air Alaska mission pack.
According to TakeFlight Interactive’s website, they are “dedicated to delivering authentic, fun flight simulation experiences for Microsoft Flight Simulator X.” They go on to say that most of them used to work on Flight Simulator and related products within Microsoft (Aces?) and their seminal project is a step forward into what they always wanted Flight Simulator to become. This is good news in my opinion, because the people that made FSX are the best in the business, and have an obvious passion for what they do. To hear some of them are still interested in bringing forth content is fantastic!
Air Alaska features a set of five missions that has you, the rookie pilot, working your way up the ladder at an Alaskan bush pilot operation. I will try to keep my descriptions and screens somewhat generic, but be aware you will probably derive a couple spoilers from the article, so browse at your own peril! The package features a custom user interface, which is essentially an external launcher that allows you to pick a mission (you must unlock missions to progress) and choose an aircraft and livery. One fantastic feature is that if you own awesome A2A Simulations J-3 Cub with it’s stunning flight physics and Accu-Sim integration, you can use that craft in some of the missions.
While I would highly recommend the A2A Cub, Air Alaska can be flown with the default FSX Cub with an included Air Alaska livery. There is also an A2A Cub custom Air Alaska livery as well. I’ll get to why I think the A2A Cub is a better choice in a bit.
Missions are varied with some good challenges that I’ll try to keep quiet about, but you can expect tight airports, bad weather, and all of the other peculiarities that are inherent to being an Alaskan bush pilot. I played the missions in P3D and the lighting and scenery are simply jaw dropping. One caveat though is that I played with Orbx Southern Alaska scenery installed, so my visuals might be better than stock FSX/P3D scenery. The missions take place in the mountains east of Anchorage and you’ll soon get familiar with the local geography. The glaciers, deep valleys, and rugged terrain are awesome to fly through, low and slow as Mother Nature intended.
TakeFlight recommends disabling weather generation utilities since they have set weather conditions to be mission specific – and it becomes readily apparent why after a couple of missions. The clouds, winds, turbulence, and precipitation are set perfectly to reflect the mountain flying mood of these missions. A lot of work went into the cut scenes and hundreds of lines of dialog set the scene for the missions and update you as to the other goings on around the area as you fly. Yes, some of the dialog is corny, but for the most part I was drawn into each mission and was excited to find out what was coming next.
The flying is the real draw of the mission pack and you’ll find yourself wondering if you ever really knew how to fly the Cub at all. I preferred flying the A2A Cub in the missions because it definitely isn’t as powerful as the default FSX Cub and requires a much more gentle hand on the stick and rudder. The steep valleys and mission parameters such as shifting loads have you working at the maximum limits of your aircraft at times. There is a very real challenge to flying an underpowered aircraft in such hostile terrain as you have to judge whether you have the performance to make it over mountain passes and into tight landing areas. More than once I was forced to turn away, parallel a ridge, and gain a bit more altitude before turning on course due to not having enough “oomph” to make it over the ridge. The A2A Cub translates these feeling better than the FSX Cub. As well, the A2A Cub features tundra tires and a dozen or so different external and internal views that really make the experience cinematic.
There is one mission that requires the use of the default FSX Cub for weight/balance & performance issues that are specific to that mission. There is also a mission where you fly the default Baron and it was actually a fun experience to get back in that old bird. The graphics, even for the default aircraft, have held up well over the years. The P3D lighting and effects really add a lot to the whole experience and it is easy to predict that P3D will be part of the way forward for a long time to come (hopefully!).
I did encounter a couple of bugs that were not show-stoppers. On one occasion a mission cut-scene replayed when it wasn’t supposed to, triggered no doubt by something unpredictable I did, but missions otherwise played out just fine. I’m a fan of the “unlock” and “achievement” process in simulators that are trying to add some game to the sim, and this works well in this type of format. To be honest, I was disappointed that there were only five missions in the pack. I would have loved to have seen a more prolonged and extensive career story, but I’m hopeful that this will be just the beginning of a string of great add-ons by TakeFlight Interactive. One thing I do know – these types of mission packs will only be created if people purchase them and support this type of project. Currently the mission pack is running at about $15.00 U.S. on the markets that are selling it: HERE and HERE. For five missions that might be a tad rich on the price, but as always I try to apply my movie ticket metric to gaming purchases. For about the cost of a movie ticket, you are getting a few hours worth of quality, interactive entertainment. A longer lineup of missions, I think, would make this an even better value since you can probably sit down and roll through the five missions in one long afternoon. I’d estimate there are perhaps a few hours of gameplay in the five mission set, depending on your skill level and how often you crash or restart. The good news is, you can use the in-simulator save feature to save your progress on the longer missions. At J-3 Cub speeds, traveling just twenty miles can take a bit of time, but the scenery all around you makes it go by in a blink of an eye.
Overall I was impressed by the production quality and theme of the missions. The innovative use of the external launcher is a nice tool and I could definitely see how developers could use it to even further expand the depth and gameplay of this type of mission pack. I’d love to see more similar content from TakeFlight Interactive – let’s face it, there are a ton of possibilities out there (may I suggest the Caribbean?). This one gets my stamp of approval and I hope some of you pick it up and pair it up with the A2A Cub for a great afternoon of good old fashioned stick and rudder flying.
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth
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