It wasn’t addressed in the Xbox-Bethesda conference, but given Microsoft Flight Simulator brings every PC on the planet to their knees at just about any resolution, it’s nice of Asobo to be upfront with this one.
Asobo Studio, developers of Flight Simulator and the recently announced A Plague Tale: Requiem, have been providing more details on the Xbox port of Flight Simulator since Monday morning Australian time. The Xbox-Bethesda conference announced when Flight Sim would make its way to consoles, but that still let an awful lot of details uncovered.
One of those, naturally, is frame rate. A big pitch behind the Xbox Series X especially has been support for different performance modes, higher refresh rates, native 4K resolutions, and so on.
A long-standing question about Flight Sim on Xbox was how people would manage bigger craft with more knobs and dials to turn, especially if they didn’t have mouse and keyboard. In an official FAQ, Asobo put it bluntly: if you want to use mouse and keyboard with the Xbox port of Flight Simulator, you absolutely can. A string of specialist flight sticks will be supported too:
Microsoft Flight Simulator fully supports Xbox gamepad, keyboard and mouse, Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas One, Thrustmaster T.Flight Rudder, and HORI HOTAS Flight Stick for Xbox One. New, Xbox-compatible peripherals will be announced soon, but we cannot share any further details at this time.
A kicker is that while there’s cross-play and cross-purchases, the latter is only applicable if you bought extra DLC through the Microsoft Store/Game Pass for PC version of Flight Simulator. Those playing on Flight Simulator through Steam will be able to play with those on Xbox, though.
Now, the real question is: how well will Flight Simulator run? Asobo confirmed that the base frame rate will be locked to 30 FPS, although if your TV supports variable refresh rate, the frame rate can go a little higher.
Base framerate will be 30 FPS. On TVs that support VRR, the framerate can go above 30 FPS
— Microsoft Flight Simulator (@MSFSofficial) June 13, 2021
They’re not specifically mentioning 60 FPS here, and for good reason: Flight Simulator barely runs at 60 FPS on anything, even the most powerful rigs. The frame rate gets especially rough whenever you’re flying around heavily populated urban areas, or spaces where Bing Maps has a lot of 3D data — think Sydney Airport, New York’s JFK, Heathrow, flying out of Paris, or anywhere that’s especially populated in multiplayer.
So consider how much harder it is for the Xbox Series X and its CPU (which Flight Sim is notoriously bound by), which doesn’t have anywhere near the same thermal headroom as PC, especially when Microsoft’s own trailer specifically mentioned the game was running at 4K. (I doubt the internal rendering resolution is 4K, mind you — a lot of PC users dropped the rendering resolution to 80 percent or 90 percent to boost frame rates, and that’d be a smart move for consoles.)
What’s different with Flight Sim‘s restriction here is the variable refresh rate mandate. Plenty of last-gen games would hover between 40-60 FPS, but the likely reason here is that Flight Simulator will spend most of its time closer to the 30-45 FPS territory, and Asobo wants to make sure people aren’t stuck with horrific judder when the frame rate drops.
It’ll be interesting to see if Flight Simulator gets optimised to better take advantage of all a machine’s CPU cores, something it didn’t really do at launch. “And I think it’s very similar on Xbox where there’s an entire spectrum between Xbox One and Xbox Series X. There’s continued optimisation regardless, but Xbox is certainly reinvigorating our optimization efforts, is probably the best way to say it,” Jorg Neumann, Microsoft’s head of Flight Sim, told The Verge last year.
Still, Flight Simulator is the kind of game you can enjoy at lower frame rates. It’s not a twitch shooter, after all. But it’ll be interesting to see how Asobo navigates their way around the Xbox hardware when Flight Simulator launches on Xbox Series X and S on July 27.