X-Plane 12 Review : The Ultimate Flight Simulator Experience

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

Aviation enthusiasts, X-Plane 12 is now officially available after months of “early access”. The developers at Laminar Research have been hard at work during this period, adding new features, fixing bugs and relying on user feedback to deliver a polished final release. So, is X-Plane 12 worth the wait, and can it compete with Microsoft’s excellent Flight Simulator 2020?

The answer is… Yes and no, but let’s take a closer look. 

Ready for take-off

Based in the United States, Laminar Research is the developer and publisher behind the X-plane series. This licence, launched in 1995, is known for being incredibly realistic. X-plane is not only used by gamers but also amateurs and professionals in the aviation industry.

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

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Laminar Research also offers the X-plane community other tools, such as Plane Maker, WorldEditor (WED) and X-Plane SDK, which allows them to create their own aircraft and scenery. More on this later.

Realism in the skies

Maverick tom cruise
Flying a fighter plane is something else.

What makes this series so popular among fans is its flight model, which is intended to be as accurate and realistic as possible.

Let’s face it; I’ve never held the yoke of a Cessna in real life. In fact, I am more used to sitting at the back of Economy class onboard an Airbus.

My basis for comparison is based solely on hundreds of hours spent behind Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. To cut to the chase: As much as I enjoyed Flight Simulator 2020, when I got my hands on X-plane 12, it felt like I was switching from Gran Turismo to Assetto Corsa.

X-Plane 12 fights in a different court in terms of realism and sensation.

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Compared to the previous version, X-Plane 11, Laminar Research completely rewrote every aspect of the simulator from scratch to make X-Plane 12 as realistic as possible. Right down to lighting, road surface, weather, snow and ground vehicles.

It took Austin Meyers’ 20 persons team five years to complete this colossal task. They relied on flight manuals, test flight data, and even YouTube videos, including those of famous YouTube pilot DutchPilotGirl. 

The goal was to get as close to the behaviour of real aircraft as possible to provide the most authentic and immersive flying experience.

One of the most important changes in X-Plane 12 is the removal of the artificial damping slider. This feature was previously used to fine-tune your aircraft’s behaviour, but with the new ultra-realistic flight model, it is no longer necessary. That’s the level of commitment the team has achieved with this X-Plane 12. In the words of Laminar Research’s Final Boss, X-Plane 12 is not only ultra-realistic, it is THE reality.

X-Plane 12

Game name: X-Plane 12

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Release Date: 17 December 2022

Available on: PC, Mac

Buy X-Plane 12 on Instant Gaming

A world of possibilities

x plane 12 review

There is no major revolution in the main menu compared to its predecessor. X-Plane 12 has almost the same options. You can choose between starting a new game, loading a game, resume flight, settings and flight school.

There is nothing fancy about the content of the game’s tutorial, just the fundamentals to introduce you to the basics of piloting. You can fine-tune your take-off and landing, learn to navigate with the instruments, perform an ILS approach, and familiarise yourself with flying a helicopter. Novices might regret the lack of depth in the tutorial, but don’t forget that this is a pure simulator, not a game as such.

There are no missions or other challenges in X-Plane 12. You choose the plane from 23 models on offer like Airbus A 330, Boeing 737, good old Cessna Skyhawk, Cirrus SR-22 (my personal favorite) and even some fighter jets, like F-14 Tomcat, ideal if you are hyped after watching the latest Top Gun. You can also fly helicopters, gliders and seaplanes. No doubt more aircraft will be added to the already extensive list in future updates. And that’s without counting on the community that already created loads of aircraft available to 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 the runway, you have many parameters at your disposal. Choose your own weather conditions or simply set them in real time, choose the time of day, and even add AI that simulates other aircraft around you. We’re sure the perfectionists will appreciate the possibilities. Personally, I would have enjoyed the option to create a flight plan directly in the menu without having to go through the interface of an A330 that resembles Windows Vista. There are plugins like Volanta that make life easier and 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.

After you get comfortable behind the yoke (or perhaps you prefer a joystick?), the first thing that strikes you is the attention to detail. Almost all commands are functional and the interior is remarkable (you can also visit and inspect the entire cockpit of any aircraft). If you’re still unsure whether to use a yoke or joystick, check out our detailed comparison in ‘Yoke or Joystick: Maximizing Your Flight Simulation in X-Plane 12’.

It may not be on the level of Flight Simulator 2020, but X-Plane 12 is still well made. Once your flight plan is ready (or not), we come to the part where X-plane shines. The work the development team has done on the aircraft physics is astounding; whether it’s the engine’s thrust, gusts of wind or even rain, you genuinely feel in control.

Smooth sailing

A330 X plane 12
An A330 cruising above Madrid.

The differences in behaviour between different aircraft are obvious. The flying experience will be radically different if you take control of a of a long-haul big bird or a single-engine plane, let alone a helicopter.

Once you’ve mastered a certain one, like the A330, it’s a thrill to take off, engage the auto-pilot to keep you on course, and then, at the right altitude, retake the controls and land this 240-tonne monster. Epic. On the other hand, a Cessna will require you to play with the control more. Upon take-off, the single-engine will steer you to the left, and you’ll need to regain balance by using your rudder to try to get a straight take-off. If the wind is strong enough, it will take a lot of focus and concentration not to stall.

The reaction of the planes feels truly natural, whereas with Flight Simulator you feel like you’re flying paper planes. I’m not saying that Flight Simulator is bad, quite the contrary, but X-Plane 12 is really one step above. 

Nature at its best: Weather and atmospheric effects

The rendering of the runway in the rain is stunning

Let’s take a second to admire one thing when playing, or rather flying, in X-Plane: The weather and its effects on the environment. I’ve already mentioned the effects of the wind, but wait until you see the rain or the snow. The moment when a drop hits the windscreen and then slowly fades away… Or, when you take off in bright sunshine, and during the flight you encounter threatening clouds that force you to activate the wipers, if you have them. These may be minor details, but at the end of the day, it’s the small things that add the right amount of realism and make a difference.

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

The lighting features play their part in the overall atmosphere. While in the cockpit, you can even see the shadows change depending on the direction you are flying.

The details are not only confined to the areal space. On the ground, the rain creates puddles on the track for a stunning effect. Just like the snow that accumulates as time passes. The Laminar Research team have really done a great job.

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

At some point, we have to mention the graphic quality throughout the game. We won’t deny it; yes, the graphics of Flight Simulator 2020 are tough to beat.

The title developed by Asobo is light years ahead of the Laminar Research one. Of course, the difference in the development budget between the two franchises is considerable, and Laminar Research’s goal probably wasn’t to deliver the most beautiful game of the year. Yet, we hope to see an update to specific features to enhance the experience of flying.

As for the aircraft, they are mostly very well done. The modelling is excellent, and the textures are of very high quality, as is the rendering of the interior. A slight downside to the control screens is that when you zoom out, the resolution quality seems to drop, and it becomes difficult to read the displayed information. However, Laminar Research had the good idea to separate the control screens and display them in separate windows. When playing on multi-screen, this is perfect.

On the ground, the airports are pretty detailed. There is life; you can see other aircraft parked here and there in their full glory. The rendering of the runway is on point, as well as the rubber tracks, the taxiways, everything is there. At night, the lighting of the runway is brilliantly done.

The worst part is the scenery. When you’re at 11,000 feet in your 737, the sight is pleasant to the eye, but when you are flying low in a Cessna, well, it’s not pretty.

The auto-generated ground textures deserved a bit more attention.

When I flew above the southwest of France towards the Dune du Pyla, I found myself in front of a pile of pixels instead of a majestic dune. Sad.

The Pyla Dune is covered in a strange texture

Same story for the clouds’ textures, which are frankly speaking, just strange. From a distance, it looks good, but from a close-up, it’s very pixelated. Don’t even get me started on the cities. The big cities look like Sim City, and the little villages are the same whether you’re in the suburbs of New York or Kuala Lumpur. If you’ve been hoping to fly over grandma’s house in your Cirrus SR 22, don’t bother.

For a recreational pilot who wants to kick back and enjoy the scenery, it spoils the experience. 

However, this is a simulator that will be live for many years to come, and the developers likely expect the community to come up with landscapes worthy of the name. 


The positive point is the loading time, it’s quite fast considering everything the game is displaying on the screen.

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

Customise your journey: Add-ons and scenery 

As usual, with this kind of game, the community plays and will play a significant role in the future success of the title. Laminar Research is well aware of this and has relied on their loyal community for a long time. You can already download a multitude of aircraft, airport updates and scenery.

All this will further enhance the immersive experience of flying on X-Plane. Although it is possible to find free mods, some of them are payware, and the bill can be steep.

Modelling a plane in Blender or creating landscapes in other softwares requires a lot of time and skill; it is to be expected that some people want to monetise their talents and we can’t blame them.

I’ll note a non-exhaustive list of websites providing mods. Let me specify that FinalBoss is not affiliated with any of these websites:

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 game is not graphically very impressive, it still requires a fairly robust system to run correctly. Laminar Research recommends the configuration below: 

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 8600k or Ryzen 5 3500 or better, or Apple Silicon
  • Memory: 16-24 GB RAM or more
  • Video Card: a DirectX 12-capable video card from NVIDIA or AMD with at least 4-8 GB VRAM (GeForce RTX 2070 or better, or similar from AMD)

Although X-Plane is Mac compatible, it is obviously not the ideal machine to enjoy it. This test was carried out on a 14′ MacBook M1 Pro with 16GB, coupled with a Samsung 34’. Even though the maximum settings are not usable, I was able to run the game at 30 Fps with settings as below. The weather has a massive impact on the performance. With clear skies, it runs pretty smoothly; as soon as you switch to the real-time weather, the frame rate will drop. Just a piece of information to keep in mind.

Setting on MacBook M1 Pro 16GB.

Is it worth the flight?

8

X-Plane 12 Review

X-Plane 12 is still in its infancy, but it already shows a lot of potential. Yes, we wish the graphics were closer to Asobo’s sim than X-Place 11, no doubt about that. But it doesn’t necessarily affect the enjoyment of flying, especially since the rendering in the air is decent. The question many flight simulation enthusiasts ask is whether the X-Plane 12 is worth the money compared to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.
Let’s put it this way: weekend pilots and casual gamers who are looking for an engaging title and just want to fly around the world, but aren’t looking for pure simulation, will prefer Flight Simulator 2020. The rest, well, we love what X-Plane has to offer too.
As for simulation purists, aviation enthusiasts who want to sharpen their skills or even those who want to practice flying will find much more in X-Plane 12 and its extremely realistic flight model. I have no intention of giving up Flight Simulator neither on X-Plane 12. In the end, the two complement each other rather than compete. At the end of the day, it’s nice to grind the tracks on Assetto Corsa, but you can’t say no to a GT7 for a relaxing moment.

Check our Xplane 12 Video review
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