Microsoft Flight Simulator is now available via Xbox Cloud Gaming. Not long ago, I covered 2 other similar options, which were “Remote Play” where you connect back to your Xbox console to play as though you were actually at your Xbox albeit remotely, and Cloud Gaming, where you sign up for a PC in the Cloud and run whatever you liked including MSFS from it.
Hope thats not a work laptop your using ? :-)
So what is Xbox Cloud Gaming? And, is it any good? Who is this intended for? How does it is compare to those other offerings? Why am I giving myself all these questions to try answer? Well, lets try and get some of those questions out of the way, before I fire up MSFS on it myself and let you know how I got on!
Cloud Gaming Library
What is Xbox Cloud Gaming?
Well its actually been around for about 6 months now, and is still in Beta form. By signing up to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (more on that later), using a compatible device and meeting some hardware spec requirements, you can stream various games directly from the Microsoft Cloud. Microsoft Flight Simulator was just added on the 1st March 2022 as one of those games. Just like Netflix, you are streaming the visuals back rather than needing to worry about the compute power needed to run it natively.
In simple terms, Xbox Cloud Gaming lets you play MSFS without needing an expensive PC or the latest Xbox to do so.
What do I need to use this?
Well, there’s 4 things really. Let's go through them quickly one by one.
First up, you will need a decent internet connection. Goes without saying really, that you will be pulling your hair out unless you have a good speedy connection and its stable. All the power to stream the game is via your internet, so the usual things apply here such as wired rather than wireless if possible, and close anything else that might be running taking up bandwidth. 20 Mbps or higher is suggested by Microsoft but I’d suggest 30 Mbps at a minimum.
Second, is a Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. There’s no way around this, this is a must have to get up and running. However, the good news is that you can pretty much try before you buy, well you can for £1 at least, for the first month before moving to the regular price of £11 per month. For this, you get access to the ever growing library of Cloud Games, other Xbox related benefits and of course save on the initial cost of buying the game in the first place. MSFS Game of the Year Standard Edition costs £60 which you now get access to play for nothing by signing up for the Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Subscription Info
Third is a supported device. Without getting into detailed hardware specs, to simplify, can your device run the latest modern browser – be it Edge, Safari or Chrome? If so, you're probably in business. For mobile devices, can it run the latest OS for your device? If so, again, very likely you're all set. For specific breakdowns on supported devices check here on system requirements.
Finally, and just as important as the above is a Xbox Bluetooth controller. Don’t be fooled here – not all Xbox controllers are equal, some still currently on sale use a Wireless protocol to connect to the console; more recent controllers now use Bluetooth. Xbox Bluetooth controllers basically let you connect them to non-Xbox hardware, so a must-have for our need here, and can be picked up easily, if you can spare the hit of £55 on your wallet.
Ok, so what’s the benefit of Cloud Gaming?
Great question and like anything really, there’s pros and cons. Without sounding too much like a sales guy, the pros are:
- Power is not your problem anymore: with all the processing and compute power needed to run MSFS being on the Microsoft Cloud, you only need a light weight device yourself to be able to stream it. So mobile phones, tablets, Xbox One and even old computers once they meet a minimum spec, can avail of Xbox Cloud Gaming.
- Mobility: prior to this, the main ways to get into the sky with MSFS was to possess either a PC that could handle it or an Xbox Series X or S. With access now on your tablet or phone, you could fire it up on your daily bus commute! Yes, be that guy!
- Availability: Perhaps you’ve an older PC or Xbox One lying around, or a second machine that happens to be a Mac that you always wished you could use for MSFS. Or maybe you are travelling with nothing but your work laptop? All of which now can get you in the skies with MSFS - with nothing to install to get this working, except a supported browser and a fast internet connection, in just a few clicks.
- Ease of use: there’s no settings you can fiddle with here. There’s no add-ons to worry about. There’s no updates to install. Microsoft for better or for worse, now controls all that :-)
For the cons, well there are some & will cover them shortly.
Right, with all that background out of the way, and safe in the knowledge I’m exceeding all the specs, time to fire up MSFS using Xbox Cloud Gaming on a 3 year old Mac, time to see what it can do!
To get started, after signing in at xbox.com/play you are greeted with the library of games on offer. Clicking on MSFS does a quick check that you indeed do have all the requirements, including a connected controller, before loading into the sim after a brief splash screen. For those familiar with MSFS, all the usual loading pages do appear including BlackShark, syncing data & checking for updates etc. Boot up time for the sim took just slightly over 2 minutes – a far cry from the typical 5 mins + I’m used to on PC.
Flying in the clouds, from the cloud. Sorry. I'm really sorry.
At the main menu, and jumping straight into General Options, comes the first sign that things are different. There’s no ability to change anything Graphic wise, which I was hoping to “push all she’s got” from my fast broadband connection. Basically you are getting the resolution & experience that’s pre-determined for you. All other aspects however, are as you would expect from a vanilla MSFS Xbox experience, such as Marketplace, and the full multiplayer experience. No community folder to use here but thankfully items purchased via the in-sim marketplace that you might have made are synced and available.
Thou shalt not have any settings!
Onto the flying!
One interesting change, comes at the World Map. To enter an ICAO, it brings up a new input box allowing you use your keyboard to enter in the letters. Once loaded into the cockpit, it reverts to an extremely familiar experience if you’ve ever used the Xbox version. You use the controller for pretty much everything, keyboard shortcuts don’t work here at all. Immediately, I can notice the resolution. There’s no developer mode nor game bar here, so tough to tell FPS. To my eye, it appears to be 1080p at a constant 30fps. In other words, far below the maximum experience possible from MSFS, smooth yet heavily optimised. A few short flights later, well the experience is….in a word….fine, no input lag and again, mirrors the Xbox experience.
Input box to use local keyboard to enter ICAO
Time to put it even more through its paces, and load in at Heathrow for a flight down The Thames into the heavily congested (or cough, stutter inducing) London City area. Plus there were loads of name-tags in the area to join me. Technical term here I think, is trying to break it! And well….I failed! Flying over London Bridge, the O2, London’s Eye and between the skyscrapers, there wasn’t a stutter or hickup to be had. But then again, if you were to reduce the resolution on any machine, surely it will ease the load and produce better performance. And that’s what’s happening here. I found the visuals soft, muddy and murky, clearly optimised for a low to medium level experience and set at a bar to perform for those only just meeting the lowest of compatibility settings.
So how does this compare with other similar offerings?
Well it compares most closely with “Remote Play”, whereby you can connect back to your home Xbox Series X/S and play as though you were physically at that machine. You are streaming from your home Xbox with this versus streaming from the Xbox Cloud platform now. And with Remote Play, while your mileage may vary, for me it was better, simply because you are in control of more things. You can better avail of possessing a faster home connection, and indeed change & tweak settings both on your home Xbox and the Xbox app more than is possible here with Xbox Cloud.
Compared to the Cloud Gaming Service called Shadow I covered not so long ago, where essentially you purchase a monthly subscription to use a cloud based PC where you can do anything you wish to it; running MSFS on that and streaming it back to you via a dedicated app, gave a superior experience. I was receiving around 30fps on 4K with the further potential to connect my own HW peripherals via USB to it. However, it was at a cost – namely being 3 times the price of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
30FPS on 4K using Shadow
So to close this out, would I recommend Xbox Cloud Gaming for MSFS and does this have a place for a certain type of simmer?
Well, going into this review, I would have said – yes. It absolutely has a place – especially for those that are interested to see what MSFS is about and don’t want the initial outlay of costly hardware such as a Next Gen Xbox Series X/S or indeed PC to do so.
The best MSFS experience hands down is on PC. For a great experience, choose Xbox. With Xbox Cloud Gaming, you have an option number 3, where it provides a comparatively easier experience for the most casual of gamer to explore our awesome sim, due to the low barrier to entry and potential to work up to running natively on more dedicated hardware.
And while this is all true, I remain confused. Specifically about the need for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in its current form.
If you think about it, an Xbox Game Pass would really only be of interest to current Xbox or PC users. Both of which may already be able to run MSFS natively, which even at a medium level would offer a better experience. Which leads me to the question I’m struggling with:
Is this just an option for the same addressable audience since the Xbox release?
At present, I’m unsure why would anyone that doesn’t already have an Xbox or PC would buy such a subscription. Perhaps, this could be much more successful if Microsoft were to decouple the Cloud Gaming offering from the Xbox Game Pass offering to attract new gamers to MSFS.
To wrap up, in my opinion, MSFS on Xbox Cloud Gaming can serve a purpose but it's very much a niche one. At present in its current form, it may not attract as wide an audience as Microsoft is possibly hoping for. Nevertheless, I will watch this space closely to see how it evolves further, as there’s no doubt this is the future of gaming.
In the meantime, I’ll never leave the house again without my Xbox controller just in case.
Obligatory: Up da Dubs!
See it in action (3 min video):