Twenty years ago, the landscape on Microsoft Flight Simulator consisted of fine lines that vaguely resembled buildings and airports. Today, Flight Simulator X offers graphics that make some airports look better than in reality.

The more expensive Deluxe Edition has additional airplanes, airports and cities compared with the standard version. Otherwise, they're identical.

The popularity of flight simulation titles has declined through the years, as more interactive games are the norm over rigid simulations. Few people want to pilot a Douglas DC-3 on a realistic 12-hour flight across the country no matter how fine the cockpit or the scenery outside looks. To compensate, Flight Simulator X adds missions that make it more game-like. Intense realism makes them all the more compelling. Missions include piloting a search-and-rescue plane looking for lost hikers in the snowy mountains and trying to locate a capsized sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico.

The terrain looks fantastic. You can see animals in the woods, cars on roadways and boats in the water. (If you can do it without crashing, it's fun to buzz a herd of deer with your plane.) Airports are no longer just dead zones where you touch down. When you land, you'll see fuel trucks racing up and baggage vehicles rushing around.

Each airplane in the game -- including the Bombardier CRJ700, the DG 808S 18 Meter Sailplane and my favorite, the de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver floatplane -- has a realistic cockpit and controls.

The biggest complaint most people will have is the processor power requirements. Even with a four-gigahertz dual-core system and 512 kilobytes of DDR2 RAM, there were moments of slowdown on the highest graphics setting. You may have to spend a couple of first-class tickets upgrading your system to truly enjoy the best parts of this flight.

-- John Breeden II

Microsoft Flight Simulator X Deluxe EditionEveryone; Windows XP/Vista ($70)

Microsoft Game Studios