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Posting from Las Vegas: The Consumer Electronics Show here this week offers a sneak peek of Microsoft Flight, the successor to the company’s discontinued Flight Simulator franchise. I spent some time playing Microsoft Flight at the company’s CES booth this morning, and if everyone else has as much fun with this thing as I did, the company might just have a hit on its hands.

The most important point, particularly for traditional Flight Simulator fans: This is still very much a simulator. Microsoft has added more game mechanics to the experience, such as challenges to test flying skills, but in the end it’s too realistic to be considered a mere video game. It works via Xbox 360 controller, joystick or keyboard and mouse.

The Microsoft Flight Control Assistance panel, for adjusting the level of difficulty. (Click for larger version.)

The controls default to the greatest level of flight control assistance, but even with all that help, I struggled to properly land the light sport aircraft ICON A5 that will be featured in the simulator. (Obviously I’m not a pilot.) That said, even when I crashed, it was a fun and challenging experience, enticing me to keep playing and improving my meager aviation skills.

In that way, Microsoft Flight is far more approachable to a wider audience, which could actually be a good thing for aviation in general — as long as people aren’t inspired by the game to follow in the footsteps of the Barefoot Bandit.

Hard-core Flight Simmers and real pilots will be able to adjust the controls to make the experience more realistic, and tough, by removing the built-in assistance for stability, braking, fuel mixture and propeller effects.

Microsoft closed Aces, the team that was responsible for the nearly 30-year-old Flight Simulator franchise, as part of its broader cutbacks nearly three years ago. It was a highly controversial move among the hard-core flight simulation community.

Microsoft Game Studios plans to release Flight this spring, under a free-to-play model. Details and signup here for the closed beta.

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