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Microsoft Flight, the successor to the company’s discontinued Flight Simulator franchise, will be distributed starting this spring as a free PC download that provides a basic version of the game at no cost, with the option to pay for additional content.

Microsoft Game Studios announced the plan this morning, adopting a variation of the “free-to-play” pricing model that has been rising in popularity in the video-game business.

In a modern twist, the game will include the ability to fly a virtual version of the light sport aircraft ICON A5, described as the “jet ski for the skies,” prior to the aircraft’s real-world production at the end of the year. It’s featured in a new teaser video, above, promoting the game.

Microsoft says the new PC game will aim for a more “universal appeal” than the traditional Flight Sim, with options for simple or complex controls, a persistent online world and elements of social networking built into the game.

The company 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.

Here’s how the company describes its free-to-play plans for Microsoft Flight …

After downloading “Microsoft Flight” for free, players can jump into hours of exciting gameplay on the Big Island of Hawaii.

In addition, players who sign in to their Games for Windows – LIVE account automatically receive additional free content, including the legendary Boeing Stearman plane, supplementary missions, and access to Achievements and an Online Pilot Profile. Those looking to deepen their experience can purchase and download additional content that adds new aircraft, regions and customization options. The frequently released new content for “Microsoft Flight” includes daily aerocache challenges and updates that make every flight unique and fun.

A signup form for the closed beta is available here, and the company says it will preview Microsoft Flight at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.

See additional coverage by VentureBeat and Kotaku.

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