The 2 Best Flight Simulators for PC in 2021

The 2 Best Flight Simulators for PC in 2021

Pilot a WWII bomber, modern airliner, or space shuttle

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The Rundown
"There's playing a run-of-the-mill flight simulator, and then there's diving into the most realistic choice on the market."
"DCS World is an ultra-realistic flight simulator that offers plenty of opportunities for you to try out helicopters."

Whether you fancy yourself a fighter pilot in training or you're looking to fly around the world, these top picks for the best flight simulators can help you live out those various fantasies. New installments and franchises may be hard to come by, but flight sims are well worth the painstaking search it can require to find them. They offer some of the most unique ways to see exactly what it’s like to zip around in the sky and stratosphere without ever leaving your seat. 

If you're looking to experience what it's like to fly around the world in an aircraft of your choice, you can't go wrong with the real-world flight paths and crafts of Microsoft Flight Simulator. If you want to see what it's like to fly around the outer reaches of space in a futuristic craft, something like Elite: Dangerous may be more your speed. Most of these games can, indeed, be played with a mouse and keyboard, traditional game controller, or a joystick, but a HOTAS setup might be useful for total immersion.

Best Overall: Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator
What We Like
  • Fly around the entire world with paths enabled by Bing Maps

  • Try out hundreds of different types of planes

  • See real-world weather activity and global changes 

What We Don't Like
  • Large file size

  • Demanding specs that won’t be for everyone

There's playing a run-of-the-mill flight simulator, and then there's diving into the most realistic choice on the market: Microsoft Flight Simulator. This long-running series just debuted a new entry in 2020, and it blows all of the others out of the water. Fly just about any plane you'd like to any destination in the world—that isn't an exaggeration. Microsoft Flight Simulator is so massive that it offers a global scale of locations to fly to, thanks to the power of Bing Maps. It offers painstakingly realistic systems and interfaces to ensure you're learning exactly the same way you would if you got into a real cockpit.

This is a free-form, low-stress game that lets you run real-world flight paths from one airport to another, explore real-world weather conditions, and fly low over your hometown if you'd like to see what it looks like from a snapshot taken by Bing Maps. There's so much to discover here, it puts other flight simulators to shame. It may not be for everyone, due to its large file size and demanding specs, but if you can run it, this is the Cadillac of flight simulators.

Best Helicopter Sim: Eagle Dynamics SA DCS World

DCS World
What We Like
  • Extremely detailed gameplay

  • Tons of helicopters to fly

  • Challenging sim mechanics

What We Don't Like
  • Realism may not be right for everyone

DCS World is an ultra-realistic flight simulator that offers plenty of opportunities for you to try out helicopters, as well as other aircraft. There are lots of additional game packs that offer varying missions set throughout different periods of time, as well, such as World War II.

Players can jump into their favorite craft and embark on various mission types, including free hunt, intercept, a bomber-escort mode, and ground attack, using either planes or helicopters. There are plenty of additional game packs that offer varying missions set throughout different periods of time, as well, such as World War II. There’s quite a bit to explore, so those who love checking out different historical helicopters and what’s actually used in modern fleets will find tons to get excited about here. 

From the SA342 light scout/attack and transport helicopter to the Mi-8MTV2 Magnificent Eight, DCS runs the gamut from challenging cockpits to more leisurely rides. But if you're looking for a truly realistic experience for helicopters, alone, on par with what Microsoft Flight Simulator offers, you're getting it here in droves.

Final Verdict

When it comes to finding the best flight simulator out there, you’ll be thrilled with Microsoft Flight Simulator. With hundreds of aircraft to master and an entire world stretched out before you to explore, there’s no shortage of content for those who want a leisurely trip from A to B or for players who want to learn how to really fly a plane. Its stress on graphics cards and systems might be a bit much for some, but if you can run it, there’s really no better option out there. 

About our Trusted Experts

Zach Sweat is an experienced games and tech journalist whose work has appeared in outlets like IGN and Void Media. He earned a dual degree in multimedia journalism and photography from the University of North Florida.

Lauren Hill is a gaming expert with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. Her body of work includes landing pages for IP like Dragon Ball Z and Your Name and has appeared in publications like Current Digital Magazine and B-TEN.

What to Look for in a Flight Simulator

Plane selection

Each flight-simulator game offers a different array of planes you can fly. A WWII game will have historical planes from that era, while games set in today’s time will have more modern jets. Some games even have the option to create your own flyer.

Detail level

The graphics of your game make all the difference. While part of it depends on the capabilities of your gaming system, the development of the game also will play a factor. The more realistic and detailed the graphics are, the more immersive the experience will be.

Add-ons

At their most basic, all flight simulators are the same. However, it’s the add-ons that really set one game apart from another. If variation is important to you, look for games with lots of different airports and landscapes. You also can alter the experience by manipulating the weather conditions, cargo weights, and airplane skins.

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