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Microsoft Flight Simulator’s UK update proves there’s no place like home

Give me the world and I’ll always find an excuse to come straight back home. Microsoft Flight Simulator offered up the entire globe, to a level of fidelity that still manages to take my breath away. And yet in the months since its launch, despite its promise of delivering a world that for many of us has been closed off, I still find myself patrolling the same skies I’ve been stuck under over and over again, taking off from either London City Airport or Biggin Hill to patrol the north downs and my little corner of south London.

Such has been the way ever since I started playing the beta of Microsoft Flight Simulator, but at least circling the same airspace has made it easier to chart the progress made by developer Asobo and its team in the months since launch. Back then I’d take the route from City Airport and dip left over the Isle of Dogs across Greenwich Park, Blackheath and then home to Lewisham, before perhaps setting off out to the Medway with the sun setting at my back. I feel almost naive for being so impressed by it all back then – Greenwich’s Maritime Building was a nondescript block in the initial release, as were the cluster of now mostly empty skyscrapers that have risen around One Canada Square over the last few decades as London wasn’t benefit to the same level of detail found in many of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s other cities.

London as it appeared in the launch version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Excuse the poor capture, and the poor flying. I was young and didn’t know any better.

Now, though, everything’s changed. The UK update that landed last week having been held in a holding pattern for a short while makes sweeping changes, bringing more photorealistic cities and a generous suite of new points of interest. There’s been some understandable disappointment among players that this new level of detail is more frequent in the south east than elsewhere in the UK, but… Well, as a Londoner I’m afraid I’m not one of those complaining. Instead, it feels like I’m seeing the city entirely anew. And I can honestly say Lewisham’s never looked better.

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My regular jaunt has been transformed. Taking off from Biggin Hill then picking up the A20 just past Chislehurst, following it as it heads through Catford and Lewisham, the cluster of skyscrapers gathered at the Isle of Dogs now take on their recognisable shapes – César Pelli’s pyramid is there atop One Canada Square, and there’s Newfoundland’s hatched heights and even West India Quay. Following the Thames towards the west, each bridge is now in its proper place and no longer submerged underwater. There’s so much new detail too, whether that’s the Sky Garden or a proper take on Buckingham Palace.

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It’s enough to make me venture beyond my comfort zone, going just north of the river and out west to see Microsoft Flight Sim’s take on Stamford Bridge, and mighty impressive it is too. But soon enough I’m pining for home, and swing around to see a football ground closer to home: Ladywell Arena, home to Lewisham Borough FC – a team I’m sad to say hasn’t been able to play through the entirety of this pandemic. Still, there’s the ground, and a little blemish on the ground where the 100-seater Clinton Rhule Stand sits. It’s both glorious and uplifting, my little corner of the world looking absolutely pristine from the heavens. What fine work Asobo’s done with Microsoft Flight Sim since launch – and how dizzying it is to think how different this London will look over the years as the sim moves ever forwards.

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