I'm feeling like I've missed out on a whole area of gaming, so I'm wondering if anyone could recommend some flight sims. Mostly doesn't matter what era either in terms of game world or PC hardware it runs on.
What do you want from a flight sim? Graphics? Gameplay? Realism? Dynamic campaign? Strategic involvements? These are some suggestion, but what you choose is based on your preferences and playing style.
Their Finest Hour
This one is a DOS flightsim. The graphics are not much, the "flight model" is arcadish, and the sound is even worse. But the action is fast, furious, and exciting, the friendly AI is reasonably smart, and when you're flying aircraft with multiple gun stations (such as bomber), you can turn on the automatic gunner mode which is pretty helpful when you're busy dodging the enemy fighters.
But the best of all is the strategic decisions. In a campaign, you decide your own mission, which target to attack (in case of Germany), which target to defend (in case of Britain), and how the campaign will be affected by your performance. I love this game the same reason I love old Microprose games like Sword of the Samurai or Sid Meier's Pirates!; exciting action encapsulated by strategic decisions.
Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe
Has all the goodness of Their Finest Hour, but with better graphics and sound. Plus, you get the novelty of flying German experimental aircraft like Me-163 Komet or Gotha Go 229 flying wing.
Again, the flight model is arcadish. The campaign is non-dynamic, and the closest thing to "strategic decisions" in this game is being such a hot-shot with guns in order to avoid buying too many missiles.
But still, one does not play Origin games for dynamic campaign or strategic elements (although Wing Commander Armada is a pretty decent attempt); one plays Origin games for excellent storyline, memorable characters, and (in some cases) fast and furious action. And Strike Commander really delivers.
F-16 Multirole Fighter
Along with its cousin, MiG-29 Fulcrum, this represents typical NovaLogic "flightsim". The flight model is dubious, but the action is exciting. The campaign is linear, but the graphics are gorgeous for its time. And just like NovaLogic's Delta Force, both F-16 MRF and MiG-29 Fulcrum provide pretty much believable atmosphere to make up their lack of realism.
The downside is you need a Voodoo to enjoy its 3D accelerated graphics, but even its software-rendered graphics are still very good, and run pretty fast on 1.4GHz Pentium 4.
Total Air War
This is one of my most favorite flight sim. Not only the game has dynamic campaign, but it also simulates an entire air war according to the Warden's Five Rings model. And while the flight model and avionics are pretty much realistic, they are not as punishing as those in, say, Flanker 2.0.
Those alone put the game on top of my praise list, but what excites me even more is the AWACS mission! Yep, you control the aerial engagements from inside an AWACS plane, vectoring friendly fighters to destroy important targets or intercept hostiles. And the best of it, you can jump into the cockpit of an F-22 at whim. This is the game that gives you most the good things of Falcon 4.0 while not being overly complex, and that's the reason why I love it so much.
The game also supports Direct3D, so you don't really have to build a legacy system to play this one. However, there is a downside: the graphics display odd artifacts when you activate FSAA.
Yes, it is an old DOS game running in low-res 320x200 VGA graphics, but if you prefer realism than fancy graphics, the game is definitely for you. And the fact that the game is low-res means that it runs pretty well in DOSBOX without demanding hardware. Also, it is arguably the first flight sim that features dynamic battlefield (although I beg to differ).
Anyway, this game really demands HOTAS controller and rudder pedals. I think it is a good thing DOSBOX supports multiple axis.