I am a lifelong console gamer since the days of Atari. Since using a joystick to maneuver or attack, a PC keyboard just seemed anachronistic. So it was with some trepidation that I tried Microsoft Flight.

I admit I never really played PC games. It's possible that prior to my having owned any consoles I might have tried one or two text based adventure games on my dad's work PC, but they didn't spark my imagination or interest. Ironically, it wasn't until I already had a console that I owned any PC games, and that is when I was gifted Myst and The Sims.

Myst is a beautiful game and renowned for its adventure aspects. However, I was already playing action oriented titles on a console and I wasn't exactly enamored with the brain-twisting puzzles. As for The Sims, I couldn't get the sound to play even with repeat installs. Needless to say, PC gaming did not take.

If a real plane required a keyboard and mouse to fly, I doubt it would ever get off the ground. At least with me piloting it.

Lately I do admit to being sorely tempted by Star Wars The Old Republic, as I'm a fan, it sounds fun and I know members such as Saint, mojomonkey12 and Noobtubin8er play it. However, my computer couldn't even pass for a gaming rig's soiled diaper, nevermind that the game's pay to play aspect dampened this cheapskate's enthusiasm.

Along came Microsoft Flight, the free title from the maker of the revered Flight Simulator series. When I first heard about this here, I nearly weeped with joy. It was free. It was created by the company behind Flight Simulator. It was free. It was set on the Big Island of Hawaii, which I love. It was free. Those are reasons enough to lure me away from consoles.

So successfully transport a young female musician, and win the coveted Coconut Bra. That's not sexist, it's just good business.

That said, I was convinced my computer's specs weren't up to snuff. I'd only ever shopped for machines with office suites that would allow such sexy and scintillating time sinks as word processing and spreadsheet management. However, a talented friend recently rebuilt my CPU though asking me to recall the details is like asking a monkey to do advanced calculus.

Long story short, I went to the website and tried to download the game. At this point I expected an error message berating me for trying to download a title I'm clearly not qualified to play. But to my surprise, it worked! The installation likewise was uneventful, thank goodness, and now all that was left was for me to fail miserably trying to learn the controls.

Hilo was easier to find than these screens, but then I'm all thumbs with keyboard controls. And instructions. 

Sure enough it was a comedy of errors. I had not accessed the game manual (I'm not even sure if it's a separate download or accessed via menus; I almost exclusively prefer to learn by experimentation despite being a certified noob), so panicked when I couldn't figure out how to pause the game or lower the loud volume.

See, I was supposed to be doing chores at home, and truth be told I only meant to download it while engaged in such menial tasks. So having plane engine sounds blaring from our office while my instructor scolded me for veering off course would not have been welcome sounds coming from behind closed doors.

I blame low Overall Graphics Settings for how poor my flying skills appear in game.

Fewer people would stay at the hotels on Hilo Bay's Banyan Drive if their eyesight was set on medium setting.

Desperate, I did get up to finally lower the volume on the speakers, though even the lowest setting wasn't all that quiet. At that point, I think I'd failed my mission, to my instructor's consternation. Thankfully, the controls in general are pretty intuitive as they're mouse-based; just lead the plane in the direction of the crosshairs.

At least I thought it was that simple, as soon enough I realized the plane's movement lagged my mouse movements and my plane began making dramatic twists and turns as I woefully overcorrected. A little cursing and a few anxious moments later I got a better handle on basic flying by mouse.

Of course I also had to experiment with keyboard commands in case they proved more efficient. They did not. At this point, all decorum went out the window, followed closely by my pride. One of the first keys I pressed practically turned off the engine mid-flight, whereas others I believe were inverted or otherwise counterintuitive. Needless to say I kissed the ground.

High-setting graphics soar. At about five frames per second on my wicked PC. The slowdown didn't improve my reaction time.

Thankfully, the instructor eventually threw in keyboard controls for me to learn, however, the outcome at least initially was the same. The problem was that these instructions appeared during training missions so that by the time I read the instruction and found the key I'd already missed the current objective. Plus I was writing them down so I wouldn't forget.

The cruise line budgeted for a high graphics setting on the port side of this ship, so could only afford a low setting on the starboard side.

The game has various missions and the training tasks are the only ones I've played so far -- basic checkpoint flying maneuvers, take off and landing exercises, passenger transport missions, etc. All are pretty straightforward and a decent introduction to the gameplay. But with limited time, I opted for free flight to see more of the island, and lose my ornery instructor.

I'm not sure what missions are available in free flight, however, a nice touch is landmarks that serve as kinds of collectibles and have related achievements or points toward your final score, if I remember. But of course the real allure, at least for me, was the option to return to the Big Island, where I'd visited family from time to time.

You'd be forgiven for thinking a lava flow had ruined some of the scenery.

It was in transitioning from the campaign to free flight that I figured out how to pause the game as well as access the home page and related menus. This was a revelation and I was ecstatic. From here you could access your hangar, stats, map, etc. Most importantly, you could reconfigure settings.

As with console games, dying is an occupational hazard for me when pursuing the perfect screenshot.

I hadn't paid attention to this previously, partly because I didn't even know it existed, but also due to the fact that I was so wrapped up in trying to avoid a fatal tailspin (not so easy as it sounds). Indeed I noticed from my screenshots that the presentation was not especially detailed. It was OK when at altitude, but closer to the ground it looked filtered through a can of soup.

It's tasty soup, to be sure, but not so good for viewing your world. So I did upgrade to the highest resolution and, what do you know, it looked great! For a slide show. Here's where my computer specs reared their ugly head as the frames per second were as quick as Hawaiian lava flowing uphill. Medium, as can be expected, was maybe twice as good.

You know times are hard when all you can afford is a smokestack.

The problem is that it was nearly unplayable at those settings, as onscreen (in)action lagged my mouse input to an awful degree. Consequently, my plane leaped all over the screen as once again I was left overcorrecting. Of course I settled back in to the low setting, which was smooth if a little visually jarring.

However, as suggested, even at this setting the game looks decent the higher one flies. Plus even closer trees in general look pretty good as does overall topography. The caveats are that not all buildings load and structures as well as the ground resemble Jackson Pollock paintings -- without the detail.

Free bird!

But I'm not complaining. There appears to be a great deal of content on offer here, including extra items such as another plane and more missions and achievements if you login to your Games for Windows/Xbox Live account. Considering the large island, various objectives and collectibles, and decent controls, this is a welcome title. Oh, and did I mention it's FREE?

And take it from a lifelong console gamer, this is a nice alternative for a platform that I otherwise am pretty unfamiliar with and have little interest in cultivating. I look forward to exploring more of the island and familiar landmarks, as well as getting to appreciate all the game has to offer, even if in doing so I see more of the ground then the sky.