As promised, Microsoft has made their latest flight simulator game available to the masses as a free download today. The announcement came a few hours in advance of their Windows 8 Consumer Preview event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which will undoubtedly catch most of the attention today.

"There was an overwhelming demand for access to the 'Microsoft Flight' beta and the number of requests was far more than what we initially planned for," said executive producer Joshua Howard. "We received amazing feedback from the beta participants and it's great to see this level of excitement from fans."

The free-to-play base game allows players to fly around the island of Hawaii on the Icon A5, an unreleased $140,000 seaplane that uses regular gasoline rather than aircraft fuel, and requires a sport pilot license to operate it. Gamers who sign up using their Games for Windows LIVE account will have access to achievements and receive additional free content, from extra missions to new planes, including a Boeing Stearman. Of course, additional content such as new aircraft and regions will also be available for purchase.

Needless to say, the title isn't a replacement for the discontinued Flight Simulator franchise but rather a new take on it. Previous releases up to Flight Simulator X in 2006, while popular, were very much niche products regularly supported by third party mods and add-ons. Microsoft is hoping this new approach will reach a broader audience without alienating flight enthusiasts who cherished the series' realism and customizability.

The lack of cheaply-priced DLC could make it difficult to lure in users, however. Available at launch will be a stripped-down version of the P51 Mustang, a fighter that debuted in World War II, for $8; the Maule M-7-260Ca rugged utility aircraft featuring a cockpit view for $15 (the P-51 only has an exterior view); and the Hawaiian Adventure Pack, which adds "hundreds of miles" to explore the entire Hawuaii island chain, 20 new missions, new challenges, and the Vans RV-6A, a two-seat, single-engine, low-wing homebuilt airplane.

The game is available for Windows PCs only with at least a 2GHz dual-core processor, a 256MB DirectX 9 compliant graphics card, 2GB of RAM, and 10GB of hard drive space. For an optimal experience Microsoft recommends a 3GHz dual-core processor or better, at least a Radeon HD 5670 or Nvidia GeForce 9800 GT graphics card, 6GB of RAM, and 30GB of hard drive space.