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MSFS is very nice, but is made to be more of a game than a simulator. Try X-Plane too -- it has a very good (and getting even better) flight model and an great amount of work has been put into realism, including the ability to fail any of the airplane's systems to see how you can recover. It has been used for generic (not specific to a single airplane model) full-motion simulators (these people are just building full size cockpit with X-Plane).
You are right in the fact that you can't really compare a simulator to the "real thing" because you can't look around, but it does seem to help. I only flew once so far (introductory flight), and the instructor kept his apendages off the controls for most of the flight (he did the final landing, though). He didn't believe me when I told him that I never flew an airplane before.
Even if the end goal is soaring, you might want to try this some time. I think it's the ultimate flying experience you can get as a civilian. I didn't try it (still saving the money... who knows maybe in a couple years I can afford it) but Ken Thompson did (a couple years ago, with another company it seems): see his story.