AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Package Review

Abacus Commuter Express 2

Product Information
Publisher: Abacus
Description:  Multiple aircraft add-on with flight creator platform
Download Size:
78.7
Format:
Auto-installer
Simulation Type:
FS 2004
Reviewed by: Brian Fletcher AVSIM Sr Staff Reviewer - June 27, 2006

Introduction

In this review we are going to take a look at a product that balances on the fine line of cost-value. The product is Commuter Xpress 2 from the folks at Abacus, and the purpose is to give sim enthusiast more for their money by providing six commuter aircraft, each with six liveries, and a flight creator that can be used to add a storyline to this package. The aircraft in this package include the Bombardier CRJ-900, de Havilland DHC-8-200 (Dash 8), Dornier 328 prop and jet models, Embraer ERJ-190, and the Saab 340B, all of which can be found operating in the Hub and Spoke system as commuter aircraft.

The tradeoff of getting six aircraft and a flight creator at a reasonable price is that the quality level will not meet the increasing demands of many simmers. The models are accurate, but do not include much in the way of animation outside of the typical control surfaces, landing gear, and doors. You will also have to deal with the same six liveries for each aircraft, none of which are particularly stunning. The panels are also accurate, but reflect the detail of Flight Sim 98, and the virtual cockpits yield much room for improvement.

As for the sound sets, well, you have already heard them all. That is because the aircraft are aliased to the default Boeing 737, Cessna 208, and Beechcraft King Air 350. While they are somewhat fitting for a few of the aircraft, you will probably find yourself in the Avsim library looking for something a little better. When it comes to the flight dynamics I believe that all of the aircraft are, as a minimum, fairly accurate, but I can’t say that is enough to make up for a level of quality that falls well short of what Sim enthusiasts have come to expect.

But my goal here is not to bash Commuter Xpress2 by any means. In fact, I have had a great time exploring this package, and have even discovered ways to improve upon it. Even though you can not modify the models, a little time in the paint shop, a couple of new panels, and a few new sound sets (both available at the Avsim library), can really enhance this package considerably. And I have actually discussed this package with a handful of simmers who, for one reason or another, like it as is.

As you will soon learn I am not an active member in the CX2 fan club, but perhaps you will see this product in a different light. To find out, you will need to set course for the Abacus website with $29.00 in your pocket and about 637 MB of free space on your hard drive. Now we’re ready to install this package.

Installation and Documentation

Installing this package involves nothing more than following the auto-install routine. You will need to have your key code handy, agree to the terms of use, and verify the FS9 directory. After that, just sit back and wait while the auto-installer works its magic. Once installed, you may wish to visit the newly created CX2 folder in the main FS9 directory which houses a few useful files for your viewing pleasure.

In this folder you will notice several files and folders, but most of them, like the airport ID’s and company schedules are of little concern. However, I would recommend taking a peak at the aircraft information documentation which includes a brief history of each of the aircraft, the specs, and a walk-through of the Dornier 328 jet and prop panel. Here you will also get an education on the Hub and Spoke system and get a better feel for the theme of this product.

The Flight Creator

There’s not a whole lot to the flight creator, just double click on the Commuter Xpress 2 icon, select what company you want to fly for (livery), choose a departure and arrival airport from a drop down list, and pick the time you want to depart (also from a drop down list), and which of the six aircraft you want to use. Once you have your flight set up a description will appear on the right side of the screen with information related to the maximum number of passengers for that aircraft, the cruise speed, flight distance, gallons used per hour, fuel cost per gallon (which is irrelevant to this program), and the length of time it should take you to reach your cruising altitude along with the approximate time it will take to complete the flight. This section wraps up by giving you the approximate cost of taking this flight, which is again pretty much irrelevant unless you are keeping a company log.

After you are done reviewing the flight information you can click the “Fly Now” tab on the bottom of the screen and Flight Simulator will load with the aircraft you chose at your departure airport. The flight plan will be loaded into the GPS, and the time will be set to whatever you selected in the flight creator. And that just about does it for the flight creator. The program automatically closes when you start Flight Sim. There will not be any flight diagnostics when you are done, nor will you be given any information whatsoever as to how you did, how much money you made, or anything else for that matter.

 

Taken at face value I would not define the flight creator as being anything special. After all, you can just as easily select which aircraft you want to fly, the departure and arrival airports, time, season, and all parameters right inside of Flight Sim, with a whole lot more choices. But when used as a tool to help you create and operate a company or hub this program can be quite useful. You could use the flight creator to compliment programs like FS Passengers that actually create a flight report when you are done. Outside of something like that, I really don’t have much use for the flight creator, but perhaps you will.

The Exterior Models

My first impression of the exterior models was one of complete disappointment. The texturing appeared sub-par at best, and I was not overwhelmed by any of the six liveries, including Airlux, Ciel, Prestige Air, Sucaba Aviation, Swift Connection, and Zwaan. No matter how hard I searched I could not find any indication of rivets, screw or bolt heads, wear, dirt and exhaust effects, or anything else that would suggest any effort put forth to make these models suitable for FS9.

Continuing with the failures of the exterior models, you will notice that the passenger windows are painted on rather than being modeled. Though there are a few quality aircraft that have taken this route, a few simple Boolean operations during modeling could have tremendously enhanced these aircraft. Looking into the cockpits, I am not very impressed with the detail, but at least there are some halfway descent pilot figures and a fairly complete panel.

 

CRJ-900

The aircraft are fully animated, including the ailerons, flaps, elevators, rudders, landing gears, wheels, and passenger doors, and as far as I can tell they all seem to function fairly true to life. As for dynamic scenery…there is none. In fact, the models, though accurate, can be described best as plain and boring. However, I chock most of the external failures of these aircraft up to poor texturing, which yields plenty of room for the simmer to toss them into a texture editor and liven them up a bit.

 

Dash 8

Even though I do not feel that I should need to repaint these aircraft to make them worthy of parking in my hangar, I was pleasantly surprised with how well organized and simple the bitmaps were. Each of the aircraft contains both day and night textures that are very easy to work with in FS Repaint with any texture editor of your choice.

 

Dornier 328 Prop and Jet Versions

When it comes to the frame rates you don’t have anything to worry about with these aircraft. In fact, every one of them outperformed my default aircraft, which I had kind of expected after seeing how simple they are. On average, my FPS increased an average of 1.5 to 3 frames when compared to the default Boeing 737, 747, 777, and the Learjet.

 

ERJ-190 Saab 340

So it should be fairly obvious that I am not exited about any of the exterior models in this package. Whether it be the Bombardier CRJ-900, de Havilland DHC-8-200, Dornier 328 Jet or Prop, Embraer ERJ-190, or the Saab 340B, I am left with the feeling of being taken back to the days of Flight Sim 98. Now let’s go see if the interior modeling can get me in a better mood.

The Interior Models

After examining the exterior models I did not have high expectations of what I would find inside. And for the most part I was not very surprised to see interior modeling considerably inferior to most of the recent payware releases. There are two major issues that I have with the virtual cockpits, the first being that much of the texturing is sub-par, and the second being that a large percentage of the virtual cockpit controls are not functional.

As far as the texturing is concerned, there is very little shadowing or depth in the panels, and the seats, cabin doors, and flooring are about as bland as you can get. In a few of the aircraft the window framework is jagged, rather than having smooth round lines, and there is no evidence of windshield glare or discoloration.

When I mentioned the functionality of the instruments in the VC’s, I am referring to the fact that while there are many buttons, knobs, and switches, only a few actually work and you have to go searching to find them. The FMC’s make for nice graphics but are also nonfunctional. The animations include the flight yoke, rudder pedals, throttle quadrant, and if you squint hard enough you might even be able to read a few of the gauges.

By default you will be positioned very close to the panel and need to zoom out a little to see the gauges. But trying to find a compromise between the gauges being legible while still having a panoramic view can be very difficult. The best way I have found to get around this problem is to use the gauges in the sub-panels so that you can back off from the yoke a little and still see your altitude, IAS, and so forth. Unfortunately, the gauges will move when you pan around, but it’s still better than trying to read the VC gauges.

I have closely examined the virtual cockpits to find that they are actually not too far off from there real-world counterparts, but it can be hard to tell with the substandard texturing. Of course I am only referring to the components and locations of them in the VC’s, the actual design of each component, such as the seats and consoles are a far cry from reality.

If there is anything good to be said about the VC’s, I guess it would have to be the lighting, which is, as a minimum, better than the default aircraft. There is a nice mix between backlighting and an array of cabin lighting that actually look pretty good…in most of the aircraft.

So as you can imagine the frame rates in this view will not affect the performance too much. I have found all of the VC’s to perform as well, if not better than any of the default aircraft, but that is only a good thing in theory. In reality, interior models with satisfactory detailing should decrease the FPS, not significantly, but at least measurably. An increase in FPS indicates that these aircraft have nothing to offer that the default aircraft do not.

Well it looks like I’m not off to a really good start. The exterior and interior modeling has left me ready to delete these aircraft from my collection in a hurry. But I’m not giving up on this package just yet, so let’s go see if the panels have anything to offer.

The Panels

I have given this package every opportunity to impress me, but after inspecting the panels, I am just about fed up with these aircraft. With one exception, that being the Dash 8, these panels have helped me to make up my mind about this product already, and I’m not thinking good thoughts.

 

CRJ-900

The panels are designed accurately as far as the modeling aspect of the design process is concerned, but the texturing is simply awful. There is little, if any, depth as normally shown by proper shadowing and coloration, and the texturing of the panels where the space is not taken up by gauges or other instrumentation is weak.

 

Dash 8

There are a variety of sub-panels, including the default GPS, a ground handling gauge, radio stacks, and other instruments, some of which are already on the panel. Just like the virtual cockpits, I believe that the panels consist of the proper gauges in there correct locations, but that is to be expected anyway.

 

Donier 328 Prop Panel Dornier 328 Jet Panel

Quite frankly I am just as disappointed in the panels as I am with the rest of this package, so I am going to let the screenshots finish talking for me. But I will discuss the frame rates. If you are searching for smooth frames, even with high scenery settings, than these panels are just for you. As a minimum, each of these panels performs as well as any of the default aircraft.

 

ERJ-190 Saab 340

So let’s recap where we’re at now. I have concluded that the exterior models are not up to par, the interior models are substandard, and the panels are simply disgraceful. That pretty much seals the deal on this package for me, but I still have the sound sets to review…well, sort of.

The Sound Sets

If you are looking for authentic sound sets for each of these aircraft then you will need to consult the Avsim file library. That is because each of the sound sets included in this package alias the default Boeing 737, Beech King Air 350, or Cessna 208 as applicable. Even though this package is intended to give you more for your money by keeping the development costs low, you are not really getting that much “more” when it comes to the sound sets at all.

What really bothers me about the sounds being aliased is that the default sounds are already substandard as is, and even if they weren’t, they do not fit these aircraft. I have had the opportunity to fly in both the Dash 8 and Cessna 208, and I know from first hand experience that they do not sound similar enough to share a sound set. In an aircraft such as the CRJ-900 with the engines on the rear of the fuselage, the 737 sound set is too loud in the cockpit, and a little too deep from the spot view, where my viewpoint is a little closer to the engines from behind the aircraft.

The cure for this dilemma is as simple as taking a quick flight to the Avsim file library and downloading some new freeware sound sets, or replacing them with some already in your inventory. But again, I have to wonder whether or not this is something that I should have to do after forking over $29.00 for this package. So that’s another section down with not much good to say. That leaves just leaves me with the airfiles.

The Airfiles

Test System

Computer Specs

Compaq Presario SR1232
AMD Athlon 2.2 GHz
2 GB Ram
NVIDIA Ge Force FX5500
StarLogic 21” Flat Panel Monitor @ 1024 X 768
CH USB Flight Yoke
CH USB Rudder Pedals
Saitek X52 Flight Control System
FTP 290 Throttle Quadrant
Bose 5:1 Surround Sound

Laptop

Toshiba Satellite
1.6 GHz Intel Celeron M
512 MB DDR2 SD Ram
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900

Flying Time:
44 hours

As far as I can tell each of the aircraft flight dynamics in this collection seem to be moderately authentic, but I would have to say that they all tend to favor the novice simmer. In fact, I have been quite successful at operating each of these aircraft with just my mouse and keyboard, which is not one of my specialties.

Plugging my flight yoke and joystick back in I got the impression that the aircraft were just a touch too sensitive, mostly in the elevator control, that is until it came time to land, which I will discuss in a moment. Takeoff is a breeze in any of these aircraft, as they are all well suited for short runways. The larger aircraft will naturally require a little more room, but any facility with a few thousand feet of concrete can get the job done.

The CRJ-900 and ERJ-190 both have one thing in common, actually they have a lot in common, but most notably I found that they can climb at very high rates of vertical speed, almost reminiscent of the 757. The smaller aircraft will not climb quite as fast, but I have noticed that they can maintain there airspeed much better giving the pilot plenty of time to get the gears and flaps up…especially for those of you who might use these aircraft in a program like Airliner Pilot.

While cruising, I found that the max speed and surface ceiling of these aircraft as defined in the A/C information manual and reference sheets is just the beginning of what they are actually capable of. Though FL410 is considered to be the limit for the CRJ-900, I have had no problems pressing upwards of 60,000 feet without stalling or any noticeable lack of control. A few of these aircraft, such as the Saab 340 may not push the limits quite as far, but none of them are restricted to there ceiling as described.

When it comes time to land these birds you can grab a cup of coffee and sit back while the aircraft pretty much land themselves. With a single increment of flaps and an airspeed within 20 knots or so of the recommended landing speed, these aircraft will give you very little problems remaining on a good glide path and they all touchdown like a butterfly with sore feet.

If you are using a program like FS Passengers you may need to work with the payload models a little. I have found that all of the aircraft end up grossly overweight with a full load of passengers, the ERJ-190 being at 247% by default. But other than that I would say that these aircraft are perfect for someone who wants to travel a short to medium range without coughing up a lot of money for fuel.

You will also notice that it doesn’t take a lot of runway to land any of these aircraft. While flying through southern California I happened to come across an airfield of only 2,100 feet, and managed to get each of these aircraft safely on the ground with room to spare. I give a lot of the credit to the fact that each of these aircraft can land so slowly, some as low as 110 knots, that it almost feels like flying an ultra-light.

All in all I am not overly exited about these airfiles, but I am not as disappointed as I was with the rest of the aircraft. While I think that the avid simmer will likely pick up on a few errors in this department, I also believe that most of the aircraft require only a little alteration of the airfiles to bring them up to speed.

Let’s Take a Flight…Let’s not

Normally I would use this time to take a flight in one of my new aircraft, but to be honest I am not very enthused about any of them, and can’t stomach another flight listening to the default sound sets as I sit behind an FS98 quality panel. Therefore, I have decided to take a moment to discuss how I have been able to enhance these aircraft to a presentable level.

 

CRJ-900 VC

I’m sure that just about all of you are aware of the freeware panels, sound sets, and other upgrades available, after all, if you’re reading this review then you obviously know your way around Avsim. But what some of you may not be aware of is the array of utilities that you can use to create your own replacement components for these aircraft.

First, I would like to draw your attention to a program called FS Repaint, which can be used to add a little life to the exterior and interior texturing. Rather than trying to find a repaint of these aircraft, which is hard to do, you may wish to take a little time to create some of your own. I have personally invested quite a bit of time adding real-world liveries to these aircraft, and even a few of my own creation.

 

Dash 8

You may also want to look into a program like FS Panel Studio to help you make some more suitable panels for these aircraft. There are a few freeware artists who have already posted some fantastic panels for each of these aircraft available for download, and you can also add your own gauges and texturing. I have chosen to use the Reality XP Wx500 in a few of them, and I have also replaced the default GPS with a freeware version.

 

Dornier 328 Prop VC
Dornier 328 Jet VC

While you’re enhancing these aircraft don’t forget about the sounds. A quick trip to the Avsim file library is all you need to get these sound sets in order, or you can easily replace them with a sound file from an aircraft in your inventory. It’s a lot better than having to mute your speakers every time you take a flight.

 

ERJ-190 VC
Saab 340 VC

So now that I have modified these aircraft to something I can park in my hanger without embarrassment, I have to wonder if it was worth the effort. And as you will find out when I conclude this review, I just can’t come to terms with having to go to all that trouble to make these aircraft half-way decent.

Conclusion

With all of the add-ons available for Flight Simulator there is no room on my hard drive for those of inferior quality. Therefore, it is with great regret that I am unable to recommend this product, as the level of quality falls well short of my minimum requirements. While this package can be enhanced considerably, I do not believe that payware products should need to be improved upon directly after purchase. And while I fully understand the concept of sacrificing quality to save the consumer a few bucks, I don’t think that the cost-value of this package is reasonable.

The models are accurate but the detail is simply sub-par at best. The passenger windows are painted on as opposed to being modeled, the animations are minimal (when compared to premium payware), and the included liveries are nothing special. The sound sets being aliased to the default aircraft can be easily remedied, but again, I just don’t think that I should have to spend time upgrading an aircraft after having paid money for it. And as for the interior modeling and panels, well, I will let the screenshots speak for themselves.

But like I said in the beginning of this review, it is not my goal to bash this product, at least not intentionally. There may very well be some of you who would like this package as is, or with a few modifications, but I would suggest taking a look at the Avsim file library for comparable aircraft before investing in a product that simply can not stand the test of time. In fact, I think time ran out on these aircraft a while ago.

My analysis is simple; I do not care much for CX2, it has already been removed from my hard drive, and I can not place my stamp of approval on this package. And even though I have been able to enhance this package quite a bit, why should I have to do anything but sit back and fly? I know that the idea here is to give simmers more for there money, but I really don’t see that much “more” to make it worth the $29.00.

Take a trip to the Abacus website and you will find some of the greatest add-ons available for FS9, a few of which I have reviewed in the past, like FSDS3, EZ-Scenery, Visual Aircraft and Scenery Studio, and FS Repaint. You will also notice that they have begun a Premium aircraft collection with the release of there Constellation, and there are many other packages that fit nicely into any simmers virtual world. But as for the product under review today, well, I would just scroll right past it…just my opinion.

 

What I Like About Communter Xpress 2
  • The flight dynamics are descent
  • The aircraft are easily enhanced
  • The price is okay assuming that you find the quality of this package satisfactory (I do not)

 
What I Don't Like About Communter Xpress 2
  • The exterior texturing is bland and uneventful
  • The interior texturing is not much better
  • All of the sound files are aliased to default aircraft
  • The flight creator yields much room for improvement…perhaps a flight analysis after touchdown?

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Commuter Xpress 2

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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