McCarran International, or as ICAO refers to it KLAS, is the latest release from FSDreamteam but is not their first sojourn outside of Europe. In the last year they have also released John F Kennedy and Chicago O'Hare International Airport’s so with this release, a triangle of intercontinental destinations are now possible across the United States if you own all three.
Starting life in 1942 as the ‘Alamo Airport’ then owned by George Crockett a descendant of the famous American Frontiersman Davy Crockett, it was purchased 6 years later and renamed McCarran Filed after Pat McCarran a local Senator who had played an important role in developing aviation in the United States. Since 1948, McCarran has grown to cover over 2700 acres and now has four runways (7R/25L - 7L/25R and 1L/19R - 1R/19L ), two terminal complexes, a dedicated cargo handling ramp and various smaller terminals and flight operators on its borders. To say it’s a sprawling mini city is closer to the truth and with the Vegas strip sitting next to it, McCarran is a bit of an icon in both the real and FSX worlds. A simple Google or YouTube search will give you literally hours of information and video footage of aircraft operations in and out of this location. Add to that it also has an air of mystique given the elusive fleet of white ‘Janet’ 737’s transporting people to area 51 are also based there.
Having reviewed Zurich and bought Geneva, I am very familiar with FSDreamteam’s design approach and quality of work. Las Vegas is different in that it’s the first really big airport I have seen from them, so I went into the review wondering what performance would be like given the level of detail I associate with their work. I was cautiously optimistic given the design methodology they use. I was also intrigued by two innovative new features that take advantage of the Couatl engine FSDreamteam have developed that allows a high degree of interaction between FSX and FSDreamteam add-ons. In this case Park Me™ and YouControl™, which were first seen at JFK would be new toys for me to play with.
Installation and Documentation
As with all other FSDreamteam releases, the file itself is freely available from the FSDreamteam website and anyone can install it in trial mode making it fully functional for about 5 minutes before all the terminal buildings disappear leaving you with nothing but gates. In this case, KLAS is close to 87MB to download. FSDreamteam use a simple self installer that relies on an internet connection as additional components are downloaded as required. The install itself only took a few minutes and once on your HD, will sit in the FSDreamteam folder in the main FSX folder it either creates or adds to depending on whether you own any other FSDreamtem add-ons. Total install size is just under 200MB. I then activated the scenery through the in-game Add-on Manager that’s installed as well, this allowed me to ‘buy’ the scenery while staying in FSX and once done, this activates the scenery making it fully functional.
With the Install completed I checked out the manual that can be found in the KLAS folder. The manual is a PDF file and is 48 pages long of which the first 10 pages relate to activation, animated jetway’s and then introduces the concept of ParkMe™ and YouControl™ which we will look at shortly. The remaining 38 pages include charts and information for all of the KLAS arrivals and departures, the ILS approaches for all 4 runways and a gate map.
Extensive is an understatement when describing the information provided and given KLAS is so extensive, the Gate map is probably the minimum users will need just to figure out where they are trying to park. If you like it as real as it gets, the approach charts will keep you busy unless of course you have an FMC that you can program meaning you can select a STAR and watch the aircraft itself fly the approach.
typically print out the manual and charts and this was no exception. It’s not often you end up with a small book of charts, so I was suitably impressed. If you are not familiar with using charts things can get crazy pretty quickly so while I encourage virtual pilots to look them over, don’t worry if you freak out a bit and put them to one side. If charts are your thing and technical reality is what you enjoy, the inclusion of these are a blessing and will save time trying to source them externally.
Viva Las Vegas
KLAS covers a large area with three unique terminal buildings as well as cargo and private operators. From the start it was clear the quality I have associated with FSDreamteam’s previous releases continued with a high resolution photoreal base the scenery sits on. The runways, taxiway areas and gate ramps all use higher resolution textures so are crisp and clearly defined with taxi signs and 3D lights guiding aircraft around the facilities during the day and night. On the ramp areas additional ‘dirtying’ has been done at the gates and shadow effects have been added around the building bases and scenery objects. Personally I like this effect as it gives scenery a more gritty realistic look rather than being sterile and clean. The building base shadows may not be everyone’s cup of tea, one line of thinking is let FSX generate the shadows itself. The issue with that in scenery like KLAS is performance because it’s so big and the detail so full.
KLAS is a little like Chicago O’Hare in that the terminal area is not one building. As I said earlier, the terminals themselves are 3 buildings spread across the airport. Terminal 2 is for International arrivals and departures and is by far the smallest of the 3 areas. All 8 gates are featured with fully animated purpose built jetways and various static scenery items included, depending on how close you are. Near this area is the fuel farm and various smaller buildings and car parks all well detailed. Like their other releases, KLAS uses LOD and is one of the reasons their scenery performs well in FSX. Terminal 1 covers 2 buildings and is where the main check-in and airport parking facilities are located. This is a massive building and is the hub of the operation. The detail in Terminal 1, Gates A, B and C is very impressive, with a total of 75 gates it covers a considerable area and as you can image, the detail around these is high especially if you have your scenery density settings up.
I mentioned a moment ago level of detail or LOD, so now’s as good a time as any to expand on that because it applies across the entire airport. For those not familiar with the concept of LOD it means the closer you are to something the more you will see. Let’s look at some images that show you what I mean. In the LOD 1 image below you can see the gates are fully animated and in position, and the detail on them and around the aircraft is all visible. In LOD 2 the gate is still in position at the 757 but note it’s not for the 737, from this distance the jetway is now a static more simple object and some of the detail is no longer there. In LOD 3 the gate for the 757 has also moved so all the jetways visible are simpler non animated objects and detail around the ramp and on the jetways has all disappeared. The devil really is in the detail with good FSX scenery, this is clearly demonstrated in the ‘Detail’ image where you can see the huge bolts connecting the jetway arms, based on the LOD principal these get simpler and ultimately disappear with distance.
The D gates are located in their own building midway between Terminal 1 and the cargo area and are represented in the scenery as they will be once fully completed, so FSDreamteam have added some future proofing into KLAS. The scenery includes the trams that travel between check-in and Gates C and D and these are animated and run along the tram tracks in the scenery and will disappear underground as they head for D gates. The building housing the D Gates is very impressive and features a large glass frontage as well as KLAS’s ground tower.
FSDreamteam seem to like having internal portions of their scenery, it was certainly one of the features of Zurich and KLAS doesn’t disappoint either with a major hall featuring palm trees and passengers waiting to board their flights. If you like AI spotting there are good views from here across gates D1-D34 as well as general ramp action. The tower is also another great vantage point. Using slew, I was able to get a great 360 degree view of the airport and if you look closely in the Tower Day View image below you’ll see a video camera in the bottom right corner. This is the level of detail you will find in KLAS and in my experience is why FSDreamteams products stand out.
KLAS comes with gates defined for airlines that use it, so I noted my AI traffic parked appropriately with International airlines using Terminal 2 as they do in the real world. In fact, most of the airlines featured at KLAS in the real world are clustered together so it was reasonably easy to see what airline’s gates were what. There were a few anomalies to this but overall it worked well.
The cargo area is somewhat more basic but still effective with plenty of static objects; it’s also a good example of the dedicated airline parking as it fills up with freighters depending on what time of day you are around. Mid-field are a few other buildings, the largest of these is what appears to be the fire tender base between gates A & B and the Vegas strip. On the ‘Strip’ side of the airport is an extensive area of more buildings and facilities with hangars and buildings from the numerous private aviation operators. A few of the distinct buildings include VideoPoker.com, Imperial Air Ltd, Atlantic Aviation and the unremarkable looking operations centre for world famous ‘Janet Airlines’.
Janet flights take workers to Area 51, Edwards AFB and what some refer to as ‘spook’ locations in the area. The Atlantic Aviation and several other hangars in this area utilize the YouControlTM feature allowing you to open and close the hangar door from a menu. While not overly exciting, it does add an additional level of interaction to the scenery and probably more importantly is a taste of things to come in future FSDreamteam releases. So to with ParkMeTM. Simply put ParkMeTM allowed me to select the gate I wanted to park at and it would be activated for me. Once I arrive, ParkMeTM magically tracks my nose gear and gives me directions like a Safe Dock system. As I got closer it counted down the feet before I reached the ideal location for my aircraft and then instructed me to stop. Once done it then rated my attempt. This was a bit of fun, although I didn’t really care either way about my rating. What would have been handy is some form of visual clue as to the location of the gate. Referring to the ramp chart was fine but at least having the option of a arrow or taxi lines similar to what you can turn on and off with ATC would be helpful particularly at very large airports like KLAS. Either way, both these add-ons are neat functions and I wait with interest to see how they are evolved over coming releases.
When Night Descends
By night KLAS becomes a different place and FSDreamteam have managed to create night lighting effects that are the best I have seen to date in an FSX scenery. I was immensely impressed by the way light splashes across the ramps and gets progressively darker, particularly as it reflects spill light from the terminal windows. The lighting through the terminal windows looks very realistic although I did note the one anomaly of the entire scenery at the A and B gates. The jetways themselves sit a lot higher than the shadows of the people inside and when I investigated this further, it appears this is an area of inaccuracy in the scenery.
When compared to photos of the actual buildings the jetways sit at, the terminal floor level not 1/3rd up. I’m picking this is an issue with the way gates are done in FSX and is a trade-off of having them animated. Personally give me animated any day. While it looks a bit weird at night, if you notice that is, it’s not a biggie in my view and didn’t detract from my experience. I found the taxiway lighting to be quite different than anything else I have seen. While the blue 3D lights cast a blue glow across the ground, the green type looked like little candles on the taxiway. As an effect it was quite stunning. The way ramp lamps are lit is also different.
Historically the approach to ramp lighting has been to either ignore them and use textures or make some form of transparent beam. FSDreamteam have elected to use textures in the form of a 6 sided light flare and I find the end result to be quite visually satisfying and works well with the ramp light texturing. Of course with the Las Vegas strip lit up at night, McCarran becomes a visual feast to put it mildly and if you can nudge up your AI settings, it’s well worth the reward visually with aircraft coming and going regularly.
So with all this eye candy and detail, what’s the price you pay in performance? To be honest, I don’t think it’s a big price as long as you have a good system and adjust your settings. If you already get good performance from your default hi detail McCarran then it’s a good bet you’ll be fine with FSDreamteams version. This is where the beauty of the trial comes in, download it and run the scenery and see how you go. You’ll find out pretty quickly what the deal is on your machine.
FSDreamteam have delivered another quality add-on with KLAS. The attention to detail and quality of the scenery objects, the texturing of the runway, ramps and taxiways and photoreal base come together to create an immersive airport experience, throw in ParkMeTM and YouControlTM and you have a complete package that performs well and looks bloody great. There was nothing in this package that disappointed me. As I said at the start, I did have some questions about how well this scenery would perform given its size but I was more than happy with my experience. The level of detail is the thing I like so much, yes you do pay a price in a few FPS but not to the extent that it becomes a slide show even with a good amount of AI traffic.
I’ll happily stand up and say I’m an FSDreamteam fan, but more importantly I’m an FSX fan, so I get really excited when I can spend time with a product that allows FSX to shine. McCarran shines because it’s a genuine FSX product and includes all the things you expect to see; bump mapping, dynamic shine, animated jetways and hi-resolution textures. Great work FSDreamteam, keep producing work like this and you may well redefine the meaning of as real as it gets.
What I Like About KLAS
What I Don't Like About KLAS
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