One of the great things about Flight Simulator is that you can simply decide where you want to be, and you can just go there. Lately I’ve decided to fly GA around OrbX PNW. But, I may decide to go somewhere else.
For example, Finland. And within Finland, why not Helsinki? One of the big cities in Northern Europe, it is rich with history and culture, and being in the north, it’s another one of those nice and cold destinations that I love so much.
Helsinki airport is not an entirely new addition to Flight Simulator. The Finnish Scenery Design Team (FSDT) used to have their own version of Helsinki. This was a scenery for FS2004 though, although compatibility patches enabled it to be used in FSX also. Still, it was a very nice scenery.
With Aerosoft’s new offering, is FSDT’s scenery still necessary? We’ll soon see how Aerosoft’s version looks, feels and flies. I for one am very excited that a new FSX Helsinki scenery is finally here for our flying pleasure.
It’s proximity to other Northern cities, such as Oslo, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Stockholm and Denmark is an asst. And, let’s not forget: it’s very close proximity to Russia! This might be one of the first major airport sceneries to be very close to one of Russia’s largest urban centers: St. Petersburg. Let’s see how the scenery stacks up!
Installation and Documentation
Installation of the scenery is very easy and works in the normal Aerosoft way. Anybody who has installed Aerosoft sceneries before will know how it works: download the executable (or insert the DVD), start the installer, insert your serial key and email address, and click the “Install” button.
The Helsinki scenery has an additional step, however: online activation. Aerosoft has been rather inconsistent with their application of this new activation system, however. I’d think every new scenery they produce has it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Helsinki is one of the sceneries that features this new activation step. Fortunately, it’s fully automatic and requires no further user input.
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You first get a pop-up asking you whether you want to activate right now. I suggest to just say yes. The sooner you deal with it the better, and if you don’t and try to fly from the scenery anyway, you’ll get all kinds of display errors.
Once you click the “Yes” button, you’ll get a small screen with a progress bar. The bar fills at random, then empties and starts filling up again, so at no point do you actually know how far the process has gone. Still, it’s a good enough indicator for showing something is happening. And when activation is finished, you get a notice saying so.
Alternatively, you can use the Aerosoft launcher, which is just as easy and quick, but doing the activation directly after installation is even quicker and easier.
Finally, the scenery comes with its very own tweaking tool. This is an approach I very much value, for sceneries often contain eye candy that is very nice but is rather useless since it’s behind the airport terminal and you can’t see it anyway: static cars, trees, all kinds of streetlights.
This tool allows you to turn such things on or off. It also makes it possible to swap textures between high and low resolution versions and other such things. It’s a good tool that does what it needs to do very well and I’m sure many people will welcome it (I sure do!).
Overview of the terminal building
Helsinki Vanta is one of those airports with a very interesting terminal design. Part of that is because of the way new followed up on old. The older part is clearly distinguished to the right of the big control tower. Here is a “piece of terminal building” that looks kind of brown and murky and features its own small control tower. This is the older part.
Later they added the wing you see to the left, and finally the part all the way to the right was added. I always find it neat to see how architecture evolves over the decades, and Helsinki is no exception. The new terminals feature a lot of glass and metal, which you also see in many other airports around the world.
What springs to my mind is the H concourse of Schiphol airport; the new piers at Charles-de-Gaulle airport and Madrid Barajas, and of course there are many, many more.
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The new control tower
Helsinki tends to be remembered for the interesting architecture of the control tower and the terminal on which it stands. The glass and metal design is very beautiful and its representation in FSX is also very good. If you look closely, you’ll notice that much of the glass is transparent and that you can look inside. Not that there’s much to see, but it’s a nifty little touch that adds to the overall experience. It makes things look less flat.
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The new control tower rises from the middle of the passenger terminal. In fact there is a Schengen part and a non-Schengen part. The above shots show the Schengen part (if I understand correctly). The modeling and texturing are rather nice, but you need to get used to it. It’s not realistic in the way that OrbX and such tend to do.
There is something artsy about it that, to be honest, turned me off a bit in the beginning, but it grows on you. I really like the look now and I enjoy sitting on the ramp looking at the details. The shadows are very expressive, creating a rather unique atmosphere. This modeling and texturing is all over the scenery, though in some places it seems more effective than in others. The jetways also looks very nice; this is, incidentally, a spot where the artsy, expressive textures work very well.
The non-Schengen terminal
We just gave the Schengen terminal a look, so let’s go to the non-Schengen part, which can be seen in its entirety above. It was extended not to long ago, evidenced by the beautiful metal and glass structure at the very end of the rather brown and murky building up front. We’ll now zoom in a bit…
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The non-Schengen terminal from closer by
The older, brown part of this terminal stands in very sharp contrast with the new part, which is all shiny. I think Aerosoft captured the atmosphere of this place very well. It comes across as being genuinely old. A seventies/eighties type of building. Interestingly, you can look inside. Again, there isn’t much to see, but coupled to the reflections of the terminal’s glass airside front, you get a rather dynamic kind of visualization that looks very nice.
The jetways looks equally good: they seem old, worn-out, and well used. At least on the old part. The new part just screams newness. The silver, shiny roof and blue-tinted glass look really nice and modern, and the jetways are seemingly of a newer type too. At least, they look cleaner than the other ones.
Also notice the detail around the jetways. The fire equipment and signs for instance, which are all in 3D. The shadows add some drama which fits this place very well, like in the Schengen terminal.
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Passenger terminal landside
The landside of the passenger terminal is very detailed. The various parking garages, numerous cars, signs, everything is there. Note that you can turn off the cars and I needed to do this (after completing the review) since it really helped getting the FPS higher. You don’t really notice them anyway from the tarmac, so I decided not to waste too much FPS on them.
Overall, landside looks just fine. The detail is appreciated. Especially notice the detail of the textures on the various signs: crisp and quite beautiful. The satellite imagery is very blurry though, but since you won’t see it, it doesn’t really matter.
This concludes the passenger terminal and its related structures. We’ll continue to the cargo terminal now, which is right beside the passenger terminal.
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The cargo terminal is right next to the Schengen terminal and consists of a host of warehouses, hangars and lots of ground equipment. It’s not as big as at some airports, but considering the fact that Helsinki Vantaa isn’t that big to begin with, the cargo aprons still take up probably a quarter of the aprons that are in active use every day.
From that perspective, this is a rather big cargo area. We find some of the big names, such as TNT and DHL (see below), although others, like FedEx, are conspicuously missing. Finnair cargo has its head office here too (see below). Mind you, they are operators of the MD-11F, so PMDG MD-11 users: you might want to fly to Helsinki one day.
Finnair Cargo head office and warehouses
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Structures at the cargo apron
I find the buildings at this apron to be of varying quality and realism. This has much to do with two things: building texture saturation and ground textures. I find the colors on some buildings to be too saturated (the blue hangar doors, DHL and TNT signs especially), so that as a result the colors “explode in your face”. It doesn’t seem very appropriate and I think lowering the saturation would have made them look more realistic.
I already said that the textures are more expressive and dramatic in this scenery than in others, and I said that in some place it works well; here it doesn’t in my opinion. It looks too cartoony for me…
Many of the grey/silver buildings, on the other hand, look just fine. I wonder about the resolution of the textures. It seems slightly blurry, which detracts somewhat from the overall quality. You don’t even notice it that much, but when you compare it one-on-one with the terminal building textures, you’ll see that the latter are crisper.
My second main gripe with the cargo apron is the apron textures and the ground markings. The ground texture is just that: a single texture. While it is very crisp and by itself looks astounding, having the complete cargo apron covered with the same texture looks a bit dull to me. For this reason I like to have a combination of satellite imagery and a detail layer over it. This gives, in my opinion, the best combination of variation and realism and extreme detail (as long as the photo imagery is a high enough resolution!).
The ground markings are okay, but they seem kind of thick and make the apron look chaotic. Perhaps if they were a darker tone of yellow the effect would have been less pronounced. The nice little details on the edges of the markings are however most welcomed.
The very uniform ground texture adds a second problem. Usually, when using satellite imagery, there is a “feedback” that you get from the ground textures. When a 3D object is placed, it is placed on top of a spot where a corresponding structure on the imagery is depicted. That is how these sceneries are also usually made: this way you are sure that objects are placed correctly. For the user it adds another level, also, because the user, even if he doesn’t really know it, he will “feel” that it’s all okay.
If an object is placed on a uniform piece of texture, you have no idea about the positioning of that building. I get the feeling of “floating objects” because they are not “anchored” to a flat, photoreal depiction of the structure on the satellite imagery. Look at the image below, and you’ll probably see what I mean.
These storage vats are placed on photoreal imagery. You, as the user, can see where it stands and you can see the object’s direct surroundings. As such, it feels like it belongs there. Try to imagine what it would have looked like on a uniform piece of generic grass texture, and that feeling would probably be lost.
I find it hard to truly put into words why it is that I’m against using such uniform textures instead of combinations with photoreal ground textures, but I hope you get the gist of what I’m talking about… See the shot below with the parked cars. Without the white parking markings, it seems like they were placed rather randomly, which detracts from the overall realism. Granted, these cars are parked behind structures so you won’t see them that well.
Since this is the case I actually see even more reason to simply use the satellite imagery: if the quality of that imagery is too low for the developer to want to put it in direct sight of the user, that doesn’t matter in this location since we just established that chances are high the user will hardly spot this area, or at least he will not pay much attention to it.
All of that said, I don’t think the cargo apron looks bad, I just hoped it would look more realistic and more convincing as a whole. I miss unity between ground scenery and objects.
Miscellaneous airport areas
Finally, there are always some things that I can’t really put in any of the established categories, so I simply place it here. This includes things like lampposts and ground equipment which are featured everywhere on the airport:
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Ground equipment and lamp posts
I must say that the detail on these carts, lamps and whatnot is really great. It seems like everything was modeled, nothing was left to be portrayed by a “surrogate” texture, so that you get flat cross beams on the carts, for instance. A truly remarkable feat and the texturing is also very well done.
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Also in this category belongs the ground textures and ground markings. I have discussed this earlier in the context of the cargo apron. I realize I was quite negative. I want to stress that it doesn’t work very well (for me) when you place structures and such on these textures, but that doesn’t mean that on runways and taxiways the textures are bad; absolutely not!
They are very good as a matter of fact. The fact that it’s all the same detracts a bit from the overall feeling of realism, but it’s not half as bad as at the cargo apron. The ground markings also add life, although the colors of the red runway warnings might have been better if they were less saturated.
Overall though, their detail is welcomed in the context of the taxiways and runways, and overall it looks very nice and rather convincing.
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The approach lights are completely in 3D, like the ground equipment. They tend to look very good: realistic and convincingly so. The textures are not uniformly good, but in some placed they really are great, such as the textures for the actual lamps on the approach lights. The textures for the cabin you see in one of the screenshots are clearly of lesser quality, but given the fact that you probably hardly see it when flying over it at 140kts, it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s a nice additional tidbit.
The next part in this section shows all kinds of areas both on the airport’s grounds and in the immediate surroundings. I will not discuss each and every building, so I will give a general opinion.
First of all, I’m very happy so much of the surroundings were included. I’m a great fan of these things, as I believe that an airport scenery shouldn’t be just about the airport itself. It’s about experiencing the airport, and the surroundings play a very large role in that. There aren’t many designers that truly realize this, although it’s becoming a trend to include some surroundings. OrbX is one of the developers that realizes this and caters for that kind of audience, although they typically don’t do big airports.
In this scenery there is quite a lot to see outside of the airport. There are various large processing plants, for example, there is a very big DHL distribution and sorting plant just outside of the airport ground. On the airport grounds there are various very big hangars. Everything looks very nice; as I hinted at previously, the buildings’ modeling and texturing generally are very good. The textures are crisp, high quality, nice colors and provide a very nice atmosphere (with some exceptions; see above).
This general opinion can be seen pretty much in all the shots below. Overall, I can therefore say that I’m quite happy with how it all looks. The same criticism I had about the apron textures in the section on the cargo apron still applies here, though: because it’s all the same, you will notice how dull this sometimes looks on some of the overview shots that depict multiple hangars and airport objects.
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Every scenery should have night scenery. Helsinki Vanta of course has its own night scenery and it looks quite nice. Just as the shadows in daytime look dramatic, the lighting at night looks expressive also, in a very good way!
See the shots below. Especially the terminal buildings which look great and I also very much enjoyed the light effects used for the taxiway and runway lights. I can keep naming features and saying how I like it, but I think it’d be shorter if I just said I really enjoy the night lighting and this scenery in general, and then show you some screenshots, so here goes:
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In cold, Nordic conditions as Helsinki, not showing the winter scenery is almost like a crime; it’s half the attraction, right? I will be honest: parts of the winter I like very much, others I don’t really like. See below.
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What I do really like are the textures on the aprons. These are nice and subtle. They do enough to make it seem like it snowed without overdoing it. What I do not like is that some areas have not been given this treatment. It’s typically the areas where the user will not navigate his aircraft, but that does not mean you will not see these rather large (!) areas from the aircraft at takeoff.
The result is a representation of Helsinki-Vantaa in winter which is incomplete and breaks immersion as soon as you come out of the area in which the developer thought the user would come. I heavily recommend the developer adds snow to the areas that lack it now!
Something which has good and bad sides: the heaps of snow along the taxiways and runways. These look very nice, in principle. It gives the feeling that it snowed a lot and that they had to work hard in order to remove it all from the runways. There are two problems though: the borders of these heaps are jagged, which looks a bit strange if it doesn’t align very well with the borders of the taxiways and runways.
Secondly, the runway has been left completely devoid of any snow… It would have been nice if it would have gotten a treatment in the same league as the aprons, since I have never seen a runway in winter that was completely cleared of the snow. There always some snow that stays behind. It simply doesn’t look believable.
Overall, the representation of winter is nice, but it lacks in a few departments that breaks the immersion for me from time to time. That’s a pity, and perhaps the developer can look at these issues when he has time.
Just as important as the scenery’s look is also its functioning, for if your FPS are very low you will not enjoy it, however beautiful it is. My experience with the scenery was good overall, although noticeable frame drops occurred when turning the view towards the landside parking garages. After turning off the cars in that section, FPS was a lot better.
See the table below for some comparisons. Note that I tested aircraft models that I view as being highly likely to frequent Helsinki, and that I had my internal frame lock on 23. The conditions tested were daytime with Fair Weather.
Summary / Closing Remarks
| Test System |
• Windows 7 64 bit
• FSX + Acceleration
• Intel i5 Quad @2,79 GHz
• ATI HD5750
• 12GB RAM DDR3
• REX, FSGenesis, MyTraffic X, UTX Europe
Test Time: 9 hours
Format: Download (427MB)/DVD
Reviewed By: Benjamin van Soldt
The taxiways and runway, which use many of the same textures, are fine however, and the ground markings look very nice also in these areas. Another real high point is the night scenery. Especially the passenger terminal which is truly beautiful.
The winter scenery, while a nice addition, is not something I’m very much impressed by. There are areas that lack snow altogether, and the heaps of snow have jagged edges which looks strange if not aligned properly with the runway or taxiway edges.
Overall, I can recommend this airport to Nordic flyers, for in general it is a very nice add-on scenery, even with the things I noted. I hope the shortcomings that I have noted will be addressed in subsequent sceneries (if relevant).
What I Like About Mega Airport Helsinki
- The tweaking tool is useful for getting the optimal FPS.
- Extremely high resolution textures for structures.
- Very nice modeling of the passenger terminals.
- Overall good modeling at the cargo apron.
- Textures tend to be very atmospheric.
- Lots of surroundings included.
- Well-made landside areas.
- Beautiful shadows give a dramatic effect.
- Beautiful night scenery.
What I Dislike About Mega Airport Helsinki
- Very uniform ground textures makes parts of the airport look simple and a bit dull.
- Textures sometimes are too saturated.
- Ground markings not always look realistic.
- Winter scenery sometimes looks unrealistic, and more parts of the airport should have been covered by snow.