UK2000 Heathrow Xtreme v3.06
A review by Maxim Pyankov
London Heathrow Airport (EGLL) is a major international airport in London, England. It is the busiest airport in the UK, and is third busiest airport in the world. It has five terminals, with Terminal 5 (opened in 2008) used exclusively by British Airways.
UK2000 provided AVSIM with this simulated model of the airport, including functioning Terminal 2 (to be opened in July 2014), as well as Terminal 5. This package has the potential and the promise of a wonderful Flight Sim add-on, and I am looking forward to getting to know this product, and to share my thoughts with you.
Purchase, Download, and Manual
The installation process for UK2000 Heathrow Xtreme is straightforward. You receive two files within your account area in the UK2000Scenery portal. One of the files contains the main Heathrow package, and the other updates it to version 3.06. There weren’t any explicit installation instructions, so I started out by first downloading the files (total about 155MB), and then simply executing them (first – main installation, second – the update).
The installation wizard took me through the steps and there was nothing that I had to do, other than click the button ‘Next’. Very simple.
Once the installation completed, I was presented with a couple of dialogue boxes, which allowed me to have the installer automatically add the scenery to my FSX Add-On sceneries library, and setup my scenery options to my liking (and to ensure it worked within my system parameters).
The Options Setup wizard can be brought up from the All Programs group (after the install) should you decide to change the settings you had chosen during installation.
The install process created a new programs group, in my Programs section, titled UK2000 Scenery. In it, you can find useful links for charts, product manual (13 pages), a readme file, a couple of other links, and a shortcut to Options Wizard (Options - Configuration).
According to the manual, Heathrow Xtreme (version 3) is the “biggest single airport project for UK2000 Scenery”. This is an exciting statement, and it sets a high bar, as far as my expectations go, for this package. The manual also provides a bit of very high-level information about the airport itself and a slew of other useful information. As an example, it has a section explaining potential issues users may encounter, and how to deal with them within the constraints of FSX/FS9. Even if you do not experience any issues, I recommend that you skim through the document to see if there is anything beneficial for you.
As a final step in installation process, I made sure that my display scenery settings were configured at least to the specifications called out in the installation manual, or better. The manual contains instructions both for FS9 and FSX.
For my first peek into UK2000's Heathrow I loaded Aerosoft's powered down (aka cold-n-dark) A320 at gate 420. For this test I loaded the airport using both the UK2000's Normal settings, as well their 'Go Xtreme' settings. In either case, I got solid, very friendly frame rates (mine are capped at 30FPS, via FSX settings).
This airport is very large and, as such, offers opportunities for usage of various texture types across many different surfaces and objects. Visually you will experience various types of concrete and asphalt used for taxiways, runways, tarmac, and parking spots. The developers replicated the different kinds of asphalt wear and tear (cracks), and it looks authentic and realistic. While there are plenty of weather-and-elements (heat, cold, rain, snow) induced wear and tear displayed on the ground, I was surprised to see that there weren't any signs of oil or other fluid seepage and leakage on the tarmac, which I got used to seeing from other developers and which, in my opinion, add an additional level of realism to the simulated scenery.
Developers made a very nice job outlining the airport and its differing types of surfaces, and it shows in sharp, crispy edges and otherwise clear markings (taxiways, aprons); when two surface types meet (i.e. when the grass meets the tarmac), it looks very realistic and is very well done. I really like the interior, grassy areas of the airport. You will notice that it is not all green. Instead, the artists gave grass textures a whole range of colors from light gray (worn out by jet blasts), to light green, to dark green, depending on where the grass is. It looks great and adds to realism factor tremendously.
The airport is also peppered with airport objects, such as taxiway signage and parking systems. They are all very well done and add to immersion factor.
In order to push airport performance and to bring this airport alive, I needed to take an aircraft (ended up using Aerosoft's A320) and fly it in and out of the airport, including at least one take-off and one landing. Taking this flight would give me a good idea of how the airport performed under stress (AI traffic, weather, etc.), how it looked from above, and how it looked on approach.
I loaded my flight in an early evening hour, and (of course) it was raining cats and dogs! It was raining very heavy, and the package took a very slight hit to the frames, but not bad at all, and definitely not at all visible or detrimental to the experience. The experience, though, was immersive. All of a sudden, at a dusk hour, under a heavy blanket of clouds, the airport came to life with a beautiful comingling of metallic, glass, and grayish colors, and in that moment I felt as if I have been transferred out of the chair in my house into a soaked, rained out Heathrow airport.
By the time I came to my departing runway (27R), the rain got heavier, and the skies got darker. Sitting at the holding line (or about), I couldn't help but pan out of the aircraft and follow ILS lights out of the airport, on the other side of the barbed fence. I have to say that this sight was very, very impressive. Getting close to the ILS lights right outside the airport made me feel as though I was walking next to the fence, soaked in the rain, tempted by the playful lights of the airport. The astonishing attention to detail is absolutely amazing.
The runway textures are also very good. Because the performance of the airport package, overall, has been so good, the take-off was a real pleasurable experience. I could feel the speed and acceleration of the jet, fighting its way against the rain, and then a somewhat heavy lift off the ground. The package performed well, as the airport zoomed by to my left. From the air, in the rain and about to be swallowed up by heavy clouds, the airport was a sight to behold.
There are a couple of visual issues I would like to mention. First of all - the jetway wheels. They are blocky. For a moment, I thought I was transformed into Minecraft world. Jokes aside - I reached out to UK2000 and asked them whether it was my configuration that was wrong, or whether the wheels came this way. The answer that I got was that the wheels were such "by design...[to] save frame rates...". Now, I understand the premise, but I have to question this because it seems like such a big omission, considering how much work and labor went into the rest of the airport. Another issue, which will become quickly apparent to you as you are prepping for departure, is that the jetways will dig into the ground. This is not a UK2000 issues. This, I understand, is the core FSX defect, related to Service Pack 2. Supposedly, this behavior does not occur in SP1 environment, but I did not test that. Personally, I can overlook "dug in" jetways. It's the blocky wheels that distracted me somewhat.
The airport has airport vehicles that roam about like mindless zombies. It's nice that they are there, and some of them are modeled quite nicely, but that's about all I can say about that. Outside the airport (during my short excursion to the ILS lights) you can observe red double-deckers and other buses, which look good and add to realism on take-offs and approaches. Overall, you will find it that Heathrow ground traffic behaves much the same as it does at other airports, produced by other developers. It's there, and it adds a little to the character.
Night Lights and Seasons
To get a feel of what the airport looks like at night, I looked at it at two different times of day - early dusk, and deep darkness. From the air, the airport is clearly visible 15-20 miles out, provided the weather allows for it. The runways are well lit, and as long as you have done your navigational homework, you will recognize it from afar.
As you get closer to airport, and it starts to take shape, you will clearly notice the ILS lights leading into the runway. The lighting looks good, with buildings and parking spots being well lit, and other parts of the airport starting to descend into late evening darkness.
In complete darkness, the airport looked just as good. The runways were well lit and clearly visible from above and, once on the ground, there was plenty of marking and lighting to find my way to the correct parking spot. Again, it was an immersing experience to taxi over different types of surfaces. Depending on what kind of surface was being lit, it gave up a completely different look and feel, in the middle of the night. I think the developers deserve another round of applause for putting so much work into different types of surfaces and textures, to accommodate those with different effects.
Overall, night lighting follows the conventional wisdom where the buildings are well lit, and remote and isolate areas of the airport are hidden in the darkness, until you uncover them with your taxi lights.
I would like to mention that in the night time parking textures exhibit a more pronounced and realistic look and feel in terms of 'wear and tear and fluid leakage and seepage', lack of which I mentioned up above. While there aren't any obvious puddles of oil, or other spills, you can clearly see asphalt signs of wear and tear. I would still like to see some oil spots or similar effects at these parking spots, but I thought the look was very authentic. In addition, I would have liked to see more of miscellaneous objects by the gates - a few more parked luggage trucks, tug truck equipment, lined up luggage dollies, and the like. At times, the airport looked a bit desolate. Of course, you can ramp up your AI traffic levels, but you may have to pay for it in terms of the FPS hit.
Some things I would like to see improved. Jetway wheels, for example, could have been made round. A few more objects should have been placed around the airport to give it a little more life; some aircraft and aircraft-serving vehicle fluid leakage spots on the ground would go a long way. In addition, it would have been great to be able to switch between spring-summer and autumn-winter textures. As it is, it appears we are left in a year-round summer. At least, at EGLL.
All of the things I mentioned above are in the 'would-be-nice' category, not in the 'must-haves'. This great product is available for about $32.00. Often we (sim community) are asked to shell out much more of our hard earned cash for much lesser value and quality products. In the about 12-15 hours I spent in and around the airport for this review, I have not experienced a single visual issue or bug. This airport is going to be one of the major destinations in my flight sim world for months to come. I feel as if I have uncovered only a fraction of what this product has to offer. As an added bonus - it does not matter what you prefer to fly - GA, city hoppers, heavies - this one takes them all.
This product is well built, and it shows all throughout - whether you judge by the quality of the ground and grass textures, or the performance (FPS-wise) of the scenery under difficult weather conditions, or the attention to detail ranging from the terminal buildings and the crane and to the very last ILS lights pole. This airport looks good as is, but under certain weather and traffic conditions it springs to life and overtakes you with magic beauty and realism that cannot be expressed in words alone.
What I Liked
- Quality of textures.
- Variety of textures.
- Attention to detail.
What I Didn't Like
I have two wishes for this airport, but I can live without them: one is that the jetway wheels were rounder and less blocky, and the other is that there were a few more miscellaneous objects left around the gates.
System Specs I Tested On
Intel® Core i7-4770K @ 3.5 GHz, Overclocked to 4.4 GHz
Installed RAM: 8 GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
Running on Windows 7 Home Premium, Service Pack 1