Just take a look back at the early versions of Flight Simulator and you will see how far the scenery has come over the years. The scenic detail has become more geographically accurate and the terrain has certainly become more clear and defined. But for some enthusiasts, a compromise must be made between scenic detail and frame rates in order to achieve satisfactory performance. Those with high-end computers may not have to cope with this issue like some others, but even the most powerful computer will only display what the simulator has to offer. This includes mountains with smooth, round surfaces, waterways with little or no banks, and airports that are surrounded by flat, bland terrain as far as the eye can see.
Well now, thanks to the creative team at Abacus, fans of Flight Simulator 2004 and 2002 alike can enjoy the world the way it was meant to be seen with the introduction of the World Extreme Landscapes add-on. By adding World Extreme Landscapes to Flight Simulator, your virtual world will become filled with a never before seen realism of mountains with actual peaks, rivers, lakes, and streams with defined banks, and terrain with a level of detail considerably more definitive than the default terrain.
Who will benefit from this program? In reality, almost all enthusiasts will get something from this addition. The VFR pilots will certainly have the most to gain, but even the high flyers will enjoy the enhancements in terrain on descent and, of course, in the higher elevated areas. Who will not benefit? Night flyers are not likely to appreciate this program as much as others, and if scenery is not a concern of yours, than you can save yourself the money. To help determine if this program is a fit for you, let’s take a look at how it works
How It Works
The World Extreme Landscapes program is an add-on utility from the crew at Abacus that enhances the scenery within Flight Simulator by creating more data points throughout the world’s scenery. Data points are areas throughout the terrain where the undulation is altered. By default, these points exist every 600 to 1,200 meters depending on the terrain mesh complexity and texture size settings in the scenery detail settings within Flight Simulator. By reducing the distance between these points by 38 to 76 meters apart, this program is able to provide more realistic terrain by altering the elevation more often.
For example, a default mountain will reach its peak at a certain point and then remain at that altitude for 600 to 1,200 meters, creating a wide, flat peak. With the data points reduced to 76 meters or less, the mountain will now reach its peak and begin to reduce in elevation up to 1,100 meters sooner, thereby creating a more pointed peak. This same technique is used throughout the world, adding banks to rivers and lakes and undulation to the terrain elsewhere.
When it comes to rivers and lakes, the same concept is applied, but without affecting the water itself. Instead, the data points are utilized in a manner which raises the areas surrounding the water, creating more realistic banks. Instead of a constant elevation around a lake, the undulation will change repeatedly. Flat terrain is also enhanced by creating more definition. When a grassy area changes to a dirt, or rocky area, there will be enough change in undulation to distinguish between the two. In desert climates, the 70 meter data points create sand dunes and normal hills and valleys, as opposed to the default flat terrain.
As far as the frame rates are concerned, the affects are minimal or non-existent. In testing, I did not receive any adverse affects on my frame rates whatsoever. However, I have been informed that there are a handful of people who have noticed only slight declines of 1 to 3 frames per second. The vast majority of individuals who have commented on this program have mentioned no negative effect.
Installation and Documentation
In order to install this product, you will need to have a DVD drive and 14GB of free HD space. The program will arrive in the form of three DVD’s accompanied by a paperback manual.
To begin, simply insert the first DVD and an auto-install wizard will appear. Your only task is to verify the version of Flight Simulator installed on your computer and select its destination folder. The first DVD will begin installing the program, and continue through the other two disks. Installation does take some time, from 10 minutes to upwards of 30 minutes depending on your system. When complete, several files will have been added to your Flight Sim main folder.
Most of these files, such as the flight adventures, require no further attention. There will be a folder added to the main Flight Sim folder titled “world extreme landscapes” that contains a read me file and PDF version of the flights section of the paperback manual. There will also be an aircraft folder added that contains the Vans RV-6A. This aircraft will appear in the sim under the manufacturer title of “World Extreme Landscapes”.
Once installed, the simulator will load the new scenery terrain the next time you start Flight Simulator. After this, the new terrain is ready to use, and will be present everywhere in the sim. However, if you would like to see some of the highlighted areas, there are 23 flights within the “select a flight” menu that will take you to a few of the most spectacular regions of the world. Some of these flights will begin with the aircraft already in flight, while others require you to takeoff for yourself and negotiate mountains and other extreme landscapes. The flight plans can be found in the kneeboard and also in the paperback and PDF manuals.
Let's Try It Out
Given the inability for me to explore every region of the planet, at least in a reasonable timeframe, I have chosen a few select areas to evaluate. Here are some screenshots of the default scenery and the same area with the World Extreme Landscapes program installed.
The first area I visited was the Grand Canyon, where the variety of undulation should be at its finest. But as you can see, the canyon is sub-par at best with the scenery at its default setting. By increasing the scenery sliders, the canyon becomes much more authentic, but no where near the realism of the same area with the World Extreme Landscapes program installed.
Next I took a trip to Niagara Falls. Again, this is another area that I would expect to display a variety of terrain alteration, especially the horizontal undulation of the steep walls around the falls. But just as before, none of the default scenery settings can compare to this same area with the World Extreme Landscapes installed.
Now moving on to the Nile river, you can see that the banks are very shallow, and unappealing. In this case, the Extreme Landscapes program definitely adds some banks, but perhaps a little too steep. This is one of the few situations when the program might be a little too extreme. There are a number of locations throughout the globe where the banks of rivers and lakes seem to be a little drastic, but it all comes down to a matter of opinion.
But then there are other places where the steep banks seem to enhance the rivers considerably, as you can see from this screenshot taken in Chile. This is an example of how the steep banks do seem to improve the scenery drastically.
Looking at Mount St. Helens, you will see that the default scenery is drab and very undefined. But as with most areas, the Extreme Landscapes program adds a much needed touch of realism and authenticity.
These screenshots show only a few areas of the world, but the same definition is given to all terrain in all parts of the planet. In fact, there are no areas where the program does not make a very noticeable difference. The only question is whether or not you will admire the change or prefer things the way they were. Personally, I have found that, with rare exception, the increased undulation and depth given to the world is a welcomed change from the bland default scenery.
The areas that I found to offer no improvement were usually around major cities. Some cities end up on large slabs and inclines where they would normally be flat in real life. And as aforementioned, some of the rivers and streams end up with banks that are a little too steep, which can actually restrict your view of the water. However, I would say that the terrain is improved in far more areas than it is not.
The Vans RV-6A
After intensifying the landscape so much, it would be nice to have an aircraft that lets you get a good close-up view. To do this, Abacus has provided the Vans RV-6A single engine radial aircraft to help get you on your way. This aircraft is used by default for all of the adventure flights included with the program. To be honest, I am not very impressed with the plane, but it is just an added bonus and does not represent the quality of the rest of the program.
The model is accurate, but I would not define any of the three texture variations as breathe taking. Outside of the typical animated control surfaces and rolling wheels there is not much else to discuss. Even less impressive is the panel, which is nothing more than a look back to the days of early flight simulation. I found the panel to be quite bland and lacking instrument depth and shadowing. The entire co-pilots section of the panel is completely bare, with the exception of a GPS, which is not sized well to use as is. The panel does however contain all of the gauges necessary for flight without having to open any additional panels, and the view is fairly panoramic for checking out the new scenery. But it does not meet the standards of modern sim technology by any means.
The virtual cockpit is only slightly better than the panel, mostly because you have a view of the front of the aircraft. But again, the instrumentation has no depth, and the rest of the interior looks like a crayon drawing. To add to the list of failures in this aircraft, the sound file is aliased to the default Cessna 182. Not that it doesn’t sound…..well let’s just say o.k., but I usually expect each aircraft to have its own sound set.
As far as the flight dynamics are concerned, the aircraft does perform well, but it is not exactly fitting for high altitudes, which includes all of the mountainous regions and a great deal of other scenic locations. The best use for this aircraft that I could find is for getting a nice close-up view of cities and following rivers and streams.
It is important to reiterate that this aircraft is by no means a fair representation of what the rest of the program has to offer. Had it not been included with the sim, there would have been little to complain about. And to be fair, there may be some of you who do like the plane, but I suspect that most will find something else to use.
Personally, I am very impressed with how much of a difference this add-on really makes. It has defiantly convinced me to dust the cobwebs off of some of my GA aircraft. Since the entire world is covered with the new data points, the program is suitable for people who like to fly in all parts of the world. There may be some issues with the program that may affect your impression with this add-on, but they are few and far between. For example, I have noticed that some roads tend to drop straight down a steep bank, similar to a waterfall. In other areas, I have noticed that the banks around rivers and streams are so steep that the water becomes much less visible. But all in all, there are few areas that do not become considerably more enhanced by this addition.
Currently, the World Extreme Landscapes program is $29.95 which may seem a little steep to some. But with the complete worldwide enhancement it offers, I find it to be a fair cost-value add-on. In fact, with the exception of the Vans RV-6A, I enjoyed everything that this sim has to offer. Of course, this is only one opinion, but the screenshots themselves tell you just about everything you need to know. Therefore, I would recommend this add-on for all enthusiasts who are looking for an affordable way to add a lot of eye candy to Flight Simulator without draining the frame rates, and for all of you who are tired of looking at the same boring terrain.
As for giving it the two thumbs up, if it were not for a few small areas that I actually preferred before installing this sim, and of course the dreadful Vans RV-6A, I would certainly consider this to be one of the best moderately priced add-ons of 2005. But looking past those few small issues, I am very satisfied with this program, and have no problem suggesting it to be a must have.
|What I Like About World Extreme Landscapes|
|What I Don't Like About World Extreme Landscapes|
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