“Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today I want to be a part of it - New York, New York”. Now while I would love to continue serenading you with my rendition of the Frank Sinatra classic, sadly my vocal skills don’t quite do the song justice. Nor does it get on with why you have come to this page and that is to read a review for Aerosoft’s Manhattan X.
New York or specifically Manhattan Island and its surrounding smaller Islands are a global icon. It has some of the highest buildings in the world and it’s a major movie and television set (who will ever forget King Kong falling from the Empire State Building, Cloverfield having chunks of the city for breakfast or the Alien ship hovering over the city in Independence day). It’s been sung about, written about and is also the location of what can be considered the very best and worst in human behavior with the 9/11 attacks and more recent successful ditching of the U.S Airways A321 in the Hudson. I consider myself to be fortunate to have visited the city in the early 90’s and while my time there was fleeting I have always carried the feeling of awe the city left me with. From this perspective Aerosoft had quite a bit to live up to.
When Manhattan X was released, my first reaction was it looks nice but it won’t run smoothly given the level of detail in the screenshots on the Aerosoft website. Now as it turns out, my initial reaction was wrong. It does in fact run smoothly and I’ll go into that a little later.
Manhattan Island itself is around 22 miles of jungle, concrete jungle that is, with the exception of Central Park and has for me always been a feature of flightsim. I’ll always remember the 2D wire Statue of Liberty jerking past in my first foray into flightsim many years ago. It was a highlight then and so it was when I got FSX. Manhattan has typically been one of those hot spots I go to to discover how well flightsim will run on my computer. As Frank says, “if you can make it in there you can make it anywhere”, and in my experience this is just as true in the virtual world FSX creates.
Manhattan X had its roots in the FS2004 equivalent released some years ago that was generally agreed did a good job presenting what is a complex and highly dense city. While the scenery is quite small in terms of square mile coverage it does include all of Manhattan Island, Ellis Island (the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United States between 1892 and 1954), Governors Island (A US Army base between 1783 to 1966 and then a major United States Coast Guard installation until 2001), Roosevelt Island and Liberty Island (the site of the iconic Statue of Liberty). So let’s get on our vagabond shoes and make a start of it in old New York.
Installation and Documentation
As far as installation goes, my experience with Aerosoft has always been a good one and Manhattan X was no different. The 162MB file installed in only a few minutes with the majority of the work automated, though I could change install directories if I wished. At 162MB, the download is quite large but with a boxed option both preferences are catered for. Installed, Manhattan X will use just over 400MB of HD space and will create a folder in your main FSX directory as opposed to add-on Scenery. It also installs a mission and some sound files. The scenery will add itself to your FSX scenery config file so the install process really is one that requires little or no input from the user.
One thing I was really pleased to note is the ability to download the Manhattan X manual before install. I’ve been critical of this for some time as it seems crazy to me that I can only access information on installing a download product after I have actually installed it. Aerosoft made my day here, so I was able to read through the manual first and then install the files. Thank you!
The manual itself is quite extensive and places a lot of emphasis on settings. Aerosoft are up front around potential performance issues and go out of their way to discuss ways performance can be improved with lots of practical ideas that you can try over and above adjusting the FSX scenery and display settings themselves.
The last few pages of the manual cover the various heliports that are included in the scenery, including the infamous but now closed Pan Am Metroport, and provides both navigational and facility information for these. The manual is completed with several charts to assist in helicopter operations around Manhattan.
“I want to be a part of it, New York, New York” – But can you be?
Let’s get to the guts of this scenery immediately and talk about performance. Typically performance is the single biggest factor for people when they consider FSX add-ons, so I’ll say up front that if you have AI aircraft traffic running, bloom, water effects set high and maxed autogen, Manhattan X will be a slide show if you can even get it running at all. When I initially tried Manhattan X on max settings, my computer crashed out and I got all sorts of graphical errors happening. It simply won’t work, yet.
I say yet because PC technologies will catch-up and surpass this product. But, and this is an important but, Aerosoft have spent time discovering where the sweet spot is in the FSX settings, so if you learn from my initial mistake and follow those guidelines you will, my friends, have smooth flying performance across the city. Yes that’s right, you didn’t read it wrong, smooth flying with frame rates that fluctuate between 15 and 35 FPS. Naturally actual performance for other PC’s will depend on your own system but the point here is this scenery is very flyable if you follow the suggested settings Aerosoft provides.
Detail levels across Manhattan are not affected and can be seen in the series of images below that capture the performance I experienced. I run my system at a resolution of 1320x768 so I have left these images at that resolution so you can see the detail and clearly see the FPS counter in the top left hand corner. The images are unedited bitmaps converted to jpg format and were taken in the Bell Jetranger seen in the images.
One of the recommendations in the manual is to run Manhattan X in DX10 mode. I’ve had mixed results with this but decided to give it a go and found it did improve performance by almost 50% at times. I also found the FPS to be smoother, so DX10 is definitely worth a go if you purchase this scenery and find performance isn’t quite up to your expectations.
Aerosoft, I congratulate you for what you have achieved here. I was genuinely surprised by how well Manhattan X ran once I configured my settings and as long as I loaded them prior to spawning, everything was fine. One thing I would have liked to have seen included as part of the install, is the scenery settings supplied in a saved file. This would speed things up and ensure the settings recommended were those used, as this is the one area that could give newbie’s some issues.
The City That Never Sleeps
Now that we have dealt with performance, let’s talk about the scenery itself because Manhattan X isn’t about FPS it’s about a city, and what a city it is. I don’t say this lightly when I describe Manhattan X as truly extraordinary. I don’t know Manhattan very well but I have come away from the hours flying here feeling I have been to and now know New York.
Manhattan X sits on a layer of photo real scenery which adds to the authenticity and all of the landmarks you would expect, such as the Empire State Building, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. All of the buildings and scenery objects are constructed to a high degree of realism with some including animation. This isn’t an add-on to look out the window at as you climb out of La Guardia in your 767 on the way to somewhere else. New York is the destination and is so vast and rich in content, it demands to be explored and experienced as it should be.
The developer Andras Kozma has achieved in Manhattan X something quite extraordinary with the level of detail to be discovered, particularly at some of the heliports which made me look twice because I thought I was seeing things for the first time. If it seems like I am gushing praise it’s because I am, Manhattan X is something special.
The volume of buildings is the first thing that hit me. With my settings in line with those recommended, I couldn’t quite believe the FPS I was getting initially and kept waiting for the slow down I felt was inevitable. But no, the city kept smoothly sprawling out below me as I flew, until I forgot about the FPS and simply enjoyed the view. While the area Manhattan X covers is not huge, and this may ultimately count against the longevity of this product, what’s in the area is vast. I have no idea how many buildings and other highly detailed scenery objects are actually present, but it must hundreds if not thousands.
Each area is quite unique from downtown through Central Park and towards the more residential zones. All the objects have high quality photo textures and utilize the advanced bump mapping and secular capabilities FSX offers to the fullest. Manhattan X doesn’t make any claims to being realistic or having everything included, but what it does do is achieve its aim of representing Manhattan and its islands and gave me a real sense of the city. Hence my earlier comment about feeling like I have been there.
I used Google earth quite a bit to look at comparisons to understand how close, or not, the scenery is to the real world city and I was very impressed, even managing to find the building next to Central Park referred to as ‘Spook Central’ from the Ghostbusters movie. I spent all my flying time in a chopper and was never ceased to be amazed at the sense of realism.
Flying down the long roads that almost run the entire length of the island is quite extraordinary, particularly if you have AI vehicle traffic activated. Clearly plenty of development time has gone into this scenery and it shows. So while I noted a couple of very minor texture placement issues on a couple of buildings, when considering the total number involved, this was nothing. I was particularly impressed with the downtown area and the immenseness of the buildings. Here in New Zealand where I live, big tends to be about 20 stories, so New York is something else completely. Moving around at ground level in the Wall Street area, I could really appreciate the scale of the buildings and with so many of them so close together it was almost claustrophobic at times.
The docks are fully featured with AI Staten Island ferries’ that run to what is described as an accurate timetable. In real life these ferries run passengers around the islands, so naturally after exploring the streets of Manhattan I headed across water. As mentioned earlier, 4 other islands form Manhattan X; these being Governors’, Ellis, Liberty and Roosevelt.
All four, like Manhattan, have a high resolution photoreal base and purpose built scenery items that range from buildings to flags and in some cases, boats parked alongside. Naturally, for us foreigners anyway, Liberty Island is something quite special. The Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognized images in the world and the modeling of the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan X doesn’t disappoint. It’s obvious from close up that thousands of polygons have gone into Lady Liberty and she certainly is quite a site. The only disappointment I had in regards to the islands was I couldn’t land my chopper on the grass. When I tried, I discovered that I went through the scenery to rest on the ground below, so a hard surface for chopper landings would have been appreciated.
Manhattan and the four smaller islands all have very effective night lighting and I was particularly impressed with what has been done on Liberty and Ellis Islands. Manhattan itself looks very impressive lit up, and if you move your water effects up a few notches the reflective effect is fantastic. You won’t see seasonal changes in Manhattan as the developers have chosen to stick with a summer look. Personally, this made no difference to me either way. All of the bridges leading on and off Manhattan Island have been included with the historic Brooklyn Bridge built to a very high level of detail. I spent a bit of time on and around the bridge because the walkway over it is fully rendered down to the steps etc. You get great views of the city as you walk (slew) over it.
One of the cool additions in Manhattan X is the inclusion of sounds with the scenery. This may seem an odd inclusion I know, but Manhattan X comes with ambient sounds that I have to say adds a real layer of depth to the experience of the scenery. As I moved around, a sound loop of people, walking noises and cars honking their horns played. Another quieter sound loop has faint sirens and city ‘hum’. This is a great inclusion and takes the whole experiential element of Manhattan X up several notches.
I’ll complete this portion of the review with a series of ‘beauty’ shots. I cranked up my water textures and texture resolution to max for these. Yes, performance dropped but it was still flyable and I think DX10 might have had something to do with this. Anyway, feast your eyes on these.
Manhattan X Mission
Manhattan X has atmospheric sounds and levels of detail that take city scenery design to a new level in FSX. To top this off, Aerosoft has included a mission that allows you to take a tour from the Wall Street heliport, around the Islands and across the city. The mission is simple enough but I thought it was very well executed and lots of fun to fly, especially when the pilot’s voice had a thick Brooklyn accent.
As I flew, the ‘pilot’ would point out areas of interest and give some historical details on what was being looked at. Personally, I would have liked a bit more detail in the voice over’s but only because I was having so much fun and wanted to know more. The mission took me about 20 minutes to fly and actually set me up for some serious exploring afterwards.
I thought I had actually been quite thorough in my exploration of Manhattan X and the mission was one of the last things I did. But during it I noted about a dozen places I then went back to to look at in detail. When you buy Manhattan X, I recommend the first thing you do is to fly the mission.
Summary & Closing
There is no doubt that while completing this review, I have had more fun in FSX than I have in a long time. Manhattan X is a stunning piece of work. The important thing I need to stress is to read the manual and adjust the scenery and display settings as suggested. Not doing so will certainly reduce Manhattan X’s performance and thus its enjoyment.
The level of detail that has been achieved is nothing short of amazing and with the little touches, such as sounds and the mission, Aerosoft has provided us with a complete experience of one of the world’s greatest cities. Its flaws are inconsequential when measured against the complete package and my only question is the longevity Manhattan X offers.
I have certainly been kept coming back for many hours of enjoyment and the potential for missions is vast, so it may well be a place I visit regularly from now on. Manhattan X is an example of the power FSX offers developers and redefines ‘as real as it gets’. I feel all FSX users should feel very excited by this release.
What I Like About Manhattan X
What I Don't Like About Manhattan X
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