The Caribbean, what a beautiful destination. Aside from places like the Canary Islands, the Azores and more of such beautiful islands, the Caribbean must be one of the places most known for its beauty. Once a nest of pirates, it is now a chain of islands famous for its sandy beaches, palm trees, shallow, beautifully blue and sparkling waters and ever-present sunshine. Yes, it’s a paradise.
Starting around the southern tip of Florida, we fly over Cuba; we see the Keys to the right of us, and the Bahamas, with Nassau’s International Airport to our left. As our American Airlines 757 slowly descends over the mountains of Haiti, we fly past an airport. An airport that is not too big, but also not very small.
Something strange catches our eyes: there are two runways? One, however, is significantly smaller and planes taxi over it instead of just taking off. The plane turns a 180 degrees, captures the localizer and glideslope and starts its final approach into one of the busiest airports of the Caribbean: Santo Domingo’s Las Americas international airport. Welcome to the Dominican Republic!
The scenery reviewed is LatinVFR’s Las Americas International Airport. Now that we have landed, it is time to inspect every nook and cranny and see what we find. LatinVFR has been making a name for itself, ever developing interesting and beautiful locales in the Caribbean, Central America and South America, their latest release being, indeed, Las Americas airport, MDSD.
Installation and Documentation
Installation couldn’t be more straightforward. Upon purchase, you receive an FS9 and FSX installer, plus a serial key that is tied to the email address you used to purchase the scenery. You start the installer for the FS version you want (I use FSX, so I used the FSX installer), and up comes the known series of screens with EULA, location to install and registration.
The registration requires you to insert your serial and email address, after which it connects to the LatinVFR servers. Once cleared, you are ready to install. It will also automatically add itself to the scenery library, and much to my surprise, it didn’t add itself at priority number 1; it added itself among the other LatinVFR scenery I had installed!
I’m not even sure that this is intentional, but it certainly saved me having to drop the scenery down by 40 positions in the scenery library, down to the “region” where I keep all LatinVFR sceneries.
The documentation is equally easy to use and understand. I found the layout good and it was easy to find all the necessary information. Besides a historic overview, you get treated to some nice photographs of the real thing, some basic details, and even a FAQ containing some prominent questions of about MDSD. Overall, a fine manual!
You also get an assortment of charts, but these are from 2008 and thus rather old. You might find it useful to go over to Navigraph and get some of their charts.
Scenery: Runway textures and terminal area
Our 757 taxies lazily off the runway, giving us a view of the ground textures. They look crisp and really well done. I especially like those runway edges, which look pretty realistic to me. The shots below show this. The only criticism I have, is that sometimes the textures just don’t flow well into each other, instead they have very sharp borders. You will notice this on the aprons, since the taxiways adjacent to the runway look really good.
The taxiway you see looks a lot like a runway, but I assure you that it’s a taxiway nonetheless. As the manual mentions, the taxiway was converted into a temporary runway while the runway was being renovated. The taxiway never completely changed back to a proper taxiway, however, and as such, we still see much of the runway markings.
When landed, you are enveloped by trees. It really looks very nice. They are all a fresh green and it’s nice to taxi amongst these trees. The only pity is that when you takeoff or land, you see that they don’t stretch out very far.
From the air, it’s almost like a “barrier” put in place so you don’t see too much of the surrounding area. It might have been a good idea to include autogen annotation to get it filled up with trees beyond the tree lining already placed by LatinVFR.
We taxi on and end up at the terminal area. As our plane docks, we looks around.
Overall, it all looks pretty good. Thanks to the manual we get some reference material and can thus compare to the real world in how it should look. The overall representation is certainly correct. It’s the details where the scenery is sometimes a bit off. No big mistakes, just some inaccuracies. For example, the control tower is a bit fat and could have been slimmer, for the tower on which the control room sits is definitely not as broad as the control room is.
The apron is a mixed bag of texturing that I would have liked to have seen more realistically done with absolutely superb detailing. An example of the former is that here and there slightly differently colored concrete slab textures are visible, which are probably repairs done to the apron.
On the first screenshot, the Martinair 767 stands on one of these. The point is not that it is incorrect, but it is not as realistic as it could have been. For example, the edges of the previously mentioned repair site are, if we search it on Google Earth, not slanted but it’s more like stairs, very angular. This would also be much more logical since these are concrete slabs, and not asphalt poured into place. As such, we expect angles of 90 degrees. Below you can see the Google imagery to prove this point.
That said, the apron also has some bits that look very real and are nigh on perfect as far as I’m concerned. The shots below showing same detail of the gates, give the best view of these things:
The first shot shows the great ground markings and detail of the apron texture. Look closely at the apron textures: you can see all kinds of detail in it. From the intricate lines that divide the slabs that are faithfully reproduced to a degree that it even includes tiny cracks on the edges of the slabs themselves, to the tiny lines on the surface of the cracks themselves.
I have always seen this kind of detail in LatinVFR sceneries. You can say a lot about this developer, but this is exactly the kind of detail I want to see in ground textures. I never liked airports that use actual ground imagery to make the aprons, taxiways and runway, of which two notable examples are FSDreamTeam’s KJFK (among others) and OrbX’s Melbourne (also among others).
See, while they have the obvious advantage of being able to recreate very faithfully the entire apron in a fully realistic way, it comes with the obvious downside that even with a texture resolution of 7cm, you will never be able to have textures that are as crisp and detailed as the ones that, for example, LatinVFR uses. I personally prefer having less realism, but crisper textures for the apron surfaces. I’m probably not the only one to think this, but I’m sure there are many that will sacrifice texture clarity for utter realism, which I can wholeheartedly understand. Different people, different tastes.
The other shots show much of the same, but I want to attract special attention to the ground markings, featured in all screenshots. Like the ground textures themselves, they are stunning. They are very crisp and feature just the right amount of opacity.
Why is this important? If you make them too opaque, all the realism goes away because you’ll see the ground marking without any of the surface below it. Any detail of the concrete will thus be lost. However, if you make them too transparent, it will also end up losing realism. Why this time?
Because you see too much of the concrete surface underneath? As weird as it may sound, yes, that’s the reason. The moment you see too much of the surface, including its colors coming through, it will look faded and worn out, but in a way you will probably never see in reality. You’ll be able to see too easily that the developer simply laid out a transparent taxiway line over a surface, and that’s exactly what you don’t want. As far as I’m concerned, LatinVFR did this just right.
A last thing about the gates: the modeling of the jetways, the texturing of the buildings, and the ground equipment all looks really nice. I would have been in favor of more ground equipment, but it’s okay the way it is.
The clarity of the textures on the jetways is especially nice. It’s also very nice to see that custom shadows were made and “baked into” the scenery. This way we get shadows of the buildings without using FSX FPS heavy, but dynamic shadows. Of course, they will not move with the sun and as such are only realistic at one time of the day, but for me that’s pretty much a non-issue.
So how’s the modeling of the terminal building itself? It’s all there and it’s all correct, including the texturing. As I said before, it’s the details that could have been fine tuned a bit. Also, for some reason the terminal looks a bit “empty” in a way.
I think more ground equipment could have gone a long way of solving this emptiness. The problem is mainly present at the new satellite concourse. Don’t get me wrong, though. The modeling and texturing is all good, but it seems simply empty. The problem is much less pronounced at the rest of the terminal, probably because of the more elaborate jetways and bigger amounts of ground equipment.
After having looked at the plane side of the terminal, let’s look at the other side for a moment:
The passenger side of the terminal looks alright in most respects. I will just highlight some things. For example, I like how the entry road was laid out, complete with a very detailed pump station and traffic signs, shrubberies and moving cars. The problem is however, that the cars do not always drive over the road.
The third shot shows you a car that drives next to the road. I find this a bit sloppy to be honest, since it’s such an obvious thing. Also, I wonder why the default FSX road traffic wasn’t used. For all I know, it should be possible to make them drive over bridges, as FSDreamTeam did exactly that in their Fort-Lauderdale KFLL scenery.
The parking lots are nicely textured, but it does tend to look a bit weird to have well-textured pieces placed on blurry undergrounds, which is why in general I’m against these sort of constructions. I’d say to either have high resolution textures, or low resolution textures, but do not mix them in a way where parts of the low resolution are covered with high resolution textures, as done here. This simply doesn’t look very good.
You might be wondering about the strange trees. I checked, and this is actually how some of the trees look. I’d imagine that the gardeners cut them this way.
Overall, it’s okay how this looks, but I’m not blown away. A bit more care in the placing of the objects and not mixing high and low resolution textures would have probably made it all look better. Since this is a part of the airport however, you won’t really see this from the apron or even on landing or takeoff, so not much is lost. The important point is what’s in view, looks good.
Scenery: Cargo apron
The cargo apron is fairly large for an airport of this size. It includes multiple stands and some businesses and warehouses as pictured below:
Like the terminal apron, the cargo apron looks good, but it’s very empty. Ground equipment placed around the cargo apron would have surely livened it up. The warehouses look good, too, with some nice texturing. A nice addition is the lampposts scattered around.
The problem here is the same as with the parking lot we looked at earlier: it all floats a bit on somewhat blurry underground textures which I think detracts a bit from the overall experience. Still, you will hardly see it when taxiing around the airport, so just like the parking lot, I’m willing to forget about it.
However, and this is something I’ve seen more often in LatinVFR sceneries, the warehouses have not been placed as accurately as can be. As a matter of fact, most of them, if not all, should have been moved to the right, perhaps only a meter and it would have looked much better.
How do I know? Because the photo scenery on which they stand “betrays” that the position of the warehouses is not accurate. Here and there we see roofs of warehouses where we shouldn’t be seeing them.
This concludes the cargo apron since actually there isn’t too much to see. We will move on to view some other stuff at the airport.
Scenery: Miscellaneous airport stuff
First of all, the GA area. Here we find an American Airlines office and some small hangars. There isn’t much to see to be honest, but what’s there looks good. Except for one thing, that is: here too, some objects have been incorrectly placed.
Since these are probably really easy things to spot and correct, I’m a bit surprised to see them. The rectangle in the screenshot shows one such place. I hope they will be corrected in the future. Here are some shots of this apron:
Looking at Google Earth (and the photo scenery of this scenery), there should be a host of old aircraft parked at the very end of this small apron (a DC4, amongst others). It would have been nice if they had been included in this scenery, but alas, they are not there. Pity, but I can understand it: modeling aircraft isn’t exactly easy!
Here’s a nice addition: volumetric grass. I have been seeing this lately in more and more airports, and it’s mostly just the developers placing lots of sprites on grass bits around the airport. LatinVFR is doing it here too, and to be honest, it looks rather nice. The effect is very subtle, but it can be seen and it looks good.
The last thing I will discuss here is the shoreline. There is a small problem cropping up here. The mesh and the photo scenery don’t play as nicely together as we’d wish, and as a result, the water covers parts of the mesh.
OpenVFR terrain add-ons (A sort of Ultimate Terrain X, but it’s offered for various regions that UTX does not cover) offers to install a small fix that makes sure that rock is displayed where water is drawn on mesh. This fix is imposed to get rid of this rather unrealistic effect. However, it can cause problems, as seen in this scenery where you now see rock appearing where we should be seeing a beach. Luckily, as the second shot shows, it’s normal where it matters.
Finally we take a look at the airport’s surroundings. First to show what the coverage is of this photo scenery:
As you can see, the coverage is rather substantial. It not only covers the peninsula on which the airport is located, it also covers much of the land beyond that point. From the height from which this shot was taken, it seems to look very nice but how does it look from close up? Here are some shots:
From close up, the photo scenery tends to be a bit blurry but it’s okay for the role it plays. Please remember that most of what is shown here is usually viewed from at least 2000 feet, since that is the normal ILS approach altitude that FSX ATC will sign you up for.
The height from which this was shot, however, is somewhat lower. As shot 6 shows, where it matters the scenery is much less blurry and more effort was done to cover it with buildings. You can clearly see the place where there is a sudden leap to higher resolution imagery, though. I would have rather seen a “soft transition” to the lower resolution photo scenery, much like Simwings did at the edges of their Paris Charles de Gaulle airport scenery.
By all means, the lower resolution scenery looks good overall; it’s only in shot 1 where I dislike the look of it. This is a very urban area you see, and this is also where LatinVFR’s, if I may say “classic” problem, crops up once again: the objects do not fit their location. I have mentioned this in every other LatinVFR product review I did, and I must say it pains me a bit that I still have to say it.
The object’s positioning on the imagery just isn’t right. It’s here and it’s on the airport grounds. The shots of the shorelines you saw before also sport this problem: just look at the small grey cabins. They do not fit their location on the photo scenery, on which the location is clearly denoted by grey squares (these are the cabins’ roofs). I wish more attention were paid to this, for it makes the buildings look irrelevant to the photo scenery. Since obvious effort was put into trying to make it look good, this is a great pity.
I realize I’m being very harsh right now, and believe me when I say I’d rather not be this harsh. Problem is that I’ve been seeing this problem for a very long time now in many of LatinVFR’s sceneries. I have also told LatinVFR about this problem several times. I have contacted LatinVFR to tell them about my findings in this scenery, and they said they’d try to find a solution which is a reaction that surprised me in a way.
Anyway, I’m very glad that this is their stance in the matter and that they are so willing to listen and improve their products. I have great respect for people that can so easily accept constructive criticism. Many people (including me) are not like that.
Something else entirely, is the nice 3D detail we see at some locations around the peninsula the airport is on. For example, there is some kind of silo (oil tank?), a harbor and there are various ships floating (they are not moving) around the approach path to the runway. It’s all welcome detail and it looks good.
Scenery: The airport at night
Now that we have seen the airport at daytime, let’s look at it at nighttime. I must say that the night lighting of the passenger terminal is truly beautiful. I love it. The cargo terminal’s night lighting isn’t that great however.
I would have liked to have seen a softer edge on the lamppost side of the light effect on the ground. The colors of the lighting are really nice, though. I also really like the 3D lights along the taxiway, but the runway lights are a bit hard to see on the ground and they appear to float in the air.
Nevertheless, the night lighting of this airport is pretty nice. To see the lighting of the lampposts along the roads is also really nice. I wish more developers would do it this way!
The performance of this airport is good. Not stellar, but then again, performance at most airports I have are not stellar. Even with a default airport, the PMDG 747 gives me only a meager 25 FPS at most times. Here’s a little run down of the FPS I found for various aircraft:
As you can see, I get FPS that is close to default airport values. I have also MyTraffic X installed, with traffic at roughly 50%, plus REX and similar add-ons. So, I think performance of this airport is actually pretty good.
Summary / Closing Remarks
After looking at the airport and the surrounding scenery, a few things are clear to me. LatinVFR’s main strength is the texturing of the apron, runways and taxiways. Something else they do very well is night lighting. I have rarely seen night lighting I really like, but MDSD has it. Also the modeling is well done.
On the bad side, LatinVFR continues to be inaccurate with the placement of some buildings, especially outside airport grounds. If these issues would be cleared, the airport scenery would be a lot better than it is now. Not to say it’s bad! It’s good scenery, but it can be better.
So, a final judgment. In my opinion, LatinVFR’s Las Americas airport is a rather good scenery product. It combines good modeling with surprisingly good texturing, and adds a good amount of surrounding scenery to make those approaches much more interesting.
Overall, this scenery is actually very good, but it has some very rough edges that I think would be best served polished. These rough edges are mostly created by the incorrect placement of objects, such as the inaccurate placement of hangars and warehouses, cars driving next to roads and autogen annotation that places the autogen over swimming pools, streets, trees and whatnot.
So, LatinVFR’s Las Americas is best called “a rough diamond”.
What I Like About Las Americas
What I Don't Like About Las Americas
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