For the last month or so, I have set out to find a good visual representation for England in FSX. Initially bogged down with an almost unplayable experience with the default terrain near London, I started poking around even more to find the look that I was wanting. One afternoon I saw that Justflight had four downloadable volumes of their photo real scenery available and not ever having tried them, I decided to give it a shot.
Downloadable Scenery Volumes from JUSTFLIGHT
Now available at Justflight are five different downloadable scenery titles taken from the VFR Real Scenery Volume products and compiled into five smaller versions. They are Volume 1 London; Volume 2 Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton; Volume 3 Isle of Wright; Volume 4 Cardiff and now Volume 5 Leeds and Bradford. Each download was created from the same 25cm photo scenery used in the actual scenery volumes that you can buy on disc.
Each download includes anywhere from 800MB- 1GB of information and retails for $19.99. Installation is relatively easy, but does require a software key and password that must be generated through the Just Flight website. After several attempts at getting the software activated, I found the software registration and activation process a bit tedious. For some reason, I never have good luck with purchasing downloads through the Justflight site or even getting the system to recognize my pass code and registration number, I am sure it is probably just something I am doing wrong but the directions really need to be a lot clearer.
The scenery covers relatively small areas of England and for me, that just did not do it and my first impression of what I was looking at was, why would I want it this way? Take the London area for instance, it covers roughly 1200 miles within the M25 region. The downside to this was that although the terrain looked good, it ended near Heathrow and Denham Airfield (Another product we will explore a little later on!). As I flew into the London airspace, it didn’t offer any coverage going out to the coastline. I know this is due to file size, but I would have rather seen the scenery cut short inland rather than over London and out to sea.
Areas like Cardiff and Wolverhampton are stunning, but again the small scenery packages just does not offer enough coverage to get any real flying time in, and you are left at the edge of each scenery title with a mish-mashed blend of photo real and default terrain textures. I think as we see the release of Ground Environment X for Europe, this will change because the GE X textures tend to blend in better with Photo Real Scenery than that of the default terrain.
The other problem I have is that I tend to get low frame rates in FSX anytime I fly anywhere near London with the default terrain set. Therefore, where default met photo real, things went from relatively good to worse in a matter of seconds.
You have to ask yourself if you are going to settle for smaller areas of coverage or jump in and go full hog with the full volume sets of this scenery. I mean, realistically that is the better choice as the coverage is far better and you have the entire country rather than just little pieces here and there.
VFR Real Scenery
VFR Real Scenery Volume 1 covers the southeast regions of England and includes coverage for all of London, Kent, East Sussex, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire as well as parts of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Surrey and West Sussex. Volume 1 also contains full coverage of the following towns, Canterbury, Folkestone, Peterborough, Brighton, Dorking, London, Basildon, Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich, Cambridge, Bedford, Luton, Watford and finally Dover!
Volume two covers the central and southern parts of England from Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire as well as parts of Dorset, West Sussex, Surrey, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Cheshire.
Volume 3 covers Wales and the South West part of England and includes the following areas; all of Wales, Cornwall and Devon as well as parts of Somerset, Dorset, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Cheshire.
VFR Real Scenery Volume 4 covers the Northern region of England and includes total coverage from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Durham, Northumberland, and Cumbria as well as parts of Merseyside, Derbyshire and Humberside.
The scenery for this product has been created using 25cm aerial digital images that were created by a company called GeoPerspectives. If you buy all four of these scenery volumes, you are looking at a total coverage of England, north, south, east and west! Personally, I don’t think I would have had it any other way and I really don’t think I would have settled on just one area. That is one of the reasons I was ultimately turned off by the smaller offerings of each title and why the individual titles didn’t really hold my interest. The product also ships with its own 10 meter terrain mesh offering excruciatingly accurate valleys, hills and coastlines.
The scenery includes day and night textures and offers some fantastic looking night lighting. If you have UTX Europe from Flight 1, you will find that the lighting for Ultimate Terrain is also active and offers an almost three dimensional look when flying at night and combined with the Real Scenery night lighting, it does look pretty convincing. Nowhere in the manuals, or the Justflight website, could I find any reference to the scenery being seasonal. I did try changing my seasons to Winter just to see if it would change anything, but it didn’t.
The first big thing that I noticed was the lack of any kind of autogen or scenery objects. I can live without the autogen but the major landmarks would have been nice! This is definitely noticeable when you are flying over London, as the lack of buildings just reduces the overall feeling of flying over a big city. Yet while touring other scenery areas, you will find some castles and sports arenas, but in the cities or townships there is just the Aerial Photo scenery.
Sitting on the runway at London City airport, this has always been a favorite place of mine to stop in Flight Simulator because of its location and close proximity to the city center. But with the Real Scenery products there are no buildings or trees and you don’t see anything until you takeoff. Luckily, the bridges are placed accurately throughout all of the scenery volumes and you do not see any roads going off into the water without a bridge attached to it. The other thing I noticed while in London is that none of the vehicle traffic seems to show over the scenery textures, turn off the scenery and it is fine!
Another big issue that I noticed that made me take the price of this package into question was that of the different colored textures. For instance, you can be flying over normal photo terrain textures and the next minute you are flying over bright green textures. This is most noticeable near London, as the city is presented realistically but on the outskirts to the north, it turns into a bright ugly green that does not fit in with the surrounding terrain. The other issue is where certain texture sets end and others begin, the colors do not match sometimes and come off looking unfinished.
The color variations really are not the fault of the developer, but were a result of the conditions when the photos were taken in real time. Given what I know now about developing photo scenery, I have to take things like that into consideration. I think there should be more of an effort to clean up those individual textures so that they blend in better with the surrounding textures and terrain.
Putting some of these issues aside, I think I am relatively happy with Real Scenery Volumes 1-4 and if you like to fly in England, these are a must have as they offer total and unrelenting coverage of one single country. I have spent a great deal of time exploring the scenery and I found that I do have my favorites, one of which is South Hampton and the other is the Isle of Wright.
The scenery itself not only enhances the Flight Simulator visually, but it offers an option for those who do not get good frame rates with the default stock scenery. The photo scenery removes all of the autogen and scenery objects so the only thing you are relying on and using, is the photo scenery and from what I can tell, Flight Simulator seems to really like it or you might say that your PC likes it!
The VFR Real Scenery Volumes will, at times, leave you breathless as you tour the English Countryside. You will quickly forget about things like scenery objects, buildings and autogen and just take it in for what it is; four volumes of scenery goodness!
I did some comparison-shopping with other scenery titles out on the market and found that the price does seem to be on par with other scenery titles for this region of the world. As I toured the vast countryside that is England I noticed things that kind of made me question the overall cost of this product and really made me wonder about the price in general when I compared it to other products that offered more.
Denham (EGLD) and White Waltham (EGLM)
A few months ago, Justflight released two small airfields that are located in southeast England. The first to be released was that of Denham Airfield and the other was White Waltham Airfield. These two airfields represent their real world counterparts in incredible detail with custom buildings, vehicles, people and even photo real terrain for those that do not use the VFR scenery.
The airfields are good and they do graphically enhance the terrain as well as add for some interesting places to fly to, but the biggest problem I had with them is that the two fields are not that far apart, only 11 nm in distance from one another. What I would have liked to have seen were two different airfields that were farther apart from one another allowing for a longer flight time.
Performance is not really an issue with the airfields unless you are using default scenery. For some reason or another, I only get about 9-12 FPS when flying in and around these two products and I think it is because of their close proximity to London Heathrow. Turn on the Volume 1 Real Scenery and my frame rates jump to 29 and do not really drop below that.
So, it is with that thought that if you already use or you plan on getting the VFR titles above, I would definitely recommend getting at least one of these airfields, if not both. Their price is reasonable, currently $13.99/$7.97 a piece (respectively), and will definitely add to the English Countryside no matter how you plan to use them.
Editor's Note: Individual reviews of these airfields are in progress.
In The End
Currently one has to really look at something and ask themselves, is this for me? Can I afford this? Or, can I live without this? In hindsight, I have to say that if I was looking to spend some money and I wanted to invest in my Flight Simulator Experience I would have to say that the Real Scenery VFR titles are on par with other companies. They are worth the plunge if you spend a great deal of FSX flying over the English countryside, as long as you can live without the Autogen and scenery objects.
I guess I have become spoiled over time when it comes to products like this, and maybe my expectations are just too high. Recently, I have spent some time developing my own photo-real terrain and I do understand how much work and design that actually goes into a product like this. But, I find with the lack of landmarks and other scenery objects, it just makes the world almost too flat and in a city like London, or a country like England, the lack of landmarks is totally unrealistic because that is what someone like me is looking for in FSX.
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