Ever since man invented the first car – we’ve seen where the potential lies, we’ve built on that to make our cars faster, safer and generally better. The same, I feel, applies to Flight Simulator, ever since we saw the default offerings; we’ve seen the room for improvement. Over the years that FS9 has been the dominant product for add on publishers to focus their time creating new things for, there have been many attempts by publishers to provide programs that give us better textures for something, somehow.
Welcome, then, goes to Cielosim who thought they should have a go in this field too. Cielosim’s Flight Enhancer is one that comes wrapped in promise of delivering amazing things to our simulators.
Cielosim’s package contains replacement textures sets for water, skies and runway lights, each set of textures has been duplicated two more times to create the textures for day, dusk and night.
Cielosim have produced 2,700 custom textures for this program, comprising of 30 day sets, 12 dawn sets, 11 dusk sets and six night sets. This is then combined with the “Extras”, comprising of 6 water sets, 4 cloud sets, 4 sun sets, 5 light sets and 3 environment sets. All these can easily be previewed and applied to the simulator with little or no fuss, as the fairly attractive looking user interface will do all the hard work.
Download delivery is via the universally accepted Flight 1 wrapper system. The download takes no more than a few minutes over a broadband connection due to its compact file size of 35MB. There doesn’t appear anything new to comment on with regard to the operation of the Flight 1 wrapper, it remains much the same with a few details and credit card numbers being inputted into the interface and then clicking the purchase button. Simple really.
When the transaction through the wrapper has been processed, the wrapper will copy the product and installation of the product can continue.
Installation of the product is simple, it’s an executable file and requires very little input, just a few clicks of the word “next” will install Flight Enhancer to the specified drive. The program itself requires a mere 38 megabytes of hard drive space; however, untold amounts of space could be used when installing new texture sets.
Overall, the installation process is nothing short of simple; the installer even puts an icon on your desktop. Due to computer problems I was forced to uninstall then reinstall the software, I can report no negative outcomes of the process either time.
Using Flight Enhancer
As noted in the documentation, Microsoft .NET Framework V2.0 needs to be installed to make Flight Enhancer work. Do not forget to set up your Flight Simulator settings for best quality as it is described in the PDF manual. After the installation progress, launching Flight Enhancer is about as easy as launching any other program; merely click the icon the installer places on your desktop and you’re away. Upon loading Flight Enhancer, you’ll instantly be presented with the fairly attractive looking interface that has been implemented.
When you’ve familiarized yourself with the mass of buttons and options available to you, it’s time to start the selection process and deciding upon your sky sets. After navigating to the ‘Sky Sets’ tab on the interface, there are many more options for you to choose from. First off, you’ll need to choose the texture sets you want for dawn. When you’re happy with the selection, move onto day, dusk and so on.
Choosing the sets can be a bit tricky. Some of them look fairly similar and the two little preview images that you’ll get to see are by no means sufficient, as all it displays is a picture of what the sky will look like depending on the position of the sun. But I suppose half of the fun is sorting through all the different sets and getting a feel for each, right?
The main problem I had with selecting which set to use, is when it came to the night set selection. As I mentioned earlier, the screenshot previews are by no means helpful, this is only exaggerated more with the selection of dark textures. In my opinion, all six sets of screenshots look identical, which will only increases the time that is needed to be spent trying out different texture sets. Personally, I found this to be annoying.
I thin, there are too many choices of sky texture sets. On one hand, Cielosim tried to do a perfect piece of work and it is evident that they took several hours to provide these kinds of sets. On the other hand, I think they should have paid more attention to beginners who simply want to make their Flight Simulator more realistic.
‘Beginner’ is perhaps not the perfect word. I have been flying FS for 5 years and I just want to fly in a realistic environment. I don't like to spend a lot of time selecting different kinds of day textures. So if I were the developer, I would make a few presets, offering a full compilation of dawn, day, dusk, night, etc. textures with a simple mouse click.
No doubt, a disadvantage for me may be an advantage for anybody else. So you can browse different amazing sunset scenes and choose which you would like to see during an early morning approach.
Unfortunately, certain sets of lighting in Flight Enhancer cannot be changed automatically: in the real world, lighting conditions depend on atmospheric circumstances and during a real flight, you may observe one ‘texture-set’ after an other. But this is not the fault of Cielosim. MS Flight Simulator limits human creativity, therefore it was needed to make more texture sets.
As is demonstrated above, two different texture sets represented by the same screenshot is a bit of a let down and is a bit careless too. This is definitely starting to look like a product for people that like to experiment.
After experimenting with the sky sets, it was time to move one tab down on the menu and look at the promising looking title “Extras”. From the “Extras” menu a whole new dimension is opened up. From within this menu, the user can customize water, cloud, sun, lights and environmental textures. Unlike the sky textures, this part of the program is rather impressive. It doesn’t have the same feel to it like it was nailed together quickly on a Friday evening.
Water textures are all clearly demonstrated and from their screenshots, they look fabulous and the choice is rather good too. The six selections that can be made with regard to water textures work pretty well with most areas of the globe. For example, one might select “Royal H20” if planning a trip over the pond. Due to the fact that it has the deep blue hue that could be expected to be seen when looking down on the Atlantic. On the other hand, your flight might take you over peninsulas and muddy rivers of Indonesia, in which case the “Shady Liquid” might be more appealing.
An important feature was that I did not observe any frame-rate loss using this software. As I don't have the latest in hardware configuration (and I'm probably not alone), FPS-usage plays an important role in testing and using new products.
More Features to Flight Enhancer
At the beginning of this review, I gave a brief outline of the good looking main menu of the user interface, along with an update checker, a link to the VATSIM profile flight plan page and an option to back up files, Flight Enhancer also has built in weather from the weather channel website, build in for nearly every continent on the planet.
You may be asking now, “Why on earth would I need a weather center?” Well, weather depending, it’s entirely possible to choose the texture set that is right for that particular time, for example, on a cold winters morning in Toronto, it would be a little out of place to use a nice summer looking sky. It’s all a matter of taking your pick from what flight Enhancer has to offer and optimizing it, but only if you can spare the time and patience.
demonstrated in the screenshot of the weather page above, it only
displays very basic information. Nothing as detailed as perhaps you
would need to choose your texture sets weather dependant. In order
to get the most realistic feel, it’s probably wiser to check
individual METARs and so on.
Summary / Closing Remarks
After the three and a half weeks I’ve been using Flight Enhancer, I feel like I know it like one of the developers – it’s been a component of the simulator ever since I installed it, and to be fair, I have noticed differences to my experience.
If I’m honest, then I will confess – in my mind there is absolutely no point in buying this program if you have add-ons such as GE Pro or Flight Environment, and if you’re looking to buy some sort of add-on like this, then I fail to see why this would get chosen over those two programs. I’m by no means saying Flight Enhancer is a bad program, I’m not saying it’s a total waste of space, I just fail to see where it belongs in the market. I’m completely blinded when asked how it could ever compete with the likes of GE Pro or Flight Environment.
Both Flight Environment and GE Pro seem to have more purpose, it’s almost like the developers sat down with a strict plan and decided from the off “this is what our program will do, no compromise” Flight Enhancer just seems to try to look pretty and get noticed, it tries to be useful and something that everyone can live with. Sadly it fails.
What I Like About Flight Enhancer
What I Don't Like About Flight Enhancer
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