Curiosity got the best of me, last evening, and while I scrolled through the Steam Announcements (i don't frequent Steam often), I saw FSW advertised (as well as other games of interest), so I bit the bullet and purchased the Early Access release of FSW. Some of you may ask why, and my answer is this: In order to truly understand everything the sim has to offer, you have to experience it for yourself, so for a mere $25, I took the plunge.
After about an hour, everything downloaded and was ready. Before I started, I gave considerable thought into how I was going to approach this simulator, considering all of the talk lately, laden with reviews, arguments, strong opinion and the like. To me, it was simple: look at this simulator as if I was a beginner, with no flight experience at all. You could say that I practiced the art of suspension of disbelief. I mean think about it, DTG came to AVSIM, asking for feedback from us, knowing full well that the majority of us flyers, already have previous experience with all the other simulators. With that said though, I wanted to maintain the mentality that not only is this early access (not ready for primetime), but essentially a refreshed, and polished version of a previous simulator that DTG had invested considerable time and resources to try and stay competitive, as they obviously have some great ideas, as well as a fully capable staff. The following review is unbiased, fair and honest, despite coming from someone who has used virtually every simulator out there, and I do hope that this review will help not only DTG for feedback, but anyone still on the fence, on whether to purchase this or not.
After starting up FSW, I am greeted with a bright, clean and colorful menu system, meant to set up the new pilot with a profile, which contains the pilot's name, location, home airport. For some reason my DTG Live account, showed me on the other side of the US, but no matter, a rather quick scroll to the east, zooming in on my home airport and accepting. The navigation for the map is similar to Google Maps, with pan, zoom and hover for information. It can be a bit overwhelming at the start, if someone is not familiar with chart-style maps, but once you pinpoint location, a quick zoom will clarify. Once my profile was set, I was taken to the main menu screen, again, filled with bright, clean and colorful icons...now's the time to start flying!
For the purpose of this review, I constrained my parameters to a short flight, from my home airport (KJYO), with a "low and slow" aircraft (PA-18) and relatively similar weather (I used Building Storms, as that was pretty much the actual weather yesterday). As far as settings go, I pretty much left everything the way it was at the start. I did see though that for the graphics section, FSW obviously knew I had the latest gpu, so it set everything to ultra. I left that alone as part of the test to see if my rig would be able to perform well at those settings and I will touch on performance later.
Once inside my aircraft, at my home airport, The sky was gloomy, but the scenery was very colorful, perhaps a little too colorful. The clarity and color inside the cockpit was a welcome sight as the texturing was impressive for a default aircraft. The labels on the gauges were also very sharp, which is a welcome change and will definitely help any new pilot to locate controls and gauges in the aircraft, during flight. SInce I forgot to start with the engine off, the aircraft was fired up and ready to go. I increased the throttle and left the ground quickly, just as the real aircraft would. I began my ascent, taking in the sights around me. Since this was my home airport, and I am very familiar with everything around that area, I made some comparison between sim vs. real life. It isn't as accurate as I'd hoped, but it isn't completely off the mark. Making my way west, I could see KIAD off in the distance, but the level of detail didn't offer too much of a great impression. While that may change later on, during development, I wrote that off for now, but one glaring thing I did notice that does need to be addressed is low level clouds, or as it appeared to me as fog. That level of cloud, caused all of the ground texturing and trees below me to go black and white, as if they were covered in snow. The effect appeared to encompass a certain distance around just me, so again I questioned why that was. Off in the distance though, I could see the ground textures and trees with proper color.
I know there has been discussion about LOD in FSW, and it was very apparent, during my flight. Off in the distance, I could start to see the DC Metro area, a somewhat grey and blurry tiled area, but as I go closer, the objects started to pop into view. This effect was reminiscent of my FSX days, and I half expected this. The scenery doesn't slowly come into view, it pops in, obviously a part of the LOD feature. I did hope that since my sim was set to ultra, this effect would have been diminished, but I guess not for now. I will say that the cloud textures and generation was pretty good on their own. I'm sure sometime in the near future, other developers will come along and create their own weather and clouds, but for default, this looked pretty good.
Turning to the southeast, towards KDCA, I wanted to see how well the DC metro area would render. As I inched closer, the trees and houses gave way to buildings and a complex network of streets. I would occasionally glance below me and see the cars, glancing back to see how the detailed city would appear. It's not perfect, and I never expected that, since this is default scenery, but some major roads were missing around the National Mall and monuments, and to be honest, they really should be there. A final turn and descent into KDCA, I could get a much closer look at the resolution of the ground textures and I have to say again, this looked pretty good for default. The default rendition of KDCA is a major step up from the old FSX version, so landing there was familiar and I knew what airport it was.
Overall, for visuals, this is a good start and I have hopes that it will get better. The low level clouds though do need to be looked at to see why anything beneath them goes black and white. I was waiting to hear Ned Stark's voice say "brace yourselves, winter's coming!" Textures, knowing that they came from ORBX, do look more up to date and refreshing, though I spotted quite a few areas with ortho tree shadows, which kind of dulls the excitement. Trees, trees everywhere...maybe too many trees? I do hope something can be done about the lighting on them as they do seem a little too bright. Water wasn't blue, but more realistic to the water in the area. I flew over the Potomac, and that is not a blue river by any stretch, so good job there. Objects still seemed to have the "baked in" shadows though, and maybe that'll get corrected later, but if DTG implemented dynamic lighting, then those shadows are unnecessary.
As for flight control and aircraft response, I'd have to say that everything responds as it should, very smooth and fluid. The subtle rattle and shake of the door on the right side, provided a little more realism, as well as the weather effects on the aircraft in general. I never got a lick of rain, during the flight, so no rain effects, but that's ok, since I've seen how this works, and it wasn't a goal of mine to see what it did on my rig.
Finally, performance. Since everything was set to ultra, by default, and I never adjusted anything, I got steady 40fps while in flight, dropping to low 30's, down to mid 20's on the ground. Again, I expected this, and quite honestly, it never concerned me as I really wanted to see if the sim would crash, which it didn't...solid performance from beginning to end. I never noticed any stutters or pauses. Turns were executed as smooth as level flight, so there is a big plus there for FSW. Overall, I was satisfied with the performance, but that could change in the future with the addition of 3rd party add-ons, but I'll wait and see, testing a little more later.
The menu design, color and function are up to date and a welcome sight from the old shiny 3-D buttons of FSX. There is definitely an element of optimism and encouragement in the sim, meaning that a first time user won't walk away discouraged or upset. The overall feeling of the sim is enjoyment, encouraging the pilot to come back and fly again. As the sim development progresses and new things are added, it can only add more fun to the sim. If I really were a first time user of a flight sim though, I definitely wouldn't notice anything wrong, but to the keen eye of someone who does know flight sims, there is a lot that could be better, but for me, I'll be fair and exercise restraint, knowing that further work is being done.
From a DTG standpoint, I think they put out a decent flight simulator so far, taking the old FSX and breathing new life into it. I am actually glad I gave it a chance and I will definitely stick around for the interim to see how it progresses. I cannot say for sure that I would switch from what i use right now, but I can say that DTG hasn't failed and with time and more hard work, they could have a solid sim on their hands. For the experienced simmer, this is a good sim to fire up "for the heck of it" and tool around someplace. My real curiosity lies with how much better they can develop ortho. When you're in the air, you want to be able to see your house, so to speak, and so with a GA-based flight sim, you have lot's of time to take in the sights and you definitely want some realism there.
Thanks to DTG for the opportunity to use this. I never took the time to check out DTGFS, but I'm glad I did with FSW.