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Just Flight VFR Real Scenery London
Friday, 12 October 2007

London is one of the most famous cities in the world. Home to Buckingham Palace, Wembley Stadium, Oxford Street and the Royal Albert Hall to name but a few. With an official population of 7.5 million it is one of the most populated cities in Europe. When flying to the UK from abroad, particularly from the USA, the majority of people will land at London both in the real world and the simulated world. So why has there never been an ultra realistic scenery for the city and surrounding area? Visual Flight did a fantastic job for area around the Thames and there are some fantastic airport add-ons out there, but nothing for the whole area. Step forward Just Flight!

The entire area within the M25 Motorway (1200 square miles) is available in ultra realistic scenery for FSX as a 1GB download (yes 1 Gigabite). This is a colossal download, but is well worth the wait at £12.99/€19.95/$24.99 price tag. Within this download you will get high resolution images of the whole area, ‘real’ water and greatly improved night textures. You can be sure that when you are approaching any of the airports within the M25 boundary (London Heathrow, London City, Biggin Hill, Denham, Northolt, Leavsden, Hatfield, Elstree, Fairoaks, Stapleford and more), you can be sure that you are flying over the real London.

As with all the VFR Real Scenery titles the scenery is made up of 25cm photographic data of the area which creates high resolution scenery optimised for 1m display in FSX. Also included is 9.6m digital terrain to improve the overall relief of the area so that combined with the scenery, what you are seeing is as true to life as you can get without actually being there. The water has also been improved to give an even more realistic effect than the default FSX water. You can land sea-planes on the water which with some add-on sceneries you can’t without disabling the crash detection option. Night lighting textures have been individually applied to each area of the scenery for extra accuracy and realism, and they are miles ahead of the default night lighting.

After the download is complete installation is pretty much a none event. Just click the installer and verify that your copy is genuine, and then everything is installed automatically and you are ready to go. Load times for the area when starting up may be a little slower than normal due to the huge amount of data being loaded, but when you are sat at the gate, I found that frame rates actually improved. How this has been accomplished with such high resolution scenery I don’t know, but I hope that Microsoft can implement such techniques into one of their service packs so that the rest of the scenery in FSX has the same effect on frame rates. Down at ground level the textures can get a little blurred, but that’s only when you are around 50ft above the ground. In the air everything is crystal clear. The great thing about this scenery is that you are never too far from an airfield. So if you don’t have much time to spare to complete a long flight you can just set off from any airport within the scenery, fly around and be amazed at what you have purchased, and when you are ready to land find an airport and land without having to spend ages searching for one. Most of the flights I completed whilst exploring the scenery were done in this way.

Something that I wasn’t too keen on was that at times the textures changed very rapidly from the browns of the urban areas to the greens of the surrounding countryside. Granted these texture changes do exist in the real world, but I thought that the changes would be a little more subtle. A quick visit to the Just Flight website explains that the reason this happens is because the photos are taken from March-September and when you add all the photos together, sometimes you do get seasonal variations in the textures, so it’s just one of those things that is unavoidable. It wasn’t really a big issue for me as it is a huge improvement on the default textures.

From reviewing 3 titles in the VFR Real Scenery series, I have found that it is a lot easier to fly VFR than with any other scenery add-on I have used. The only times I have loaded up the GPS is to see where the nearest airport is, I can look out of the window and know where I am the scenery is that good. I would have liked to have seen the scenery still have all of the buildings in 3D. When you are flying above the scenery everything looks great and very 3-dimensional, but when you are at ground level things can look a little flat. But if all this were included, then inevitably the low price would rise up. This is the only thing that would be on my wish-list to improve the scenery, other than that it’s perfect. Taking off from London City and flying down the Thames exploring the river and surrounding scenery was brilliant, and then venture away from the river and explore the whole area within the M25, trust me when I say the afternoon’s will fly by. One of the hardest parts of writing this review was deciding which pictures NOT to include, it took an afternoon to crop the pictures and select them. This area soon becomes a screen-shotter’s heaven. And it’s not just VFR flights that are fun either. The approach into the major airports after a long flight in the heavies is a welcome change from the bland landscape that was there before, the whole area of London has really been brought to live thanks to the guys at Just Flight.

As I’ve already mentioned flying along the river is a great adventure, everything looks as if you could reach out and touch it. But when you fly over the city things take a whole new shape. The area looks like a capital city that is one of the most populated in Europe. The houses and office blocks are all crammed together and look like real houses as opposed to the ugly default houses that FSX used to place on the landscape. But when you head on out to the surrounding countryside, you would never know that just over the horizon is a huge city bustling with activity. The countryside takes on a more peaceful atmosphere during the daytime with the soft shades of green accurately depicting what is there in the real world, all that was missing were the farmers and their sheep! As with the Isle of Wight add-on I reviewed recently, the trees and fields of the countryside look amazing. I’ve never seen trees and fields that look as realistic as this in FS before, it’s just breathtaking.

At night-time though it’s a different story; the countryside is lit up as it should be by hardly being lit up at all. Over the roads and motorways that surround the city it is still possible to easily fly VFR because everything is so well lit up, but when you get to the countryside it becomes just that bit harder because the area is virtually pitch black apart from a few lights dotted along the roads, excellent attention to detail. In some ways I enjoyed flying over the city more at night as it seemed more alive than during the day. When you are following the motorways the cars headlamps of the commuters heading home for the night light the way for you to follow and enjoy the flight. I liked the fact that as day turning to dusk then night that the textures didn’t seem to change instantly, the slowly changed with the time of day to give a really accurate image of what is actually going on at that moment in time. The area took on an eerie atmosphere as the light of the sun was fading and the lights of the streets were coming on, brilliant!

I’ll be honest when I say that initially this add-on didn’t give me the ‘wow’ factor that the Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton scenery gave me. But after many hours flying around the London area both in light aircraft and heavy airliners approaching the major airports, and looking through the countless screenshots I have taken, I realised that I may have been a bit harsh with my first impressions of the add-on. The wow factor is definitely there and you don’t have to go looking too far until you find it; about 2500ft above the ground should do the trick. The best thing about this scenery, other than the scenery itself, is the massive area it covers for such a low price. You don’t even have to be flying into one of the major London airports to be able to enjoy it, and you don’t have to be flying low and slow either to enjoy it. I think it is one of those rare add-ons that will satisfy all users without too many problems. The download size may the major problem for users with dial up connections. Another developer has just release a download add-on which is far greater in file size than VFR London, but it is available to download as several smaller chunks, maybe this could be an idea for Just Flight with their future add-ons?

If you fly regularly in and out of London, you cannot be without this add-on. It is the first add-on I have seen for FSX that I believe should be given the ‘Must Have’ status for simmers that regularly fly in and out of London. The amount of detail included in this package for the unbelievable price is staggering, I just wish someone had done it before now! I really don’t know how Just Flight are able to charge such low prices for their VFR Real Scenery after seeing the amount of detail included in the 3 add-ons I have reviewed. Fair enough the download size is huge, but it’s a small price to pay. If you do not want the download version, this scenery is included in the VFR Real Scenery South East England boxed version, which at the moment is selling at £21.99.

Just Flight
Did you like this scenery? VFR Real Scenery – London can be purchased at http://www.justflight.com/product.asp?pid=211 !
*(This scenery is temporarily on sale for $19.99)*

As you may have guessed, the amount and quality of the detail that has been packed into this add-on is stunning, and Just Flight have once again raised the bar with regards to what is achievable within FSX. But if this is the best that can be created now, just imagine what could be created this time next year…..

Until next time…