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Review: FranceVFR – Nord-Pas de Calais for FSX

The developers at FranceVFR are slowly recreating France one region at a time with their regional scenery releases.  Following on the heels of Bretagne VFR for FSX is the second in the series; Nord-Pas de Calais for FSX. Read on to discover what I thought about this recent release.

The most northerly of the 22 regions that make up the country of France, Nord-Pas de Calais shares a border with Belgium to the east and a coastline with the English Channel along the north. It’s population is concentrated mostly in urban areas and is the fourth most densely populated region in France.  The administrative center of the region is in the city of Lille.

Inhabited since prehistoric times the area was always viewed as holding strategic importance and was conquered by various factions until it was finally annexed by the French in the late 17th century.

During the 19th century it underwent major growth in industrialization and saw heavy industries such as mining, steel and textiles become it’s major source of employment.  It suffered greatly during both World Wars and the economic downturns of the 70s and 80s.  Since then through a combination of investments by the European Union and the opening of the Channel Tunnel in the 1994 it has seen a resurgence in it’s economies and the appeal to tourists increasing steadily since then.

Installation and Configuration

The scenery download is actually broken into two files because of the large size. File one is 1.84Gbs and the second 1.93Gbs for a total file size of just under 4Gbs.

The installer for FranceVFR products has to rank as one of the simplest installers in use. The scenery is rather large so the installation is done in two parts. You first execute the “setup_NCPX_part1.exe” and then once that has finished you are prompted to launch “setup_NCPX_part2.exe”.

As with their other products you are asked to choose whether you want to continue in either french or english and then to put in your personalized registration code. The completed installation will occupy close to 5Gb of hard drive space. Finally the installer adds the scenery to the FSX scenery library.

There was no configuration necessary with this product but they recommend that before installing the scenery you defrag your hard disk.

Documentation

The install routine creates a program group in the Windows menu called France VFR. It is through here that you can access the documents.

The manual and charts are in both french and english.  The PDF manual is only six pages but is packed with lots of good information. They include such topics as technical specifications, notes on the install and uninstall routines, recommendations for display settings and optimization as well as links for product support.  All of this is worthwhile reading, especially the display settings.

On page three of the manual they’ve included a map of the scenery coverage area that shows the locations of the included airports/airfields, the 3d detailed areas and objects of interest. This is a great page to keep handy when you are flying around!

The included charts are quite extensive and they have included everything you need for the 15 airports/airfields that are part of this scenery package.  There is no need to search the internet as other scenery developers will have you do.

Flying the Scenery

When you purchase this scenery you are getting so much more than a single airport you are getting the entire region of Nord-Pas de Calais which takes in an area of approximately 15,000 sq kms. This type of product has appeal for every type of simpilot. Visually the landscapes and details will appeal to those who like to explore and sightsee and then with the variety and number of airports in the region those who enjoy the more technical aspects that go along with take offs and landings should also be happy.

For anyone who purchased the recently released regional scenery of Bretagne X, this offering has a distinct positive difference in my opinion and that is that it includes autogen throughout the entire area. If you couple that with the hi-resolution ground textures and the optimized custom mesh you have all the ingredients to make a very realistic environment for your flying enjoyment. I guess the only minor set back here would be that the textures are for summer time only.

In addition to the autogen coverage there are several large areas that contain even more detailed objects that make for some really great sightseeing.  It doesn’t stop there; you will also find an abundance of VFR landmarks spread throughout the entire scenery area.  There is something in every corner to catch your eye. If you want to discover all that this scenery has to offer using the coverage map as a guide is a wonderful way to make sure you don’t miss any of the visual gems.

The area that made the biggest impression on me was along the English Channel; it is here that you are able to admire the beautifully rendered coastlines. The beaches and river deltas and then there are the coastal cities which all look so inviting.  If you begin at the airport at Berck-sur-Mer which is situated near the south western corner of the scenery coverage area and fly north following the shorelines you will see a number of lighthouses and then the harbour at Boulogne-Sur-Mer with the variety of fishing trawlers, container ships and pleasure craft.  Continuing up the coast is the distinct Cap Gris-Nez lighthouse which also happens to be the closest point between France and England. Further on is the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel), the city and Port of Calais and then the large industrial complexes and harbour at Dunkerque.  The level of detail and diversity of objects in these areas are very impressive.  In the water and on land you can see that they have gone through a lot of effort to get it right.  I already mentioned the types of water craft at Boulogne-Sur-Mer, more of the same can be seen in the other harbours along the coast. There are also many ships visible out at sea although they are static.

Besides the coastal area I was also impressed with the inclusion of two very important historical landmarks; the French National Cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge. I thought that the addition of these two important memorial sites was a very nice touch on the part of the developers and that they should get special mention.

I indicated earlier that there were a variety of objects scattered throughout the scenery, some of the different types you will see are lighthouses, wind farms, antennas and broadcast towers, power plants, different types of industrial plants, athletic stadiums, hi-voltage transmissions towers, historical sites and many many more.  These are all in the scenery for you to discover as you fly around.

Performance wise I didn’t encounter any problems; flying with my display settings as per their “Advanced configuration” recommendations there were no noticeable drops in my frame rates.

Looking for anomalies in the scenery I can say that I only saw one, near the monument at Vimy Ridge there is a hole in the scenery that is clearly not meant to be there. Fortunately it is not large and only really noticeable if you are almost on top of it.

Airports and airfields

This scenery is all about recreating a large region of France so when it came to the airports I was not expecting them to contain the level of detail you would expect to find in stand alone airport addons.  Even though I thought they were well done the emphasis seemed to be on having them accurately placed in the scenery for navigation and flight purposes and not on giving you an exact visual representation of each airport. There are 22 airports/airfields located within the region and to have faithfully recreated each one would have been a monumental task and would have driven the price up considerably I am sure. What they have given us is a nice compromise. They’ve made an effort to give each airport a look that is representative of what you would expect based on it’s size and use and they have done a good job at doing just that.  No one airport stood out as being better or worse than any other. All in all they are well done and I wasn’t disappointed in what I saw. Each airport had appropriate structures and buildings, many of the smaller airfields had weathered hangers and as you got to the larger airports the structure sizes and styles changed as well. At Lille-Lesquin for example which is the 12th busiest airport in France the terminal building included jetways. As a further enhancement to the airports they included radio towers, wind socks, approach, PAPI and runway lighting depending on the size and capability of the airport.  In a few cases they added static aircraft and vehicles.

I have made this comment about their other airport releases and if there was one aspect I wish they would change it would be with how they render the hard surface areas. I find the colouring they use to be too dark and the edging too harsh, there is no blending and that just seems to take away from the realism.  One other small point, I noticed at LFAC that a few of the runway markers were misplaced and appeared near the center line of the taxiway instead of off to the side.

In spite of my comments above I have to say that overall their renditions of the airports are good and serve to further enhance the overall experience.

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Night Flying

I have mixed feelings about the night textures with this product. Just as I found with their Bretagne X product some of the night lighting seemed to be randomly placed and didn’t match where you’d expect to see lighting based on the underlying ground textures. An example of this can be seen along the beaches, with nothing but sand visible during the daytime flying over these same areas at night you can see areas of light and on closer examination they appeared to be the textures of roadway lighting.  Lighting should be confined to the built up areas, adding them to beaches does not add to the realism of the overall experience.

Final Thoughts

This region of France contains a variety of rural, industrial, urban and coastal areas that makes for a nice mixture of landscapes that guarantees you will have so much to see and keep you wanting to come back again and again.

To borrow from the manual they state that the main goal was to recreate a realistic flying experience from a pilot’s point of view.   I will end my review by saying that it is my opinion that they have achieved that goal and that I thoroughly enjoyed this product.

My Ratings

  • Installer: Very good. Simple to use.
  • Documentation: Very Good. Manual includes map of coverage area. Complete set of charts for all 15 airports included.
  • Modelling: Very good. Hi-res ground textures, custom mesh and autogen.
  • Extras: Many interesting objects and animations, autogen coverage throughout entire area.

Download Size: 4Gb 
Price: EUR 29.33 
Link: http://secure.simmarket.com/francevfr-nord-pas-de-calais-fsx.phtml

Test System: Intel i7 920 OC @ 3.8 Ghz, 6 Gb RAM, EVGA 285 GTX w/1Gb video, Win 7 Ultimate 64, FSX w/acceleration, Ultimate traffic 2, REX, AES 2.06

Richard Desjardins

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