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Voie Bleu – Charleroi X EBCI Brussels South Review

coverVoie Bleu – Charleroi X EBCI Brussels South (yes, a mouthful indeed) has been available for FSX for several years. The last couple of months though, it has been updated and received a P3D specific version. As a Belgian flight simmer, I was eager to take a look.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport (IATA: CRL, ICAO: EBCI),  as it is now known, is located in Gosselies, a part of the city of Charleroi in the Walloon part of Belgium. The airport is located 5km north of the centre of Charleroi, and 46km south of Brussels. The runway is 2550m long, designated 07/25, and features a CAT III ILS on the preferred runway 25.

night_appLights_FSX

For much of its long history, the main activity at the airport was aeronautical contruction, with both SABCA and SONACA (previously Avions Fairey) having facilities there. For example, in the 1980’s  license production of the General Dynamics F-16 was undertaken at the site.

In the 1990’s, the name of the airport was changed to the current Brussels South Charleroi Airport. The arrival of low cost carrier Ryanair in 1997 sparked renewed interest in the airport, resulting in a period of rapid growth that saw the airport become Belgium’s second busiest. A new terminal, capable of handling 5 million passengers per year, was opened in 2008. The new terminal reached its maximum capacity just 2 years later. Currently, the airport handles about 6,5 million passengers annually, mainly from Ryanair, Jetairfly and Wizz Air.

appraoch

Installation:

Voie Bleu – Charleroi X EBCI Brussels South is available from SimMarket for the low price of €14 (excluding EU VAT). One purchase gives access to both FSX and P3D versions. The 2 versions are separate installers though, the FSX version coming in at 150MB and the P3D one at 138MB.
Voie Bleu uses the SimMarket installer for Charleroi X. The process is reliable, but a bit more involved than what you might be used to.
The main difference is that, after accepting the EULA, the installer will open a browser window in which you have to activate your serial. The resulting activation code is the one needed to continue the installation. It’s an extra step, but it is quite intuitive and well-explained, so it shouldn’t give you any problems. The FSX installation has the additional step of providing an optional compatibility mode for FS Global users. The P3D installer lacks this option.

installationFSX

A bit remarkable is that the install location is markedly different between the FSX and P3D versions. For FSX, Charleroi X is installed in a subfolder in the ‘Addon Scenery’ folder. In P3D, it’s installed in a folder called ‘Simmarket’ in the P3D root folder. This difference becomes important if you want to change some of the options. More on that later.

installationFSX3

Performance:

Usually, I keep the ‘performance’ section until almost the end of the review. The reason it’s at the very beginning here, is that performance was the main aspect of my experience with Charleroi X EBCI Brussels South.
To put it bluntly, performance is terrible. Settings that resulted in perfectly flyable frame rates at high-detail add-on airports like FlyTampa Montreal and  Aerosoft London Heathrow Extended resulted in an unusable slide show at EBCI.

My first impression was so bad that I was tempted to just give up. But as that would be unprofessional, I decided to soldier on and try to find a way to make it bearable so I could test it for this review.

overview_summer

Luckily, there is some information in the manual as to what can be done to improve performance. It comes down to renaming the files that handle the 3D grass at the airport, so this feature becomes disabled. Static vehicles, of which there are many, can also be disabled in groups, resulting in increases in performance in exchange for a less filled environment. Turning off all 3D grass, increased performance to a level that, while not ‘good’ by any stretch of the imagination, resulted in a usable airport on my system.

A top-down view that shows many different aspects of this scenery: the photoreal ground layer, the buildings with photoreal textures, the very high-resolution apron, and some of the many static cars.

A top-down view that shows many different aspects of this scenery: the photoreal ground layer, the buildings with photoreal textures, the very high-resolution apron, and some of the many static cars.

Scenery:

The visual quality of this scenery product is a bit of mix of sorts. At some parts, it’s really good. At others, not so much. Let’s take a look.

The entire airport, and a good (square) portion around it are covered by a photoreal ground texture. The overall quality of this coverage is alright, but not spectacular. What definitely is very nice, is that the ground texture changes depending on season. All 5 seasons (FSX and P3D have both ‘Winter’ and ‘Deep winter’) are present. The changes between spring, summer and fall textures are subtle, but they’re there. Just like it should be for Belgium.

Overview_winter

overview_Summer_FSX

At the airport itself, the line-up of photo and scenery is pretty good. When moving away from the airport, this aspect drops in quality though. There’s even a large section where the scenery and ground texture line up quite well in winter (both ‘normal’ and ‘deep’), but not at all in other seasons. At the edges of the coverage area, I noticed that the roads on the photographic ground layer line up perfectly with Ultimate Terrain X Europe v2 roads. Very nice.

Looking pretty good for an off-airport section, right?

Looking pretty good for an off-airport section, right?

But what happened here? Same section, just a different date.

But what happened here? Same section, just a different date set in the sim.

Moving up one layer, there’s the runway, taxiway and aprons to look at. It’s an aspect of this airport which I really like. The quality of the textures covering these parts look very good. Not the best I’ve ever seen, but definitely above average. Generally speaking, the result is pleasing and immersive. One weird issue here, is that these parts do not receive shadows when ‘Scenery’ is checked under the ‘Receive shadows’ category in Prepar3D v3. They do when ‘Simobjects’ are set to receive shadows though.

Impressive details!

Impressive details!

Here you can see the 'ground' receiving shadows, but not the taxiway. (Found a workaround, but I'm including this shot as an example)

Here you can see the ‘ground’ receiving shadows, but not the taxiway. (Found a workaround, but I’m including this shot as an example)

The main apron in FSX. Looking pretty good if you ask me.

The main apron in FSX. Looking pretty good if you ask me.

The buildings give mixed impressions. Some of them look really good. Well modelled, and with good texturing. Other show less attention to detail. Especially the quality of the texturing varies. It’s really weird seeing a nicely weathered building standing next to one that’s dull and flat, looking fake. It appears that the developer went for the photoreal approach mostly (using photographs for textures). Generally with reasonably good results, but it’s quite clear for which buildings he didn’t have photographs available.

The main terminal

The main terminal

Some quite good looking buildings on one side...

Some quite good looking buildings on one side…

But then this directly across from them.

But then this directly across from them.

When looking at the smaller details, it’s to be noticed that there’s a lot of clutter around the airport and it’s immediate environment. Baggage carts, air stairs, belt loaders, cars and trucks… It’s nice to see so much of it, although they’re probably a big part of the performance concerns.

Lot's of cars parked at the airport...

Lot’s of cars parked at the airport…

Most of the vehicle models look like the ones from the default FSX (and P3D) libraries. They’re all right, but not impressive.
A bit of a turn-off for me, is that the industrial area has some F/A-18 fighters in Belgian colours. I understand the developer wanted to make this area representative of the real deal, and wanted to show that this is where the Belgian fighters were built and get their updates. However, those are F-16’s in real life, definitely not F/A-18’s. Probably nitpicking on my part, but it’s something that bothers me every time I see it.

I stated before that I turned off all 3D grass due to performance reasons. I did look at it though. The airport is provided with quite dense 3D grass, which also can be switched depending on season. It looks really good. It’s just too hard to run the scenery with it active on my system.

A shot with the 3D grass enabled. It looks really good, but kills frame rates.

A shot with the 3D grass enabled. It looks really good, but kills frame rates.

When loading the airport at night, there’s some nice night lighting to see. All lighting is easy to see from a distance, which is the point of course. The overall result is very nice. When looking at the details, I’m not that happy with the blue taxiway edge lights. The light ‘halo’ is way overdone, and not realistic looking. On the other hand, I definitely am a fan of the green taxiway centre lights. Small, subtle, directional, yet clearly visible.

A closer look of the airport lights.

A closer look of the airport lights.

Functionality:

There are 2 issues I ran into when actually using Charleroi X. First is that, with ‘Crash detection’ enabled, some parking positions cause problems. Even with small aircraft, you’ll experience a crash when loading the sim. I’m talking about aircraft crashes here, not the dreaded ‘crash to desktop’. I usually fly with crash detection disabled (I’m well aware when I’ve crashed. No need for the simulator to tell me), but if you fly with it enabled, this will be something to keep in mind carefully.

One of the parking positions that is guaranteed to give problems (also with aircraft smaller than this F-22)

One of the parking positions that is guaranteed to give problems (also with aircraft smaller than this F-22)

The second issue is that Charleroi X doesn’t play well with AI traffic on my system. I’ve tried in both FSX (MyTraffic) and P3D v3 (default AI traffic).  General aviation traffic works most of the time, although I’ve also seen aircraft getting stuck on the taxiways. Airliner traffic is remarkably absent, even with extremely high traffic settings.

The main apron. Detailed, good looking, lots of clutter... But no traffic. This shot was taken with traffic sliders in P3D v3 at 50%.

The main apron. Detailed, good looking, quite a bit of clutter… But no traffic. This shot was taken with traffic sliders in P3D v3 at 50%.

Options and extra’s:

Voie Bleu – Charleroi X EBCI Brussels South comes with a manual in both French and English. In my opinion the most important parts of this manual are the ones covering changing the seasonal appearance and performance. It’s it this latter section that the developer specifies how you can disable the 3D grass or some or all of the 3D vehicles, for example.

The developer also states that he ran into some limitations in representing the airport. In particular  the industrial area of the airport, where among others SABCA and SONACA are located. He states in the manual that he couldn’t get access to these parts, so recreated these as ‘representative’, instead of fully realistic.

I know a lot of aircraft spotters who would love F/A-18's in Belgian colours.

I know a lot of aircraft spotters who would love F/A-18’s in Belgian colours.

Concerning the changing of seasons: you can switch both the grass and the trees between summer, fall and winter versions. A very nice touch. This is done by running the respective “.bat” files provided with the scenery. Unfortunately, those for the trees are located in a different folder than those for the grass. And there are no easy shortcuts provided, you’ll have to dive into the installation folders to find them. Hence my remark about the different folder structures for the FSX and P3D versions.
It would be nice if all of this switching, both seasons and 3D Grass and vehicle density, could be done through a ‘control panel’ or something like that. It would make this product a lot more user friendly. But features like that would undoubtedly also raise the price…

A nice (and recent) extra for FSX customers, is that Aerosoft Enhancement Services now covers Voie Bleu Charleroi X. And this for the low price of 1 credit. AES is not available for P3D yet, so obviously it doesn’t work in that sim. FSDreamTeam GSX customers should find the airport working with it, as usual.

taxi3

Conclusion:

I spent a lot of time thinking about what to write as a conclusion. Do I like this product or not? Do I recommend it or not? There are parts and aspects of this product that I really like. Overall, visually, it is quite all right. When flying to and from the airport, in an airliner for example, the visual feel certainly is pleasant. When looking closer though, there are some aspects that detract from the overall experience. The big issue, the one that keeps me from recommending this product, is the performance. Even with the options you can disable turned off, the performance remains bad. I’ve seen airports which are much larger, better looking and with lots more details perform much, much smoother.

The fact that this product was the developer’s first creation explains much of these problems. That he was able to create something that looks better than all right overall, speaks in his favour. While I do not recommend Charleroi X EBCI Brussels South for customer who don’t really need Brussels South in their sim, I do hope the developer keeps learning and growing. If he does, I look forward to his next creation.

arr_detail

Like:

  • Good looking taxiways and aprons
  • Overall pleasant visual feeling
  • Low price

Don’t like:

  • Very bad performance
  • Some issues with the ground textures
  • Inconsistent look and feel of buildings
  • AI traffic not working as it should

Useful links:
SimMarket product page

Test System (click this line for more information):
Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4×3.3GHz (stock speed)
8GB DDR3 RAM
MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G
Windows 7 64 bit
FSX Deluxe + Acceleration
Prepar3D v2.5
Prepar3D v3.1

Software used:
Active Sky Next
Aerosoft Airbus A320
FSFX Packages PrecipitFX
Majestic Software Q400
Metal2Mesh Mirage 2000C
Orbx FTX Global
PMDG 737NGX
Real Environment Extreme Texture Direct + Soft Clouds
Ultimate Terrain X Europe v2

 

night_terminal

dep_old_terminal

main_apron (2)

 

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