The Nova Scotia Connection: Halifax by FSimStudios for Microsoft Flight Simulator

Sunset at Halifax-Stanfield International Airport, Nova Scotia, Canada
Halifax-Stanfield International Airport by FSim Studios: your secret gateway to North America and beyond

It has been a while since I first bumped into FSimStudios. A stroll down memory lane, when Flight Simulator X was still a thing, and with Steve’s DX10 fixer and several tweaks, it performed better than ever. I remember I was desperately hunting for a high-quality representation of Toronto’s City airport after watching some steep approach footage, and I immediately wanted to give it a try myself. Apart from a few less-than-accurate freeware attempts, however, I could not find anything suitable for the purpose, until, as if from nowhere, a version from FSimStudios appeared in the store, and saved the day. That unexpected, almost miraculous encounter with the developer marked the beginning of a “beautiful friendship” and I am grateful for the opportunity to witness their evolution. Today, I consider FSimStudios one of the most reliable scenery artists. When it comes to Canadian destinations, they have been for a while my number one port of call. No matter what airport they decide to take on, I am yet to land at one which I do not like.

An overview of the airport

Now that I also made the “big switch” to Microsoft’s simulator, I was eager to pay a visit to the other side of the pond and see what is the buzz in the north. But where should I go? I did not want the hustle and bustle of the big cities, I did not want to “walk” the beaten path. Everyone is hyped about New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and all those city-sized mega airports but North America has many less popular, yet immediately captivating places to visit. One of them has been Halifax in Nova Scotia. I invite you to make a stopover here with me, perhaps your new favorite destination lies ahead.

Main apron with the terminal
Even the most remote corners are full of detail

The cool thing about Halifax is that the airport, despite its relatively small size, can get surprisingly busy. It serves a vast array of destinations across Canada, the USA, and the Caribbean, with the occasional service to Europe, making it an ideal secondary hub for those who are bored of the mainstream, often FPS-hungry, heavily abused superhubs. If you are a realism-geek like I am, you will find the airport has pretty much all sorts of operations covered, you do not need to come up with imaginary flight numbers to get to places. You can bring your scheduled or chartered turboprop here but your wide-body jet will also feel at home. The surrounding hills, lakes, and forests as well as the nearby city of Halifax and the Atlantic coast make for an interesting sightseeing trip with a bush plane or even a chopper. Use Halifax the way your sim flying dictates; it will cater to your needs. Fly to St. John’s in Newfoundland for a healthy IFR challenge (especially in the winter) or escape the cold and head south to Cuba for your well-deserved virtual vitamin D intake, as many Canadian holidaymakers indeed do after the subzero temperatures set in.

This is where you normally park your Q400

As we shut the door of the cab that brought us to the airport from the city, we quickly come to understand that there is far more going on here than just a terminal-apron-runway combo. Not so long ago, I was no fan of carefully crafted landside infrastructure or building interiors because more often than not, these posh extras often came at a significant performance cost. As a pilot, I paid little attention to the world beyond the apron, especially because such detail-overdose took a brutal toll on my frames occasionally. But I am now a changed man. I now have faith again. FSimStudios’ Halifax proved how immense detail can be achieved – without bringing my rig to a grinding halt – not only airside, affecting a pilot’s immediate surroundings but also areas not normally frequented. Adding just the right amount of interior characteristics, so that it is appealing enough without taxing the system is the key. Parked at a gate, the terminal is inviting enough for the flight crew to want to take a quick break and enjoy the turnaround by paying a visit inside just like it often happens in reality. While I rejected the idea before, I am fully convinced today: interiors can add to the overall impression.

Alt Hotel and Bell Boulevard: pure perfection

Still, old habits die hard. When examining an airport product, I always start with the models of the most important, most prominent pieces of infrastructure: terminal exteriors, in some cases the control tower (if unique). I inspect polygons, shapes, forms, curves, and ratios; compare them against photos, and memories, if I can recall them. I spend time observing architectural features, and all kinds of particulars that make one airport different from the other. I had high expectations because I knew what the developer is capable of when it comes to modeling. I expected superb details even on less than front-line objects and I am pleased to report that my expectations are not only met but exceeded. It is sheer joy to look at the buildings here, they are so finely built; each of them is a work of art. Before we board our flight, shall we check out the hotel across the road? What? A hotel? Sure! Behold, how precisely the real-world counterpart has been replicated, this is exactly what I was talking about. The attention to detail is second to none, utterly satisfying even the most demanding one of us.

The surroundings have not been forgotten about either

And indeed, the more we are given, the more we expect the next time. A decade or so ago, all we wished for was a runway, a terminal that looks decent enough, and a parking stand between the two. Today, such ignorance would be considered a blasphemy: we would go hysterical if the disused maintenance hangars (you know, the ones located in the most remote corner of the airport that can be reached only via unmarked, narrow taxiways), that we would never in the life cycle of the product visit anyway, were not part of the deal. We want it all. These days, we want everything that defines the airport: the man-made objects to be present, the excess fauna that surrounds the airport, to be gone, if it interferes with the approach. We want to experience the real airport within the confines of the simulator. But what defines an airport might be different for everyone, Pleasing us all is no easy task. Is FSimStudios Halifax up to it?

Real or sim?

You may wish to walk up to the check-in desk inside the building, the other expects to find his favorite fast food restaurant represented. Areas hardly ever seen by a pilot on duty. Crazy, isn’t it? We seemingly forget to fly the plane, so lost we are in the incredible detail we are blessed with. Is it a good thing? I used to oppose it but now I think it is a blessing. We might as well call it (sim) evolution. It appears to me that FSimStudios proactively made their Halifax scenery future-proof to ensure it will stand its ground for many years to come. They added just enough clutter to make the scene convincing without overpopulating areas, keeping less frequently visited parts of the airport lighter; airier, so that the overall balance is not disturbed. This knowledge comes with experience, judging what to enhance, and how to do it without going over the top. The scenery was made with love, it shines through clearly, FSimStudios chose quality over quantity.

Halifax-Stanfield by night

But wait for a second! All these fancy bits and bobs would all mean nothing without crip clean textures, believable looks, colors, shades, and silhouettes; preferably, in all possible lighting conditions, regardless of the season. 4K PBR to the rescue, everything you cast your gaze upon speaks for itself. While things look lifelike and sharp during the day, is that sought-after night atmosphere also captured? Do those textures “thrive” also when darkness falls? They do, my friend, they indeed do. At nightfall, when airports become places so full of mystery, the truth shines through. And Halifax comes out victorious on this front as well. What makes an airport so special at night? The divine gleam of taxiway and runway lights, sounds of the screaming APU, the tirelessly crisscrossing carts; service vehicles. The strobes of departing aircraft as the engines spool up… Where do they go? How does it feel like being onboard? It is the scenery that stirs these emotions if the necessary amount of detail is present, in the right place.

Go to bed or go flying? Who would want to resist the temptation of another takeoff from Halifax?
It is in the details: superb ground textures catapult FSimStudios CYHZ to heavenly heights

Daring adventurer, rest assured, be it day or night, winter or summer, rain or shine, these models, these textures remain glorious. Without the slightest performance hit, should I add? For it is just as important. There can be quality at the cost of performance, but this is not the case with the FSimStudios Halifax. This is just sheer quality, unparalleled, that is what it is, perfectly optimized, with no bitter aftertaste.

Hangars, FBOs, FSimStudios CYHZ truly comes to life

We looked inside, we looked outside, but then there is the ground. The mother of everything. The grass, the concrete, the roads and paths, the markings. I have seen so many, otherwise very convincing products fail right here. How could we ignore the ground, this rarely talked-about friend, the make or break of a product? In fact, an airport is mostly ground and buildings, right? Perhaps I over-simplified the question, but if you think about it, there is truth in the statement. If buildings are the heart of an airport scenery, I mean, the few dozen of them an airport normally hosts, then the ground that supports all of them deserves utmost attention as it is the soul of the place. Therefore, it is of great importance to make it look appealing. Starting with the right color, blending with the surrounding, everything matters. Worry you not, Halifax lives up to the expectation. Everything beneath our feet (or landing gear) is PBR and I cannot ignore how amazing the aprons look in the rain, the wet effect suits the airport particularly well.

As real as it gets, in all weather conditions

Do take the time, while you taxi to RWY 5, to inspect the facilities, and static vehicles to your right and admire the perfection that surrounds you. I tried hard to nit-pick on this product because the more demanding we, customers are, the more we eventually get the next time. Therefore, I was determined to complain about something, just for the sake of complaining, just to keep the developer on his toes, but I could not find anything to moan about and I am “worried” we have just reached the zenith of what is achievable in terms of realism… until the next FSimStudios product sees daylight, to prove me wrong and deliver even more detail.

As a real-world pilot, I am mostly after the feeling, and this scenery delivers that feeling instantly. If you are like me, you know what I am talking about. If you think of an airport you would normally not want to visit but then accidentally bump into a scenery product that is so well made that it simply captivates you; holds you spellbound, then you know what I am talking about. When you cannot wait to embark on the next journey that takes you back so that you can experience it all over again, then you know what I am talking about.

Halifax apron

I knew it will be a quality time spent in Halifax but I must admit it was more than just that. Although I have never been to this airport in real life, I am confidently saying that through the product, I experienced it more than the vast majority of those who physically traveled to or from CYHZ. FSimStudios brought us the very essence of the airport and served it in an exceptionally captivating shape and form as if it was cut out of the real world by some magic tool, not unlike sorcery, and carefully pasted into the virtual universe of Asobo’s simulator: it is alive, every inch of it, and no two visits are the same.

Never short of ideal conditions for instrument approaches

It gradually, little by little reveals its secrets and when you think you know it all, it surprises you with yet another hidden gem until you give up comparing for nothing quite compares to it. Creating airport sceneries is an art and FsimStudios are masters of their craft for they achieve, through their products, what the whole thing is all about: a lasting, moving experience when you sincerely believe you have been somewhere special without actually being there.

Harsh and hypnotizing: winter in Nova Scotia
Concrete art with bumps and scratches: don’t forget to look down!

As the setting sun waves one last goodbye over the terminal building before sinking below the horizon, our transatlantic 737 commences its long taxi in the crimson light, concluding our visit to Nova Scotia. And what a visit it was! No, I am not talking about a simulated flight. Who cares about it? It is the experience, the memory. Because that is what we are left with. A genuine memory of a visit, one we can talk about to friends, and family; as if it were real. This is how far we have gotten in terms of virtual adventuring; this is what developers like FSimStudios are capable of presenting to us through their fine exact replicas of the world we live in.

Halifax, the Nova Scotia connection is one that you don’t want to ignore. It is a no-brainer at the price, make sure you check it out, you won’t regret it. I wholeheartedly recommend anything that comes from this developer but CYHZ is their Opus Magnum to date.

FSimStudios’ Halifax Stanfield International Airport for Microsoft Flight Simulator
Your next destination?
– A higher art of architecture modeling
– Airport full of life (clutter, static objects)
– Incredible ground finish (grass, concrete, markings)
– Right amount of building interior details
– Sharp textures
– Immersive night lighting
– Virtually no FPS loss
– Let me know if there is any
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Developer: FSimStudios
Price: EUR 17.50
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