Banjul International airport lies in Northern Africa and serves as the gateway to The Gambia. Built during World War II, and rebuilt in the 1960s to accommodate increased tourism, Banjul has flowered into a popular tourist destination for Europeans, with many airlines (such as Thomas Cook, TUI fly, Brussels Airline, Arik air, as well as others) flying to Banjul during the holiday season. The airport continues to grow and come May 2018 it will serve as an intermediate stopover for the first Atlantic Airlines service between St. Helena and London. Africa has been a gaping black hole in terms of quality scenery in flight sim for years now, and it is exciting to see a new developer take up the challenge.
The download from SimMarket was quick and easy, with the file size coming in at around 147 mb. There was no extraction of any files necessary, and the installer could be run immediately upon completion of the download. License authentication is a bit different from what I’ve seen in past addon installs, with an external authorization code from SimMarket required along with the other standard information like your name, email, and serial. The scenery itself is installed into a folder in your root sim directory titled ‘SimMarket’ with the documentation and an uninstaller being found there as well. It is a bit disappointing to see it not being installed outside of the sim folder, via an addon.xml in this day and age, but I can live with it so long as it doesn’t touch anything it’s not supposed to.
There are two available options for Banjul, one being a photo-image that blends better with Orbx Global Base, and the other being legacy lighting for those who find the dynamic lighting system in v4 to be too performance intensive for their systems. Both of these options require manual file transfers into the scenery folder, though, with no configurator being present. This isn’t a major chore, for me personally, since it is very well explained how and where to transfer these files to, but it may be a bit daunting for those who don’t go poking around in their sim folder like I do very often. In the end, it would’ve been nice to see a configurator included but I can see how this would’ve taken a lot of time and delayed the release (especially if the developer has never made one before). There was an update to the scenery which fixed a fair number of known issues, (more on that later), but the update again required a manual file transfer of the new SimMarket folder to your root sim’s directory and overwriting the existing files which wasn’t nearly as easy as simply running a new installer for just the update like many other developers do.
Upon loading into the sim at Banjul for the first time, you’ll notice just how small and desolate the airport really is. While the runway itself is a whopping 11,811 feet long, there’s really not much else there besides the terminal and apron area. There is a static IL-62 that, based on the rust, you can tell has been sitting there for a while. There is a large amount of buildings near the threshold of both ends of the runway, a huge concrete pad just to the south of the terminal, and finally the terminal area. Being officially labeled as an international airport, I was surprised to see how primitive it looked even when compared to a smaller field such as Idaho Falls. The terminal area is extremely small for an international airport and there are no gates present, which will force those flying airliners to park on one of the ramps generally meant for general aviation aircraft.
The textures throughout the ramp, terminal, and taxiways are detailed and of high resolution, with little imperfections such as holes, cracks, and oil stains being depicted. One thing I did notice is the edge of the taxiways do seem to get a bit jagged when the taxiway curves, as well as the markings themselves. This wasn’t too noticeable but it’s still there nonetheless. The taxiway signs are very crisp, though I did notice them disappearing and reappearing when I would move my viewpoint around slowly panning. I’ve seen this with a few other sceneries, and I know it’s intended to save performance by not rendering buildings in your direct field of view, but to Grand Island’s credit I was in a helicopter with widows wrapping nearly all around the VC. If you were in a 737 for example, I don’t think it would be as noticeable.
Onto the environmental textures, I found them to be nicely done and highly detailed I really love how varied they are, with them not being just one color as it’d be in real life due to the differences in vegetation color, species, and density throughout the field. In my tests I was running FTX Global and had the option to blend the photoimagery with the Global textures installed. They do blend pretty well, but it is clear where the photoimage around Banjul stops and the global textures begin. There was a clear effort made, however, and the end result does indeed look good in some areas around the field. I feel like a little more could have been done to blend them, maybe having the colors gradually shifting from the photoimage to Global’s textures, but I can see how time consuming that could be with relatively little payoff for them. For something that was added relatively last minute, as it didn’t appear to be on the radar until a user on Facebook asked about it, it was a fine effort on Grand Island’s part and I’m just happy that it made it into the release.
One thing that often lowers my enjoyment of some scenery for me is the building modelling, but I must say Grand Island Sim did a great job in this department, with the main terminal looking sharp and crisp, and even little tables outside the terminal with umbrellas being included. The inside of the terminal is not modelled but I’d argue it doesn’t really make a difference in this case as the windows were modelled as completely opaque. Speaking of modelling, there is various ground equipment strewn around the perimeter of the apron such as cargo loaders, airstairs, baggage carts, and a few busses as well. I found that this really added to my immersion rather than simply seeing an empty apron, and it’s the little things like this that show the developer went the extra mile in terms of immersion.
The night lighting is beautiful, with dynamic lights present on the apron, and it is really well done in my opinion. The apron lights emit a warm, soft glow and are just bright enough to see what you are doing without making the airport look like it’s a bright, harsh beacon in its relatively dark and mellow surrounding environment. For those concerned about the performance impact of dynamic lighting, rest assured that, as I mentioned before, there is a file that you can add that will disable them and replace the lights with static lighting, though I didn’t notice any performance hit on my system. The runway lights look great and don’t look like floating orbs of light as they do on some other scenery I’ve seen- however they did seem to shimmer pretty badly when I was looking at them from a distance in a moving helicopter, but this is probably due to settings more than the scenery itself as this seems to happen at a few other airports I own.
Speaking of shimmering, I can’t help but mention the AWFUL shimmering of the ground textures when dynamic lights illuminate them. It was extreme and a bit nauseating in some cases and was bad enough where I found myself dreading the idea of flying into Banjul at night, which is a real shame as the primary airline I fly for virtually is a cargo airline and thus mainly flies at night. Even though the ground textures shimmer quite badly on my system, I’m sure this will be rectified in future updates due to Grand Island Sim’s speed at pushing their first update and the improvements it made. All said and done, the scenery itself is detailed with many little things like the included ground support vehicles and rusted airliner make the scenery feel like it’s a real airport, though a static model or two of a general aviation aircraft or perhaps even an Atlantic Airlines airliner would’ve been nice to see on the apron. The only really drawback here is the shimmering, but that may come down to resolution and settings used person to person.
Banjul is located, quite simply, in the middle of nowhere on the west coast of Africa. Being located in Africa is important, because there is no high quality payware scenery for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles, including openLC from Orbx (though this should be coming in the first half this year). Being situated so far removed from the performance killing payware sceneries we all know and love, the frame rates, in theory, should be exceptional. And for the most part, they were. Using both the PMDG 747 and 777, I maintained a locked 30 fps (with a few with noticeable microstutters which I don’t seem to experience anywhere else). At night, taxiing around with every exterior light switched on, I still maintained a locked 30fps which only seemed to dip when panning around the cockpit under the dynamic apron lights, but even then, the performance drop was a few fps at worst. One other thing I did notice was how fast the sim seemed to load. Maybe it was the placebo effect, but the loading process seemed much faster loading at Banjul then any other scenery I’ve used before, (besides the default scenery of course). I assume this is due partly to the fact that the airport itself has only a handful of buildings, and also due to the fact that Banjul is in the middle of nowhere. For a scenery of this quality, performance was on par with and/or exceeded what I was expecting.
Banjul sells for a measly 14.99 euros on Simmarket, which is half of what other high quality mega scenery costs. Given that those other sceneries from various high-quality developers retail for that much due to their sheer size and extreme attention to detail, but I feel like Banjul strikes a solid middle ground between price, performance, and quality. For the price, you really can’t go wrong here. It’s a solid purchase and its price lessens the impact for those who want to fly to Banjul maybe once or twice a month but can’t really see themselves flying there too often due to its remote location. Although it would have been nice to see a configurator, or at least another way of installing updates rather than manually overwriting files and folders, but that is strictly a nice-to-have and doesn’t impact the overall experience of the scenery when you’re in the air or on the ground. Lastly, I’d like to point out the developer’s quick timeframe from initial release to releasing update 1.1. It wasn’t even a week after I had received my review copy when I got a notification that a new update was available. This update addressed a number of initial gripes I had with the scenery, including weird roof texture behavior, and those issues appear to have been fixed on my end. With this in mind as well as the developer’s open ears on how to improve the scenery and fix any issues with it, combined with the overall performance and quality, I’d say you would be hard pressed to find more for less. Despite some of its annoyances with regards to the shimmering textures, I found it to be worth every penny due to its unique vibe and location, combined with it being one of shockingly few high quality payware fields in all of Africa at this current point in time.
Ah yes, the stunning conclusion; the grand finale! Grand Island Sim’s Banjul scenery is a great value for the money and really shines in aspects like nailing the airport environment and surrounding areas. The quick update from the developer, the included documentation and detailed instructions on applying the 2 configuration options, and the lengthy troubleshooting guide included go a long way to make up for its lack of a configurator and its quirks like shimmering ground textures or blocky taxiway lines. If I were to recommend this to a friend, would I? I can honestly say I wholeheartedly would and even if I had paid for my copy, I would have absolutely zero regrets and would buy it again in a heartbeat.