It doesn’t matter how much of a one-eyed fanboy (or girl) you might be, there’s no denying that X-Plane is in its infancy compared to the ESP (FSX, P3D) platform. The other side of the simming fence has had a long time to build a fan base and attract to their platform a multitude of developers seeking to make some money from their hard work. X-Plane, on the other hand, is only now making these developers realise that we’re a market that cannot be ignored. Once a month, at least, we’re seeing more and more developers realise the potential of the X-Plane market and announce their intentions to bring their content to our platform. Orbx was no different.
Back in 2017, the hints were there that X-Plane was on the cards for the Orbx team, and just prior to Christmas as the year came to a close they announced a 2018 road map, with X-Plane featuring heavily in the work-in-progress presentation. Airports such as EGCB Barton Manchester, and photo-real scenery for The Netherlands were shown, but there was also what was to become their first product and entry into the X-Plane market; the legendary KCGX Meigs Field.
Now let me start here by saying that I do share the widespread opinion that this is an incredibly odd choice for Orbx’s entry into X-Plane for a couple of reasons;
- Meigs Field has been closed for nearly 15 years to the day at the time of this review’s publication, and
- A lot of the notoriety of the airport within the simming community comes from its inclusion to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series right up until FS2004
With that in mind, there is no doubt that Meigs is an iconic airport, and most simmers will have no doubt spent some time in the Microsoft Flight Simulator series at one point or another, surely having taken off from there once or twice in their simming careers.
So with that elephant in the room now addressed, let’s take a look at what Orbx has bought to X-Plane.
Regardless of your preferred simulator platform, you know that Orbx is known for high-quality products in FSX & P3D. They’re a name that has been around for years, and as a result, they’re treated as a benchmark for other developers. Coming to X-Plane, this should be no different, and I’m pleased to say that the quality that I remember from my days as a P3D pilot still remains in their new venture into the world of X-Plane.
For those unfamiliar with Meigs Field (if there are any of you at all), it’s a small GA field set on an artificial island in Lake Michigan, Chicago. It’s surrounded mostly by water, but on the landside, it nestles a large marina, neighboured by sports stadiums, office buildings, parklands, an aquarium, and even an observatory, all backed by the easily identified Chicago cityscape. The entirety is modelled in detail, as is the Orbx standard. A little disappointing though is the coverage of the custom buildings – they appear to be quite sparse once away from the city centre, but this may be in order to produce a truer depiction of the city skyline – without having been to Chicago myself, I can only speculate.
The field’s scenery pack also includes orthophotos (or “photo-real ground textures” as they are marketed) for a great distance surrounding the airport, so once in the air in your low and slow machine, you’re able to take in the beauty of the Chicago area as in real world. The overlays have also been applied with great detail of city streets, highways, train tracks and traffic routes.
Throughout the areas covered by ortho, it appears that a lot of work has gone into placing lighting throughout the city – residential streets have a few lamp posts, main roads have more (and white in colour), highways have more with an increased light intensity, and sports stadiums have their fields under lights as if there were a Friday night football match taking place. All of this makes one absolutely stunning scene at dawn, dusk, or under the stars at night.
The airport itself is scattered with some static vehicles, most of which appear to be higher quality than what most users would be used to form the freeware addon scenery library vehicles which nearly all X-Plane users would have installed at some point alongside a freeware scenery requiring it. Interestingly, as someone who highly dislikes static aircraft in sceneries, I do find the amount of aircraft at Meigs Field to be tolerable – there’s not a huge amount, but there’s just enough to create an atmosphere that suggests that you’re flying out of an active aerodrome.
Texturing on the airside is done to a high quality. The runway is textured so well that you can make out the joins in the concrete, and the markings over the top are crystal clear from far out. Exiting the runway, you’ll follow some very clear taxiway markings back to the ramp, lined with the glow of the taxiway lights the whole way.
As previously discussed, the surrounding areas of the airfield are modelled to a high standard. The buildings and stadiums place around the area are all landmarks that would expect to be found on a flight into Meigs.
The Central Business District (CBD) cityscape towers over the field from a distance, and nestled in between the surrounding buildings are the Sears Tower, Aeon Center, Trump Tower and Hancock Centre all modelled to perfection and in high quality. The surrounding autogen buildings are accurately placed, according to Orbx, and crisscrossing between them all is accurate roadways and highways with autogen traffic giving some life to the city.
Most immediately around the field are landmarks such as the Soldier Field football stadium, complete with night lighting and goalposts (in case you want to go kick a ball around after that $100 burger). A short distance away toward the CBD, and somewhat resembling a kidney bean, is the Cloud Gate sculpture. While not as shiny and reflective within the sim, the sculpture is easily recognisable and sits adjacent the music pavilion on the edge of the big-business district.
Back toward the field, you’ll come across the aptly named The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. This makes for a lot of interesting sights compressed into a small area – ideal for a sightseeing VFR tour.
Perhaps for the reason of not knowing how this airport would be received, Orbx have seemingly not implemented their ObjectFlow technology that features in their other sceneries on P3D and FSX. This is the technology that gives life to the airport itself, with people moving about the airport doing menial tasks. Perhaps it may be the case that this technology has not quite been perfect yet in the X-Plane environment. Whatever the reason, there is surely a reason for it, but I can’t help but feel a light implementation of this would have given a little more ambience to the airfield.
It has been mentioned in my previous content for FSElite, that I’m not currently running the latest and greatest in technology at all. My system is at its happiest when running X-Plane at Medium to High settings, with a small amount of AA. This generally gives me the best performance/visual brilliance balance that every simmer seeks to achieve.
Having come from P3D only 18 – 24 months ago, I was understandably wary of the performance impact that this scenery may have on my system after experiencing such with some Orbx (and other developers) products in that sim. Thankfully once my sim loaded in for the first time, and FPS had stabilised, I was met with some decent frame rates that were not the best I had ever seen from my system, but not much less than that either.
Considering the amount of night lighting and custom objects, I was quite impressed with how well it had been optimised for their first attempt at an X-Plane product.
This is where things get subjective – like I mentioned in the introduction, Meigs has been closed for 15 years. It’s also a GA field. These two factors rule out two crowds; those who fly airliners, and those who like realism. You can also rule out those who sit in the middle of the two. For the people who fit into these categories, the value that this airport provides to you is going to be very little. I’d expect that if you purchased this product, you’d take the C172 out of there for some circuits once, and following that you’d likely only ever have your sim load it as you flew over the top in your A320. If this is you, I’d probably suggest saving the AUD$32.95 for the next Orbx release, unless you were VERY curious about how this legendary developer fairs in the world of X-Plane.
On the other side of the coin, if you’re a simmer who enjoys low and slow, and your alarm clock is the sound of a turboprop at full feather and mixture, Orbx’s Meigs Field is a must have. For the price tag they ask, it KCGX provides a legendary GA airfield with a beautiful surrounding cityscape full of landmarks and generally interesting sights. The surrounding ortho is high quality – ideal for low-level flying – and the airport itself feels alive with a scattering of beautifully modelled static GA aircraft. Upon taking your first trip in or out of the airfield, you’ll appreciate the hard work that has gone into bringing this product to X-Plane, and it’ll leave you curious and excited for their next offering to our world.
The Orbx name has been associated with high-quality products within the FSX & P3D community for a long time, becoming a benchmark for scenery developers to strive toward achieving an “as good as” or “better than” rating of their own products. We’re now incredibly lucky to the Orbx team entering the X-Plane market, as this will no doubt drive other developers to increase their quality in order to meet that same benchmark.
Meigs Field being chosen as their first product for the X-Plane platform has left a lot of people puzzled, but the product shows exactly what this experienced team is capable of doing despite working within a new simulator. The quality is exactly what you’d expect from Orbx, and then some, with X-Plane specific touches added to really bring out the brilliance of the product.
It’s not for everyone though, and anyone considering this scenery should really decide if the type of flying that they do is matched to the characteristics of the airport, but if you’re the target market for this scenery I’d highly recommend making this purchase.
KCGX Meigs Field by Orbx is available now through their website and FTX Central desktop application at a cost of AUD$32.95