Orbx San Diego Intl. was released a few weeks ago and FSElite had the chance to get a hold of it. Here is our review for this iconic airport brought to you by non-other than Orbx.
Known for their rigorous and meticulous work, Orbx have once again produced a wonderful rendition of an airport and its vast surroundings. It should be mentioned that Orbx was not doing something brand new with KSAN as LatinVFR already had a scenery for the airport. This competition, of course, is healthy for the flight simmer as he can rest assured that Orbx was going to go above and beyond to propose something more interesting than their counterpart. As this is not a comparison review, I will not delve too much into what I think one scenery does better than the other, but I think it’s fair to say that Orbx has the upper hand (without, nonetheless, excluding LatinVFR too quickly).
In traditional Orbx fashion, the KSAN scenery is obviously not just the airport. When you buy the scenery, you get the whole San Diego Metropolitan area covered with photorealistic scenery. When combined with OpenLC NA and/or FTX Southern California, KSAN offers an impressive immersive experience that really makes you feel there. I was impressed by the amount of details downtown San Diego had to offer as well as how busy the harbour feels with the hundreds of sailing boats floating around. KSAN does what Orbx have always done best: it offers ground-breaking visuals that cover a massive area so you really get the most out of your scenery purchase.
To conclude this overview, I feel as though it is important to mention that this is Matteo Veneziani’s first scenery as part of the Orbx group. The task he undertook by taking on the project of KSAN was no mere one and I think he did an amazing job, especially (but not strictly because) since it was his very first one. If it’s for something, we can only expect wonderful things from Matteo in a future that is very bright for the new developer.
Just like it is Mister Veneziani’s first scenery, this is my first review. I will, without a doubt, get better in the future and organize my ideas better, but I’ve decided to separate this article in three distinct categories: 1) visual quality & immersion 2) performances 3) personal conclusion. Through these three arguably vague, but distinct categories, I will hope to offer the reader a better understanding of what Orbx KSAN is all about, what it does finely, and what could be improved in future updates.
Visual Quality & Immersion
The scenery market is getting more and more competitive and we are starting to see some brilliant work from developers. Although Orbx have always been a safe bet as to the quality of their products, it is undeniable that they will need to keep up the hard work as they are not alone anymore in the quality scenery game. One of the most important criteria I find is the sheer visual quality and the immersion the scenery provides. This, of course, is determined in various ways and therefore I will appeal to sub-categories from now on to try and give you as much of an in-depth look as possible.
The textures, the taxiway markings, the static aircraft, the buildings, the boats, everything looks well-done and some of it looks stunning. To me, the “well-done” part is everything outside of the airport itself. You can really understand the equilibrium that was sought by Orbx between graphics quality and performance/vas. If you take, for example, the harbor with the many sailboats, from far to medium range, you’re looking at something wonderful. At closer range, you start to see where details have been left out, but that, again, is for a good reason as mentioned above.
The great part, of course, are all the airport’s features: the jetways, the terminal, taxiway, runway, rubber marks, taxiway marking, etc. San Diego Intl. from Orbx is truly an accurate representation of the actual airport. And this, perhaps, is where my first few negative comments start to chime-in and so does the irony. The irony is that Orbx is trying to reproduce San Diego intl. airport to an outstanding level of accuracy and that I am not enjoying this true-to-life feeling. Why? Because KSAN is not a very pretty airport, I think. It is a lot of grey and beige and everything looks tern, lifeless. The only vibrant part is the green-painted asphalt surrounding the runway, but the rest is “functional” colors. Then again, this is a very opinion and many of you won’t agree with me, but KSAN did not give me the same feeling of awe that I get with other Orbx sceneries (I’m thinking of Block Island State, for example). Hence, this might be more of a dislike towards the actual aesthetic of the airport than the rendition Orbx has made of it.
I briefly addressed the green asphalt that surrounds the runway and I just want to quickly mention that the green should even be greener, according to some real-life imagery I have seen of the airport. In the real world, this green bit really pops out and I think Orbx have made it too saturated (If you look at some snapshots from the LatinVFR scenery, I believe they did a better job at fairly representing the green color). This can easily be fixed with a future update.
One of my biggest issue with the scenery is the airport’s rooftop. Although this might seem a bit trivial, when you are parked at a gate upon arrival or just before departure, many of us like to take an outside look at our plane. It is when I was taking this outside look that I noticed the remarkable difference in texture quality/resolution between the entire airport and the rooftop. The latter looked very low-res and almost pixelated compared to the rest of the airport’s textures. I don’t know why this happened and there very well might be some good reason for it, but if not, it feels to me like corners were cut short as it pertains to the rooftop. I should also mention that this is not the best work I’ve seen from Orbx with texture quality, but they remain of great visual prowess.
As you can infer, this is not a major complaint and overall, I think the visual quality is marvelous. I will conclude this sub-category with the element that surprised me the most by its sheer immersive properties: the night lighting. And this night lighting doesn’t restrict to the airport’s nighttime lighting (which is wonderful), but goes beyond that and covers the whole Orbx scenery. When approaching KSAN during evenings or night, you are greeted by this warm array of bright yet realistic night lights that are so great in amount and in quality. You really feel like you are approaching a crowded city where every main road has tens of lamp posts with bright lights providing security to the drivers. You can see for yourself with the provided pictures, but it is undeniable that Orbx have set a new standard with their work on night lighting for KSAN.
Orbx San Diego intl. airport also comes with customizable static objects. More precisely, you can select the amount of static boats you get in the harbor as well as the amount of static aircraft that stand still on the tarmac and take quite a lot of space. A few things should be said on these static components of KSAN.
First, the static aircraft are not the best looking static aircraft I have encountered. If we take the British Airways 747 as an example, if you get too close to it you notice the lack of texture quality and detail. This of course, is comprehensible as you are trying to save as much vas and frames as possible, but my opinion on that is if you decide to enable static aircraft to be sitting in the airport, it’s that perhaps VAS and frame rates are not the first of you worries.
Second, the static aircraft are really that: static. Although I personally am fine with this, I think many would like to see some interaction going on with the planes on the ground to make the airport feel more alive. These interactions could be catering, refueling, boarding and so on. I do not know how much extra work that would require from the developer, but it would surely be something to consider as I believe it would provide an extra layer of immersive features.
The other static component you get are sailboats sitting still in the harbor. You can choose between two settings for these: low amount or full harbor. Unfortunately, I think that the “low” setting is a bit too drastic as the harbor really feels empty. I think adding a medium setting would provide a sweet spot between performance and visuals as to not make the harbor feel empty.
The skyscrapers are a work of art! When you approach from the East to land on runway 27, you are greeted by these massive skyscrapers that really fill the landscape well. Especially at night, they look fantastic with the wonderful night lighting that I drew upon earlier in this review. In the scenery configurator, you have an option to select extensive detailing, which adds usable heliports on the skyscrapers for all of you that also enjoy some challenging helicopter flying. I would have liked to see other distinct buildings from the city than the skyscrapers, but I can’t complain, they really look good.
Another tremendous accomplishment from Orbx and Matteo is the accuracy of the terrain and topography. For example, when approaching runway 27 on short final, you really feel uncomfortably close to the ground when you fly over the little hill just before touchdown the first few times you fly there. You can easily depict the houses that are beautifully rendered and it truly makes for an immersive approach into the iconic airport. All in all, terrain accuracy is at its finest with KSAN and this, for me, is a crucial element of any scenery.
This is where things get a little tricky. Orbx KSAN is a frame-heavy scenery and you will inevitably have to deal with significant loss in frame rates when around the scenery. My system specs will be listed at the end of the review, but I wouldn’t consider it a weak system by any means and still the impact was very noticeable. Luckily enough, my frames didn’t really drop below 30 fps, and I still enjoyed a relatively smooth experience. But for those of you that frames are a daily concern, you will have to play with your settings to find the sweet spot between performance and visuals. I am a bit nitpicky and like to stay above 30 fps, but many of you (and very understandably so) think that as low as 20 fps is a decent fluidity. For those of you, you will be fine. For those that expect to run KSAN at 60 fps, this is maybe not the scenery for you.
Fortunately, Orbx provides a pretty extensive configurator that you can toy around with until you find settings that provide the smoothest experience for you. Do not be shy to turn down some settings as the scenery will still look great while being dramatically less heavy on your performances (I’m thinking about the boats in the harbor, the heavy detail option and the static aircraft).