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Washington has always been a popular destination among flight simmers and developers. With the beauty of mountains like the Olympics, Rainier, stunning cityscape and of course home to one the busiest international airports in the country, Seattle International Airport. Its no wonder why Orbx chose to take on the beautiful state of Washington with TrueEarth.
The realism of this scenery is achieved by Ultra-HD Ortho scenery plus millions of buildings and trees spread across 90,000 plus square miles of terrain. But with nice looking textures you might wonder the cost in performance? Can the X-Plane 11 engine save the day? We’ll travel around the state in all sorts of airplanes to not only see how it performs but how it looks…
The user guide for this scenery is available on the product page and I highly recommend having a look prior to purchasing. Here you will find a detailed breakdown of the product features and If you’re already using scenery for Washington there are some incompatibilities that you should be aware of. This is where you have to decide if you want a highly detailed Seattle International Airport, or most of Washington plus small parts of Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia completely updated from their natural state.
Being a regular user of Orbx products I’m used to a lot of choices in the scenery’s control panel. I was expecting the usual options to turn on or off power lines, tunnels, bridges, harbors etc. This time they went with a very simplistic approach. You now have two choices in the control panel, use default roads or transparent ones. I recommend using the default setting. Switching to transparent removes most of the roads and leaves the scenery looking incomplete. If you want to adjust for performance you will have to do so in the graphics settings of X-Plane 11.
From casual flying around the metropolitan areas, to the farms and mountains, I flew all over the state to really see what this scenery has to offer. My first flight was from well above 30,000 feet. The draw distance and detail of the ortho looks great as I approach Seattle from above. Once I landed I headed to Boeing Field for some quick pattern work in a Cessna 172. Boeing field being one of my favorite airports for practice, I was pleased to see the results of the Orbx makeover. Most of the airports blend in well with the scenery. For this review the only plug in being used is Airport Environment HD. Orbx did not enhance the airports because of the X-Plane Scenery Gateway. The gateway updates the airports with Laminar approved scenery created by the community. But not all airports have been improved in this gateway. Expect to see some of the obscure fields looking a little out of place at times.
After exploring Boeing Field I ventured north towards downtown Seattle. Flying over the Union Pacific train yard I notice the roads and railways fit nicely on the Ortho mesh. The city looks alive as I watch the trains moving to and from Harbor Island and the traffic down the i-5 highway into downtown. The 3D buildings and objects do their best to cover the satellite imagery but there are still areas that show through. This is common place through out the scenery. The ground mesh appears blurry when up close, but from the air it’s pleasing to look at. Moving further north I can see T-Mobile Park, home to the Seattle Mariners baseball team and Century Link field, where the Seattle Seahawks football team plays. Both are presented nicely during the day and light up in the evening hours. Definitely a point of interest for those who want to practice their air force fly overs.
Leaving the ball parks brings us right into downtown Seattle. The buildings here represent Seattle well. They’re not just carelessly placed generic buildings but actual 3D models of the real ones. As you fly past the glass skyscrapers like the F5 Networks building you can see the reflective Physically-Based Rendering (PBR) textures change. Some of the buildings windows also share this effect. But some buildings end up looking strange as they attempt to give off a nice reflection. I’d compare it to the metallic liquid of the movie Terminator. But again, this is really only noticeable when examining the buildings far closer than any aircraft should. Some of the buildings textures appear sharp up close while others are blurry.
The land marks of downtown are easily recognizable and you can tell some time was spent on modeling all of them. Looking at the pier I can see The Great Wheel of Seattle. which is a ferris wheel that also lights up at night. Moving further we have Bell Harbor Marina which has cruise terminals modeled with a 3D ship and boats, but the the Ortho mesh of the pier is barely recognizable because of how blurry it is. Moving on I can see the Space needle and the Museum of Pop Culture both look great. You can fly very close to both and the objects appear crisp and clear. The Ortho on the ground of Space Needle park is blurry and the Space needle is reflected on the mesh.
When night strikes the cities you’re met with that classic X-Plane 11 glow. The ground and street lights all look convincing even on the street level watching the traffic pass by. The landmarks that do light up can be recognized and appear in their appropriate color, although the Space Needle is hard to find at night when it should be one of the brightest structures. If you’re hoping to build those night hours with some jaw dropping night scenery, you might be disappointed. The buildings don’t look anything close to what they should look like at night. At night Seattle is a very bright and vibrant city. With True Earth the cities appear very dark and dull.
Looking across the Washington river I can see the downtown area of Bellevue which is also represented with the same quality as Seattle. I visited some of the other major cities of Washington like Spokane Victoria, and Tacoma. While time doesn’t allow me to describe each and every major city, it’s important to know everything said about Downtown Seattle explains what you can expect in these other areas. Roads placed accurately on top of the Ortho scenery, with the occasional break here and there. Unique buildings in the downtown areas with impressive building reflections that can sometimes look odd on some buildings, and recognizable landmarks placed where they should be.
Moving away from the metro areas I want to talk about the beautiful country side and mountains. This scenery inspires amazing opportunities to take on the sports side of aviation. I would encourage anyone with this scenery to get out of their comfort zone and really explore what it has to offer. Go gliding, bush flying, sight seeing, or mountain flying. There are no shortage of beautiful places to fly. To really get down and dirty, I cranked over my Cessna 172 and took a trip from Packwood Airport (55S) to fly along the Cowvitz river beds looking for suitable places to land. Once I found a nice opening along the river I went in for an approach. The sandy ground textures and rugged trees compliment the bush flying experience. There are tons of places to explore like this around Washington. The only thing missing is flowing water. When you land near a river there is no depth, and everything has a flat look to it.
From Packwood, WA I headed east to Kittitas County. This county grabbed my attention because of it’s agriculture and being home to Wild Horse Wind Farm, with over 100 wind turbines. After stopping for fuel at Bowers Field, I took off to look at the farms and turbines. Farms in True Earth Washington are mainly Ortho scenery but they did include 3D barns, mills, and sheds that repeat throughout those areas. The Ortho and roads throughout True Earth WA allow you to fly anywhere VFR if needed. I quickly found the 90 East highway and followed that knowing it should bring me right to the wind farm. A few minutes later I can see the hills and turbines coming into sight. Despite having the 3D turbines you can see the turbine is also repeated on the ground much like the Space Needle of Downtown Seattle. Because of this you can also see the areas where turbines are missing. Overall the desert mesh and lively wind farm are a nice site to see from above.
After my fun in Kittitas county it was back to Packwood. This time rather than bush fly we’ll go north to explore the enormity of Mount Rainer in our Columbia 400. The Mountain Flying with this scenery is some of the best I’ve experienced as the shape and mesh go very well together. You won’t find the Ortho to be blurry here. The mountains are sharp, colorful and full of snow near their peaks. I can say the same for the Olympics, Mt. St. Helens and Adams. Each one is a different experience. Which is the common theme of this scenery. No two places have been the same. The character and visuals are captured very nicely for each place you visit. You get a good sense of what it must be like to fly near these massive mountains.
True Earth Washington requires a lot of space on your hard drive to accommodate the Ultra-HD 10 meter ortho scenery and hand place objects. The scenery package is 39 GB and will install 207 GB onto your hard drive. The download and installation process took about 4 hours. The performance will vary per system. For this review I’m using a PNY 1080 TI, Intel 4790k overclocked to 4.3GhZ, and 16 GB RAM. Orbx does not supply recommended system specs but I hope the video can give you an idea of what to expect. Newer processors like the 7700k, 8600k and 9900k would be most suitable, paired with a 1080 TI, GTX2070 or equivalent.
When loading a flight the wait times were on average 3-4 minutes. To really grasp the performance I tried many different aircraft, locations, and graphics settings. In the city of Seattle it rains nearly half the year. I wanted to make sure my system could handle all the bells and whistles of True Earth and the heavy storm. I used the default weather system for all of my tests. Active sky was causing some performance lag. I would encounter micro stutters when flying around the densely populated downtown areas and near the massive mountains like Rainier. Smaller planes were smoother and bigger jets felt the stutters the most. These stutters were more exaggerated when panning around with the camera. Leaving the camera in place performed a little more seamlessly. I had smooth flying when operating smaller planes over the country side, even with panning the camera to look around. Regardless of the situational stutters, the flights were all still very enjoyable and I never felt restricted by them.
If you’re looking to sharpen your VFR skills around Washington, this scenery will not disappoint you as a tool to train most effectively. If you’re someone who just wants to fly into SEA TAC and has no interest in exploring Washington then Drewistki Design might be the better product for you. But if you want a lot more things to do in the sim that actually look good, then you’ll probably fair well from the $50 price tag. Just make sure your system hardware can handle the performance and hard drive space required.
- Accurately Covers wide scale Washington
- Inspires all kinds of flying
- Small part of Oregon and Idaho included
- Performs smooth for the most part
- 207 GB hard drive space required
- 3-4 minute load times
- Ortho blurry at times and repeats tall structures on the mesh
- Poor night lighting around major cities