This is where it all began, for myself anyway… Born and raised in Northern California, I was thrilled to learn that Orbx was developing a True Earth scenery for the region. Located on the west side of the United States, Northern California is a beautiful and diverse location both environmentally and culturally, filled with valleys, beaches, mountains, and metropolises. This is the first time I’ve had the privilege to review a scenery that I’ve physically visited and flown above nearly every place covered in the region. Was Orbx able to capture the character and mystique of Northern California? Let’s find out as I take you on a tour around the golden Northern state.
The installation of this region took several hours to complete, as can be expected from the 205GB download that makes up the 212,000 square kilometers of orthoimagery and other assets. From the moment the installation finished I was excited to start out in the place i’ve spent more time than anywhere else. A place that when it comes to modern flight simulation, has never been modeled on a satisfactory level before. The place I’m referring to is “The City of Trees,” Sacramento, California. Located in the valley, Sacramento is the Capital of California, and coined the “City of Trees” because it has more trees per capita than most cities in the world.
I first flew into the Sacramento International airport on the northwest side of the city. This was my first indication that the mesh throughout this scenery takes place in the summer. You will see a lot of farmland as you approach the capital airport. These fields are green in the late winter to spring and dry in the summer to fall. These are the views I’ve seen out my window many times throughout the years. It’s refreshing to see the new surroundings in the sim and how much more authentic the airport looks with the new mesh. Once I landed I went about 15 miles east and took off from McClellan airport. This allowed me to see all the familiar neighborhoods and roads as I make my way to the downtown area.
What makes downtown Sacramento special is that it parallels the Sacramento river. This part of the city is also known as Old Sacramento because many of the original buildings have been preserved. It was disappointing to see the main river boat and hotel, the “Delta King”, not modelled. But the bridges and downtown represent the city well. One thing I noticed about the bridges is that water does not flow under them. Instead, it’s a top-down satellite image of the bridge.
The overall downtown area is a modern take on Sacramento. All the current buildings are in place, like the Golden One Center, and the latest rail yard development. The city looks alive as the trains move to and from the Amtrak station. The main flaw I saw with the trains is that they don’t use the I Street bridge as they should. When the trains reach the bridge they make a U-turn and come back the other way. I continued flying down the Sacramento River and later landed at the Sacramento Executive Airport on the south side of Sacramento. In all my years of flight simming i’ve landed at KSAC many times but this is the first time where the surroundings match real life.
When travelling near the edge of the region you can blatantly see the harsh line of default X-plane scenery and the Orbx scenery meeting together. I first noticed this when flying around Lake Tahoe. Because half of Lake Tahoe is in Nevada the scenery ends on the boundary and you will see two very different meshes meet halfway across the lake. Travelling up from Southern California has the same effect and it’s very noticeable even at cruise. Installing some ortho in these areas will probably blend the lines a little better. None of this is a knock at Orbx, as there is only so much they can do in this department. But just know the areas leading into Oregon, Nevada and Southern California have a hard perimeter if no additional scenery is installed for those areas.
With our Sacramento excursion complete, we’ll venture down to the bay area of northern California. Home to cities like San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco. I started off at Oakland International Airport with a routine Southwest flight on the Oakland Four departure. This departure brings us over uptown Oakland, Berkeley and over the Redwood Valley. Not only does everything below appear accurate but the fps were at a very acceptable level for a location surrounded by multiple major cities.
Between Santa Clara and San Jose many familiar structures come into sight. While flying in this region every point of interest I searched for was found. I can see Great America Theme park with recognizable rides and attractions modeled. Then just north of that is Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers. South of Levi’s Stadium on the coastline is Santa Cruz, CA. A beach college town that also has a fun beach boardwalk, and Fisherman’s Wharf. If that’s not enough just a little south is the town of Monterrey and a popular beach stop known as Big Sur. After all, California is a coastal state so make you get to enjoy all the beach locations along the way.
Just to the west of Oakland across the bay we have one of the most iconic cities known as San Francisco. At first I can’t help but notice the stunning Golden Gate Bridge which is modeled with nice detail and holds the true shape of the actual bridge. I can see the historical army post known as the Presidio of San Francisco and not far from there is the Palace of Fine Arts. As you head further east you will run into one of the most popular tourist spots in San Francisco; Fisherman’s Wharf and the piers down Embarcadero street. Pier 39 being the most famous pier for its shops and restaurants.
After reaching the piers my astonishment turned into sorrow. I quickly started to realize this part of the scenery is a major downgrade from the FREE San Francisco by MisterX6. Without this freeware a lot of the character and life is removed from San Francisco. The ferries moving in and out of the docks. The massive cargo ships cruising around the bay. Cupids Span is a mere stain on the ortho. Even the sea lions that famously hangout near the end of pier 39 are gone. In fact, the barges they live on are non-existent. It is disappointing that an important area of San Francisco has been underdeveloped by Orbx when everything else about the area looks great. Fortunately, the Orbx scenery can be enhanced flawlessly with the freeware scenery and I recommend using both together for the best experience. If using this freeware I do recommend using the bridges that Orbx provides. Especially the Bay Bridge, as the one Orbx uses is the modern one.
Moving towards the end of the piers on Embarcadero and Market Street, the massive ever-changing skyline of San Francisco grabs my attention next. These are not generic buildings but the true to life skyscrapers with the appropriate branding where needed. The PBR textures seemed to have greatly improved since I last reviewed TrueEarth Washington. The glass and moving reflections look great very up close which leaves them looking even nicer when you fly by. I could probably write an entire review on San Francisco alone, but this scenery has so much more to offer and I must move on.
Whether flying around mountains is your thing or not, you owe it to yourself to go see a few of them. The mesh and modeling done with the mountains is well worth your time and effort to visit. To start off my mountain flying, I traveled to Redding, CA which is about 160 miles north of Sacramento. After departing Redding municipal, traveling North will bring us to one of the tallest mountains in California, Mount Shasta. While traveling to the mountain I did find Shasta dam. I thought the presentation of the dam was incredibly true to life. The dam will lead you into Shasta Lake and you can visually track Mount Shasta in the distance on a clear day.
The mountains in this scenery hold their true shape and are accompanied by a high-resolution mesh. These were another indication that the scenery depicts the Summer time due to the amount of snow in and around the mountains. In the late fall to winter Mount Shasta is covered in snow from peak to base. The fps drops slightly when flying around the perimeter of Mount Shasta, but I didn’t notice the behavior when flying around smaller mountain valleys. With the sheer size of Shasta it’s not surprising to experience a performance hit.
Another beautiful place to appreciate mountains is Yosemite National Park in the south east of Northern California. Flying in between the Yosemite Valley is one of the most exciting things you can do. Depart Yosemite International in Fresno and head north east. The performance was good and visuals where spectacular as I weaved around the points of interest like Eagle Peak, Glacier Point, and the north and half domes.
Speaking of points of interest, the airports in Northern California True Earth blend very well into the scenery. Orbx does not enhance the airports when it comes to X-Plane because of the X-Plane Scenery Gateway. This gateway allows the community to improve airports, and if approved by Laminar Research, these airports are updated into the latest build of X-Plane 11. In my tests I did use a couple of my favorite freeware airports, Sacramento International and San Francisco International. Both are available for free on the X-Plane.org forums and have been working great with the scenery.
The nightlife in the scenery is pretty typical to what you usually see in X-Plane 11. X-Plane 11 has arguably the best night lighting around but I always feel that downtown areas aren’t bright enough, but I suppose these are limitations within the simulator. There are also various plugins out there that can enhance night lighting. What I did find is the buildings, stadiums, bridges, and roads all have their appropriate lighting and colors at night.
If you’ve made it this far we’ve been all around the Northern California region. For $48 USD I can say without a doubt this is the best representation of Northern California in all of flight sim for January 2020. The performance has also improved since I last reviewed True Earth Washington. Northern California is a little more complex than Washington so it’s nice to have this performance boost, be it better optimized by Orbx or the latest X-Plane 11 build.
- Accurately Covers Northern California
- Many sites to visit like valleys, beaches, canyons, mountains, and metropolises
- Performance is very fair
- Only summer textures during drought
- The lack of detail in Embarcadero, San Francisco is disappointing
- Some bridges don't have water under them
[5-Feb-2020: This review has been updated since the original publication in light of community comments surrounding the inclusion of MisterX6 scenery. We apologise for any confusion.]