Just Flight's Traffic X
By Kevin Glover (7 February 2009)
In our hobby, there are essentially two types of add-ons for the simulator; aircraft and sceneries which you will enjoy and fly frequently (as in with every flight) for, perhaps, a couple of months, and then, of course, we have ones like Traffic X, which adds a new dimension to your experience every time you fly. As you can see, I think this product adds a lot to a simulated flight and there's certainly a lot to discuss, so let's not waste time with a prologue, but get straight to the review...
The download of approximately 500MB's went quite well, as did the installation. If you're like me and have a rig not hooked up to the internet, you're probably aware that a certain amount of hassle will be expected to activate your product, and this product is no different. However, after everything was installed, I found a spotter's guide, manual, Traffic Control Centre, Paint Kit, and a link to the Traffic X webpage in my Start menu. The manual is well written, pleasantly concise, and details everything needed to get the most from this product. The spotter's guide is just that- a spotter's guide which gives the basic information on all of the aircraft included with this package. Additionally, this package comes with five vehicles with which to observe your traffic which I'll detail later.
First of all, let's get the numbers out of the way; Traffic X comes with an impressive ninety-nine actual models, over which are spread more than four-hundred liveries. This amounts to some 1,700 individual aircraft for your viewing pleasure. The product includes some very famous names such as the Concorde, F-18, Typhoon, A380, and the Robinson 44. One of my favourite features of this package is that it doesn't just include commercial airliners like default AI largely is, you have an absolute plethora of GA aircraft pottering along, fighters flying formations across Russia, and helicopters whirring along their way. What's more, all of these aircraft are brand new and created for FSX/SP2. This is a main contributer to the product's excellent performance.
There is a lot of somewhat ill-intentioned bickering amongst owners of Traffic X about the 'scarcity' of airports which the product has service to. Perhaps there was an element of truth in this before, but now you'll find some sort of aircraft from 108 Mile in Canada to Madeira off the coast of Portugal. Naturally, major airports like Heathrow, Kennedy Int'l, or even Lisbon are absolutely brimming with tubeliners of all sorts, but for a low-and-slow flyer like myself it was gratifying to find some sort of aircraft near me wherever I went, even though there may not have been traffic at the airport where I first set off. Of FSX's 24,000 airports, not all of them have parking spaces for AI traffic, so even though you may not find something at every airport, I'm confident in saying that in every area you fly in (within reason) you'll find something. What is so wonderful about TrafficX is that any airport with parking spaces will have traffic. If an airport doesn't have parking spaces, you can make them using a free AFCAD editor, and then recompiling TrafficX. Generally, if you're having problems not seeing much traffic, it can often be because you haven't installed or configured TrafficX properly.
The traffic, while quite realistic in most cases, do have some unusual quirks which, while being nearly exclusively caused by FSX's limitations , still deserve mention. I did not notice this all the time, but sometimes the traffic, including large airliners, will land and slow to taxiing speed within the first quarter of the runway. Also, if you're listening to the sound of one aircraft's engines, you may find that the sound abruptly cuts out when you reach a certain distance from the traffic. One issue which is, while not very important, a bit odd, is that the elevators seem to be deflected down for most of cruise. Lastly, I found one issue which certainly would have made me upset had I been flying the plane- I happened upon an Ultralight at around 18,000 feet. I must say, though, that the red of the wings contrasted beautifully with the blue of the pilots' face; it may be some comfort that this can be fixed via the Control Centre. Please keep in mind that these issues are either unavoidable, or can almost always be fixed with some experimenting.
However, just as there are some minor issues to deal with, there are some really great features of the traffic which offer unparalleled realism and opportunities for screen shots. For instance, one day I found myself following a Mig-29 out of a Russian airbase. I wasn't following him terribly closely and looked away for a moment, but when I looked back, another identical aircraft had sprung up alongside the first. The aircraft mirror each others' movements and for all the world, look like a formation flight. I must admit, this is a rather impressive feature which I believe any military flyer will find absolutely delightful.
Additionally, you'll often get squads of fighters departing at the same time, such as when I followed five or so F-117's out of Nellis AFB on an easterly track- an off-the-book mission to the Middle East, perhaps? Additionally, the fighter and light aircraft traffic don't just follow a straight line, but will dodge, weave, and dip around while in flight. I found these aircraft often fly quite high, and I followed an F-18 for some time at around 36,000 feet.
In general, the aircraft will behave quite well at airports and you'll find lines of Lufthansa or Singapore Airlines planes next to each other. However, sometimes the placement of aircraft can be less accurate, such as when I found a tri-jet partway through a fueling station, or when I chanced upon a forlorn-looking Beaver (on floats) sitting on the tarmac of an airforce base. Perhaps this is some new sort of military testing.... Keep in mind, however, that you can remove any Beaver traffic via the Traffic Control Centre if this bothers you. The aircraft at some of the smaller airports may not be entirely accurate, however. I found a rather large jet at my own airport rather than the small commuters we get here. In any case, all of the suitable aircraft make use of FSX's features such as jetways and baggage trucks.
One thing that I really enjoyed about default traffic was that I had A2A's 3D lights installed which added a lot to the night life of an airport. Unless I'm very much mistaken having not seen the default lights of FSX's traffic for some time, Just Flight tried to recreate a similar effect by giving the landing lights of their aircraft something like the cone of light which A2A's package creates. Whether or not this is what the developer had in mind, the lighting effects on the whole left me quite satisfied.
First of all, I must say that Traffic X puts a lot of aircraft into your simulator, particularly after you have the latest service pack installed. Between all of the new GA, airliners, and military aircraft floating around compared to what default FSX gave you (less airliners overall and some skimpy GA) there's probably three times the amount of aircraft. Additionally, you can control the density of traffic in the Centre; on the whole, however, I flew at 100% traffic for the purpose of this review and achieved at least flyable frames, but in metropolitan areas I found it necessary to reduce the settings to about 70%. Considering the increased amount of traffic , I think that performance was really exceptional, but there's a good reason for this- I counted the sides on the fuselage of a 757 and found that this airliner is indeed a dodecagon. It's fairly obvious that, although this package has some details such as transparent cockpits and reasonably detailed undercarriage, this is definitely, like all traffic programs, something that relies on numbers, variety of aircraft, and liveries to make the traffic enjoyable; a definite case of quantity over quality; additionally, the landing gear doors don't work, and the undercarriage just retracts through the fuselage. Nonetheless, I can't complain as this is a major step up from default in terms of performance and aesthetics. Besides, this is so much more creative than 'World Travel' airlines. Please keep in mind that the models do not look awful, and only when I viewed traffic from the front did I encounter any need for criticism. Just don't expect models the quality of even default AI.
Traffic Control Centre
Traffic Control Centre is really the brains of this add-on. From here you can control a host of fairly self-explanatory features such as adding flight plans, choosing which aircraft fly, selecting the language you'd like to display, altering the airline call-signs, and seeing what flight plans are programmed. Even though the manual doesn't stress this, it's absolutely necessary to configure the TCC. By stock installation, some default traffic is enabled, but some GA Traffic X traffic isn't. If you're having problems with your traffic, I'd recommend re-reading the manual and then fiddling around in TCC for awhile. You can often solve your own issues this way.
One of the neater features of Traffic X is that, through the Traffic Control Centre, you can easily make any of the AI traffic aircraft flyable. So, any of the vast library of aircraft included in this package is at your fingertips to control. Don't expect much realism with this though. They say that they will give you a generic flight model and panel and this is most definitely true. I tried flying the Concorde, which uses the default 747 panel, I found that the flight model (not the visual model) only had two engines.
Another attractive, if somewhat superfluous, feature of Traffic X is that it comes with a Follow-Me car, a Push-Back truck, and two versions of our friend 'Spotty' the avid aviation nerd. The Follow-Me Car and the Push-Back truck are obviously intended to be viewed and operated from the outside as both have a very nicely modeled exterior but a somewhat mediocre interior. Both have realistic effects such as flashing lights and a lit 'follow me' sign as well as working windshield wipers, opening doors, etc. Additionally, on the Push-Back truck, you can change the position of the hydraulic rods which push the aircraft. A heads up on the Push-Back is warranted because, as in real life, the steering axis is reversed.
Spotty is a middle-aged, grey-streaked, binocular-toting spotter who finds a way to get himself into even the most high-security airports (or rather aerodromes, as he's British) such as Area 51 and Edwards. Just Flight really did an incredibly good job with Spotty and he's just marvelously detailed; he even lifts and lowers the binocs from his eyes to where they hang down on his chest. Additionally, there is also an 'invisible' Spotty for those who don't want him in their spotting shots. Spotty has a number of useful features which he keeps in a handy tote, such as buttons to control slewing around, a 'radio' which just opens the default ATC window, a clock, GPS, and a shortcut to the spot-down view. I didn't find the slew controls very helpful, and it's apparent that, while a nice touch, Spotty offers little more than a nice screen shot. I rather hope I don't hurt his feelings...
Lastly, there are also four different control tower models, each having a varying height to accord with what sort of airport you're at. It's immediately apparent that Just Flight hardly intend these to be seen from the outside as they're simply huge ATC rooms on bland, unrealistically thin pillars. I don't begrudge Just Flight for this, as the towers were intended simply to keep an eye on the traffic at your favourite airport and to maintain good performance in order to keep a high level of traffic. For that purpose, they do the job quite well with a functioning radar, clock, weather information, night-lighting, and terrain data. Again, the interior doesn't hold with the detail that we see on Spotty, but you'll hardly notice this once you get in the flow of 'directing' traffic. The radar is probably the neatest feature, and will show all the relevant information on an aircraft. The length of the trail behind the blip on the screen even corresponds to how fast the aircraft is flying.
Finally, I now have a reason to fly with traffic. Not just a plane here and there, but great heaping masses of have hundreds of colourful aircraft surrounding me at airports, small aircraft to dawdle alongside, and perhaps my most favourite aspect which is the really spectacular array of military aircraft to accompany on operations on the book and off (for those destined on clandestine formation flights to Russia with some F-117's). The outstanding performance of the product certainly permits high settings and is simply incomparable with that of default AI. As I stated in the beginning, this is really the gift that keeps on giving and even after having flown along with the aircraft of Traffic X for quite some time, I still feel that I find something new with every flight, especially when you really go out and look just for unique traffic. Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of this product is that, thanks to the powerful Traffic Control Centre, we can make this product grow and flourish to suite our own needs. Frankly, it's a bargain- in this economy where every penny counts, need I say more?
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