• Manhattan X

    Aerosoft's Manhattan X

    By Kevin Glover
    16 April 2009

    I must confess, I was rather impressed when I learned that Aerosoft was creating a scenery for Manhattan. There must be very few areas in our world more challenging to model for the simulator than the Big Apple. As of the 2000 census, there were nearly 800,000 houses there which equates to some 35,000 per square mile; I daresay that adds up to a fair amount of polygons and the package is purported by Aerosoft to have three million polygons and 150,000 objects. I am usually content with my hilly, rural areas that would be strewn with cattle in real life, and I was a little pessimistic as to whether or not one city, no matter how detailed, could provide enough to keep a simmer interested for more than a couple of flights. Does it?


    Real world photo courtesy Tony Vallillo

    First Impressions

    At an installation size of 500 MB, plus Aerosoft's current updates, this is no light-weight add-on. Installation is quite straightforward, and Aerosoft never requires you to be hooked up to the internet which is definitely a blessing for me. The manual (found in the Manhattan X folder under Aerosoft in the Start Menu) is very useful. It offers many tips on optimizing performance, setting up your sim for Manhattan X, as well as giving detailed information on all four heliports included in the scenery and general information for flying around the island. Aerosoft has provided provisions for the user to roughly choose how many streets have traffic on them. By default, only the major ones have vehicle traffic but the user can change this to where nearly all of the roads do. In this review, I flew primarily with the first option for less traffic, mostly because I think FSX's traffic, while definitely a great feature, looks like an anthill after a rock has been dropped on it.

           

    The Scenery In A Nutshell

    By the numbers, Manhattan X is impressive. The scenery covers not only the actual island of Manhattan, but also Ellis Island, Governor's Island, Roosevelt Island, and Statue Island, home to the Statue of Liberty. The package also includes a mission which takes you around some of the area's major points of interest and gives you some basic information on them all. The package also includes boat traffic for the Staten Island Ferries as well as the default traffic. There are numerous bridges, fascinating sound effects, and high-resolution photoreal scenery.

           

    The Objects

    Although the package includes a very nice photoreal base, you can scarcely see much of it beneath all of the buildings. The objects in this scenery are simply fascinating; you have the mammoth bulk of the Sears Tower and Empire State Building gazing imperiously over sprawling complexes of short apartment buildings - all within minutes of each other. Make no mistake, the buildings included with this scenery are certainly not high-powered marvels; if Aerosoft were to model one building to its potential it would slow the scenery to a crawl. However, in general, I was quite pleased with how each structure appeared. Unless you're much closer to them than you should be, the textures always look very crisp and clean; however, on many of the buildings the textures are reflective and 'shiny.' While this is certainly nice on some of the more modern high-rises, I think that this effect was inappropriately applied to some buildings. Mind you, this is a nit-picking sort of issue and I wasn't unduly bothered by it. In the end, it's just personal preference.

           

    Whilst flying over the scenery, it's generally advisable to be above the roof tops. I must admit that, for me, the idea of jetting in between the high-rises and over the startled cars in the streets had an unmistakable allure. While after the first few times I had to concede defeat in regards to my capacity for flying a fighter at full-throttle through the streets, I dare say one will find that a good helicopter is the prime way to enjoy this scenery. For that matter I was somewhat disappointed to note that many of the building's roofs are not made to be solid--that is, you sink through them. This really surprised me since even something like the recreation of the USS Intrepid has a solid deck for admiring the aircraft on it.

           

    Other than buildings, there are many more structures than I can describe here. As I mentioned, the USS Intrepid is modeled in its real-life position, which is right next to a Concorde sitting on a barge. This lovely feature has several aircraft on deck, including three F-18s, MiG-21s, F-22s, and other assorted fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

               

    Naturally, I would also assume the Statue of Liberty, and the ensuing screen shot opportunities with the lady, to be of high importance. The Statue is, once again, rather shiny; this was not apparent from many angles and once again this will probably only bother you if you're too close. I, having a rather sentimental moment upon a dusk flight around the area, recalled the line 'Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles' from Emma Lazarus's the "New Colossus". After viewing Ellis Island, I got to thinking of the remarkable past which the Manhattan area has. It's very rare that we see history so well-portrayed in the simulator. The islands around Manhattan are just as detailed, and it's possible to discern small dots which I take to be people around Statue Island. There is a small boat near this island that, unless I'm very much mistaken, didn't receive texturing. It's just pitch black, and in such a prominent location I'm surprised this issue wasn't rectified. This was also seen at the Port Authority Down Town - Wall Street Heliport, the site where the mission begins.


    Real world photo courtesy Tony Vallillo

    The Terrain

    As I said, this entire package is covered in photoreal scenery. While I could not find the exact resolution, it seemed to me to be quite adequate. There are many things to slaver over in Manhattan and you can pick out anything from cars on the highways, many of them taxis, to tourists at Ellis Island. On the whole, the good textures make this product top-notch in my book. I notice that there were some terrain inaccuracies, such as a bit of a hill in the middle of the fountain outside the UN's headquarters, but issues such as these are hardly uncommon in scenery.

           

    Heliports

    As I said, there are four heliports in total. All of them are modeled very nicely and scattered sporadically around the scenery. One is high atop the old Pan Am building, others are out on platforms over the water, but all of them are nicely detailed and interesting. The Downtown Manhattan - Port Authority is my favorite, and it has static helicopters and people sitting around the area.

           

    Night Life

    The Big Apple looks just beautiful in the dark, and though I'm usually not a big night flyer I found myself frequently setting the time to dusk. The roads are lit up like bonfires, but all of the buildings are given night textures. I had no problems during night time, and after all you can't see any of the issues revealed by the light.

           

    Flying This Scenery

    Manhattan is really the most interesting scenery I've flown in the simulator. There are just endless opportunities for sight-seeing, and the included mission is a great way to familiarize yourself with some of the area's points of interest. I don't have one particular place which I really favor, but there's all sorts of things such as Central Park, Ground Zero, which has a memorial banner on one of the walls of a nearby building overlooking the site, the Statue of Liberty (of course), and there are tons of buildings and locales which I might not be able to name, but still enjoyed viewing. In addition to the USS Intrepid, other waterfront attractions are the many bridges in the area. I noticed that one of them disappeared behind the clouds when you were viewing the bridge against the sky. This is the same sort of thing that happened with the London Eye in VFR London. Oddly enough, I also encountered some odd, jagged spots of land in the river which can't be realistic. One great aspect is that the scenery includes environment sounds; this includes, most prominently, traffic noises and seabirds, but there was a general, underlying murmur of city noise.

           

    Performance

    Understandably, performance is a big issue for many people interested in buying this software. The information on the Aerosoft web site is imposing to say the least, and with nothing else at this level to compare against, I was also anxious as to whether I'd be able to run it well enough to review; fortunately, my fears were groundless. My rig was built to fit in a tight budget, and while it's not a super computer it's lead me faithfully through millions and millions of polygons. In good weather and with the stock Bell, I never experienced unflyable frame rates. The textures stayed crisp, and I stayed in the low twenties on average. My CPU, a stock Q6600, takes most of the work here, but I'd strongly caution anyone running a single-core or slow dual core. I rather think that, in something like this, a demo version would be great for everyone watching their wallets.


    Real world photo courtesy Tony Vallillo

    Final Word

    Ho hum, just another great scenery from Aerosoft...

    I'm joking, of course, but I'm beginning to feel this way. Their sceneries nearly always show remarkable talent, and it just astounds me that they can produce such quality in such numbers. Manhattan X is, in a word, inspired; the scenery is the best I've seen for a city area, and other similar metropolitan packages are placed as distant seconds and thirds to this masterpiece. The detail crammed into this small island is quite as outstanding as what I remember from my brief trip to the East Coast. I enjoyed it much more than I expected, and I know I will return here in the future for screen shots, adventure, and the thrill of getting up close to those looming skyscrapers.

           

    Tested On

    Intel Q6600 at 2.4 GHz
    Windows Vista Home Edition 64 bit
    MSI P35 Neo II
    ATI 4850 512MB
    2GB Corsair Dominator
    Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Acceleration

    Kevin Glover
    [email protected]
    www.vfrreviews.com

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