Dolomiti 3D is not your regular scenery. It's big (huge) not only in the dimension of the area it replicates but also in size (and, we need to be honest, in price as well). It's one of those things that you very rarely get to review. The folks at FSC were extremely kind as to let me do it even before the release.
Dolomiti, or the Dolimites are a mountain range located in Italy. More precisely in the Italian part of the Alps, on the Northeast part of the country. The scenery is breath-taking. There's a lot to do there, from paragliding to bicycling, hiking, gliding, you name it. In fact, there's so much there, that it became a highly touristic region as well.
The whole area is very rich in mountains and valleys, with peaks rising up to 3,343m (10,968 feet) -- over 45 of them and stunning passes.
The X-Plane scenery
Before anything else, I need to say that the version I have is not final. The scenery is very close to be finished but it's not quite and the team is still ironing out some glitches.
The (perhaps crazy) folks at FSC (Flight Simulator Center) decided to bring a bit part of this region to X-Plane in a level of detail that, honestly, I don't think I've ever seen, especially for an area this big and that explains the sheer size of the files. We're talking about a hefty ~15GB download for which you'll need another ~23GB so that you can unzip it all.
The price tag is also not quite normal for a scenery. At €68 + VAT, some may say it's expensive. And, by your regular scenery, you might say it is. But the thing is: this is no normal scenery.
You see like their scenery, FSC is not your ordinary scenery developer. These folks have been working with professional training and professional solutions for flight simulation. Their products range from software to hardware, with full replicas of cockpits. All for the professional market.
This scenery was built with that particular market in mind, which is something they point out on their feature list: "Typical Users: Flight Schools / Aeronautic institutes and VFR flight enthusiasts". But the thing is: they are making it available to anyone -- for the right price tag. Is it worth it? Well, read on and decide for yourself.
The feature list
The most impressive of this list is not the number of items it has but the numbers in the list. When I first read it, I could barely believe it but it certainly explained the size and price of this product. Check it out (note the items in bold):
- 5,000 sq/kms of land (3 degrees) of global scenery (1,930 square miles)
- 85 mountain villages
- 63 3D mountain models
- 4 airports: Trento Mattarello (LIDT), Bolzano (LIPB), Cortina (LIDI) and Dobbiaco (LIVD)
- 40 helipads and more sites for take off from the top of the peaks
- 62 Churches and bell towers to facilitate the VFR
- 2 cities, complete with 3D buildings
- 50 cm/pixel in main Dolomites area, 1.2 mt/pixel in secondary areas.
- Compatible with X-Plane 10-11
- Installation size: 23,4Gb (ZIP 14,6Gb)
I'm still in shock with that list.
Installation of this scenery is easy but you might need to pay a bit of attention to it. As with all (or most) scenery in X-Plane, copy all the folders (all 42 of them) into your Custom Scenery folder inside your X-Plane installation.
Once you start X-Plane, your scenery_packs.ini file should be updated and everything should be in it's place. If not, try renaming or deleting that file and re-starting X-Plane.
Where do I start?
I don't know. I honestly don't know. I decided to start with a helipad which I had seen somewhere on FSC's website which caught my attention: HELP.
As you can see in the image above, HELP is on the Eastern part of the scenery and surrounded by other helipads. In fact most of the pads out there are within 10-15 minutes of other helipads, making this a very nice scenery for short, scenic hops.
From there I flew for a few minutes to know the surroundings and get used to the area in general. The region is, indeed, breathtaking and I cannot even start to imagine how massive it must be in VR. Oh! And in real life, of course. Yeah...
I then decided to check other areas and other landing pads and heliports (remember, there are 40 of them). I will, eventually, visit all of them, in time, but, for the time being, I just check a few that struck me as interesting from the information and screenshots made available by the publisher.
As mentioned on the features list, we are offered 4 airfields/airports besides the astonishing 40 helipads. Two of these airports are bigger ones and we also get 3 smaller ones, one of them with a very "clubish" feeling to it. They are marvelously rendered and the environments in each one of them are quite particular.
Since the scenery uses orhophotos, which is something we all want and love, this could bring an issue that some of you have probably already found: during different times of the day, the "shadows" overlap with the ones rendered by X-Planes graphical engine, making it all a bit odd.
The team took their time to actually remove shadows from the images so that they would look more realistic at different times of the day.
As you can see in the images above, the shadows change a lot and they look more consistent with the direction of the light. Great stuff!
So, there goes my frame-rate?
Frame-rate is always a concern. Especially if you are a helicopter pilot where 5 FPS can make the whole difference between a controllable and an uncontrollable helicopter.
Make no mistake: this scenery will impact your frame-rate and, sometimes, badly. My GTX 1060 can hardly manage some of the areas, especially on the big cities, with hundreds of buildings. Unfortunately this happened to a point where controlling the helicopter did, indeed, become problematic.
Fortunately, this doesn't happen in all the areas of the scenery. For the most part, my frame-rate was kept within the values I am used to (30-40). Cities were the only regions draining my poor graphics card.
We do need to remind that this is more of a professional-targeted product. We just happen to have access to it! Other than that, I'm a happy puppy!
I found some errors on one of the airports (LIDT) where the textures where floating in mid-air. I have already reported them to FSC and they indicated me that it has to do with "runway following the terrain contours" and that it will be fixed before the release.
LIDI has some issues as well, with some floating buildings. Again, it was reported to FSC.
This scenery makes me feel like filling this whole page with screenshots, which is exactly what FSC did. At the Dolomiti 3D product page, you'll find tons of other amazing screenshots for your delight.
Trust me, the amount (and quality) of the screenshots at FSC's site far surpasses mine and you'll get to see a lot of details on those screenshots. Make sure you check it out.
Should you get it?
Do you like beautiful mountainous regions with lots of places to visit and land on your helicopter? Do you appreciate amazing villages and cities well modeled? Do you want to take your VFR flying a step (or two or five or ten) forward?
I wish FSC develops scenery for other parts of the world as well as the quality of their work is top-notch. Unfortunately for some, the price tag can be a bit heavy but I don't think it would be possible to present such a huge scenery for less. If you think about it, we are used to pay around €30 for an airport. This scenery costs around €85 (with taxes) and it comes with 4 airports. That alone is worth €120, but the regular price. And we still get a whole lot more from it so I'd say it's probably well valued. And there's a lot for you to do as a helicopter pilot. They even suggest you some VFR routes!
Dolomiti 3D is true a playground for us, helicopter flight simmers. The only major issue that I found was the above-mentioned FPS drop in some cities which can seriously hinder your control of the helicopter.
To answer directly to the question, I would say that, yes, you should probably get it. If you have a GTX 1080 or better you shouldn't have any major FPS drops or, if you do, it will probably be within reasonable values.
Me, I am loving it. I stay away from the big cities, enjoy the mountains and the smaller villages and I'm a happy puppy.