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London Heathrow Airport. One of the busiest, largest and most diverse airports on the planet. Being one of the most central hubs in Europe, it’s sprawling and ever expanding terminus is forever changing the face of the airport. Now on his third irritation of London Heathrow, Gary from UK2000 Scenery not only updates the package to reflect its real life counterpart, he also brings the modelling and texturing into the current era of Flight Simulation. Heathrow has always had a special place in my heart. I often drive by, marvelling at the sight of hundreds of departures and arrivals on its two long runways. Operating at nearly full capacity, you can always expect to see a departure or arrival into the airport every couple of minutes – regardless of time of day. It’s a sight to be seen and it’s a wonder how pilots, ground agents and air traffic control can keep up with the hustle and bustle of the airport. It’s a concrete jungle. Taxiways twist and turn everywhere, the aprons are far and wide and there are terminal buildings, aircraft hangers and office blocks as far as the eye can see. It certainly takes a skilled navigator to work their way around the maze that is Heathrow airport. With flights spreading all corners of the globe, a Simmer can take off from Heathrow with a huge range of airlines and end up anywhere in the world. It is this diversity and range that has inspired many to give developing Heathrow a shot. Hot off the heels of an announcement from Aerosoft that they would be reproducing Heathrow, UK2000 Scenery announced that they would be updating their Heathrow airport up to V3. Version 3 of their other airports have been a vast improvement of their older counterparts. Version 3 saw Gary use new rendering techniques, different and effective ways of texturing and also improving his modelling work. It’s little wonder that after the success of other ‘version 3’ projects such as Gatwick and Bristol, that we would be excited for this new version. Despite Aerosoft showing their hand first, Gary managed to outpace them and release his new baby first. Gary’s work is always distinguishable from that of any other developer in the Flight Sim world. The clear textures, the detailed models and efficient rendering all make a return in Heathrow V3. As with all UK Scenery airports, you’ll immediately notice the effort that has gone into creating a realistic portrayal of the airport. Buildings are accurately placed and all the aircraft stands and hangers have been faithfully reproduced. Each taxiway, runway and aircraft apron have been included to give you the most realistic representation of Heathrow yet. The sheer scale and size of the airport can mean aircraft taxis of up to 20 minutes. Although it may sound like every simmers nightmare, the beauty and diversity of the airport ensure it feels like a want as opposed to a need. Seeing the custom air-side traffic populate the airport and various weather radars do their magic, whilst taxing between buildings is something you’ll only ever experience at Heathrow. Approaching from the East gives you wonderful views of London and the specific SID and STAR procedures mean each arrival and departure will always be difference. Just be aware of what time you chose to land into Heathrow as during peak times, you may find yourself in the hold for up to 45 minutes (and I’ve done it in real life!) Satellite imagery is used effectively in combination with custom created ground textures and hand-placed auto-gen. I did notice, however, that the occasional default auto-gen snuck into places within the airport where it’s not supposed to be. It’s certainly not enough to off-put me from the scenery. Things such as the approach lights, the PAPI lights and pylons surrounding the airport are all rendered in wonderful 3D and really add to the immersion of the airport. I’ve flown into Heathrow with some of the most beautiful dusk approaches I have ever had. Despite Gary’s best attempt to make sure the airport is as frame-friendly as possible, Heathrow is and always will be a tough dragon to slain in the world of Flight Simulation. Not only is it located in the heart of London itself, but it has an incredibly high number of buildings within the airport vicinity. Add this to the number of taxiways, airport markings, airport equipment and the sheer volume of air-bridges, and Heathrow has become very polygon hungry. Even with my moderately powerful set-up and enhanced configuration, FSX struggles to maintain that sweet 30fps I can manage at most other locations within the sim. I tried to add some AI traffic to enhance my experience further, but this just bought the sim down to its knees. Whilst I can’t blame Gary for this short-coming, I can compare the difference between his previous version and version 3. Design techniques have certainly come a long way since his first attempt at Heathrow airport. The texturing and level of detail is greatly improved over version 2. There appears to be better satellite ground imagery and a massive improvement on how the buildings look. Whilst I am most certainly in favour of these advances, the performance bears not better or worse. Whilst some may argue that improved visuals and not a change in performance is something to praise, if you look at newer version of other airports, it begs the question if Gary’s techniques are becoming a little dated. Look at Mega Airport Oslo. Version 2 was much more detailed and sophisticated and yet performed exceptionally better than its previous incarnation. It goes to prove that it can be done. Continuing with comparisons to other developers who have improved their original designs - and I may be in the minority here - but I feel Gary’s artistic flare is beginning to pale in comparison to the competition. Whilst his work is clear, concise and looks good in the sim, the pallet of colouring is dull and unrealistic to the real world. The aircraft stands look yellow, buildings share similar shades of grey and the grass and taxiways seem to merge into one. It’s difficult to say as we all know Gary is a very talented guy, but standards from other single devs is ever increasing and it’s beginning to look like Gary is in a little bit of a lull. Even with all this in mind, nothing quite compares to his use of night lighting. Each terminal building has excellent custom lighting attached, taxiways light up organically and the aprons have just enough lighting to be both anaesthetically pleasing, but also true to life. It’s something most other developers trouble finding the balance with, but as per usual, Gary has hit the sweet spot. However, despite my somewhat harsh criticisms, Gary has done an exceptional job. He’s managed to design and develop a wonderful, energetic and firm representation of a busy UK airport, all whilst achieving a sharper and cleaner presentation over his past work on the airport. London Heathrow was and never will be easy to recreate, however, overall Gary has done a wonderful job. If you’re upgrading from his previous version, the cost to upgrade is so minimal for the extra treats you’ll be given. If, though, you’re on the fence, I would advise to put yourself in the holding pattern until Aerosoft releases theirs as it could just improve at Gary’s shortcomings. PURCHASE UK2000 SCENERY LONDON HEATHROW (EGLL) V3 HERE My Specs: Processor - 3.5GHz Intel Core i5-3770K Ivy Bridge (OVERCLOCKED TO 4.8GHz) RAM - 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 2133 (PC3 12800) GPU - GeForce GTX 780 FTW 3GB GDDR5 Mother Board - ASUS P8Z77-V LGA 1155 Intel Z77 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard Hard Drives - 2 x 128gb OCZ SSD + 2 x 1tb 7200RPM HDD Operating System - Windows 7 (64-bit) Add-ons Used In Screenshots: Scenery - UK2000 Scenery London Heathrow Airport (EGLL) V3 Aircraft - PMDG 777-200LR/F Utilities - REX4 Textures, Active Sky Next, SteveFX DX10 Fixer (Also tested with DX9), FTX Global