Orbx OpenLC Africa is one of those add-ons that seems to have been in development for such a long time, one does not recall when it was first announced. Plagued by many delays, it even seemed to be pretty close to cancellation not so long ago. In the meantime, with the introduction of the True Earth Series, the landclass technology as it was done in the past since the FS2002 days seemed to be over. Except for a few places like Morocco or South Africa, the continent had little to no add-on coverage at all. Orbx OpenLC Africa is the biggest landclass task undertaken by Orbx so far, covering 30.37 million km². Having personally clocked a few hundred (real) flying hours over the African continent, I was following very closely the high and lows of this development. In this review, we will see how Orbx managed the outcome.
Orbx openLC Africa is distributed through the Orbx Central software, just like any regular Orbx product. It is compatible with FSX and all versions of Prepar3D, including V5. Orbx Global Base is required for this add-on to function, and Orbx Vector is highly recommended but not mandatory. The package is about 14.7 Gb to download, and once installed it is 23 Gb large on the hard drive. The size of the add-on is due to the large area covered, the numerous new textures and the custom 76m mesh that is included. On the contrary to OpenLC South America where the mesh was a separate download, everything is embedded in OpenLC Africa. If you have a mesh with a higher resolution already installed, the simulator will automatically display it without intervention.
The installer lets you pick between an installation in a dedicated Orbx library or within the simulator folder. The installation went without trouble and did not need any further tuning.
The configuration panel that comes with OpenLC Africa lets the user choose the color of the street night lighting (I chose to use Orange lights, which are more fit for the continent rather than white LED). There is also a water correction option for users of Global Vector, that should be left ticked for those who own this add-on.
OpenLC Africa comes with a 13 pages user guide that will help you set the sim correctly in order to get the best rendition.
Reviewing such a wide area is a difficult task, and it is not possible for reviewers to go through the entire continent for evaluation, so I had to pick where to go. Some of them were hinted at as areas of interest by Orbx, some others were areas I visited in real life ; the rest were just areas I wanted to see. Finally, it should be noted that this review was done in both P3D V4 and V5, using Orbx Global Base, Orbx Buildings HD and Orbx Trees HD. The screenshots are taken on V5, hence without the use of Vector. Since Lockheed Martin updated the worldwide vector data for Prepar3D V5, the stocks results are already very good.
Orbx OpenLC Africa does not only cover the African continent, but also the entire Arabic Peninsula. This means that frequent flyers to the United Arab Emirates or Qatar will also benefit from the scenery.
The use of a quality mesh and vector data is paramount in order for the landscape to be depicted correctly. Let’s take as an example the Victoria Falls, which are at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Falls themselves have received special care by Orbx ; but the continuing terrain on the Zambezi river needs a dedicated mesh in order to render correctly the very sharp edges of the canyon in which it flows. So, while Orbx 76m mesh gives a fair depiction across the continent, it is advised to get a higher definition mesh (e.g. the freeware FreeMeshX) for the best results, even if they will not be perfect. As we can see in the screenshot below, the vector data does not exactly match the mesh.
As an example of the precision of the data set used by Orbx, we will visit the city of Timbuktu. When taking a look at Google Earth, we realize that Timbuktu has an “old town”, where the streets are narrow and curved; and a “new town”, where the streets are shaped as a grid such as we would expect in North America. The granularity of the Orbx landclass can be seen here : we can distinguish between both the old and the new town, as well as the difference of greener terrain next to the Niger river to the south and the desert areas at the north (not shown on this screenshot). This is just one, among many examples of what you can expect throughout the entire continent.
Each one of the 216.000 vectored settlements will be depicted with a “generic” texture that will try to come as close as possible as the real counterpart. While this is a big improvement over the default rendition of Africa, this also means you must not expect any specific street arrangement as you would find in real life. Keep in mind this product is just not a True Earth product. There are only 7 locations that have been included with dedicated photoreal textures, all the rest are based on OpenLC Africa textures. The overall result is excellent though, and gives a very believable result in many areas I have personally been too.
Besides, while most of this data has been automatically generated and the corresponding textures have been chosen at best, there are still places where the textures look misfit. In altitude, there can be a sense of repetitiveness in some areas. I have noticed this feeling mostly happened over fielded areas, mostly in Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. Sometimes, there are also small polygons where the texture that was used is not the best, just like this example in Yanbu, in Saudi Arabia. This small rectangular polygon between the city and the sea is a compound that can easily be found in Google Earth, and is depicted as weird enclosed field that stands out of the rest of the city, while the real counterpart is barely noticeable. In the end it remains rare in the overall scenery coverage, and unless you look specifically at some area you know, it is very unlikely you will notice these.
Deserts now really look like deserts with sand dunes, rocks and integrate very well, as you can see in these screenshots of the Rub’Al Khali Saudi Arabian Desert. They look especially stunning from high altitude. Overflying the Adrar area between Algeria and Mali and the Sahara desert has never been so realistic.
Continuing onto night lighting, I have chosen to use “orange” lights as they are more common in Africa than white LEDs. Due to many power outages and scarcity of street lighting even in some bigger towns, Africa is overall a rather dark place. The night time depiction looks great and quite close to reality. Below is a screenshot of N’Djamena, with the bottom part being in Cameroon, which is much less urbanized than the city in Chad just across the river. The openLC Africa renders this well.
To conclude this feature review, it is to be noted that openLC Africa does not come with any kind of dedicated building textures. This means that the best results are achieved by using Orbx Global Buildings HD as well as Global Trees HD, which contain autogen models and textures that fit better with OpenLC Africa. Once everything is put together, I find the overall result extremely immersive.
Africa is a continent that does not use much vector data, which is very heavy on the framerate, on the contrary to North America for example.. Except for the few dedicated areas already mentioned, Orbx OpenLC Africa does not include any particular 3D models either. In this regard, the scenery had absolutely no impact on the performance of my PC, even in the most loaded areas such as the Nile Delta. Considering any loss of performance would not have been acceptable, the package behaves as expected.
Having always been interested in the variety of the African landscape, and being disappointed by the rendition of Africa since I started flight simulation I placed high expectations into Orbx openLC Africa. I was very impressed by the overall rendition of the continent. It is now possible to fly serious VFR flights in the area. It had been a while since I spent 5 hours into a flight just looking at the landscape. Despite finding some repetitive textures here and there, and the lack of resolution of some of them at the lower altitudes, Orbx OpenLC Africa offers a great rendition and really pushed the older Landclass technology to its best. Even better results can however only be achieved with the use of Orbx Vector (in V4) and Orbx Buildings HD, which will raise the final check by a significant amount for those who don’t own them yet. Yet, Orbx OpenLC Africa remains a product that I dearly recommend to all flyers in Africa, and I hope it will drive more developers to create additional airports for this sometimes forgotten continent.
Orbx OpenLC Africa is a must have for anyone who wishes to fly over Africa. Pair it with a quality mesh and you get a top-level global coverage add-on for the entire continent.
- Complete coverage with a very precise dataset
- Wide sets of textures dedicated to the continent
- 76m mesh included
- Some repetitive textures at times
- Some textures don’t fit well
- Best results require additional addons.
- Wish the mesh was optional
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