Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mini-Review: Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack

Dear Captain Sim 757,

When we first met last year, I thought you were cute. We went out together a few times, mostly on short and medium flights around the southern and western U.S. We had some fun, but it just felt like something was missing. Ultimately, we went our separate ways when I became enamored with more sophisticated aircraft.

Then just a few months ago, I heard the news that you hit the big time. You picked up some sexy new features, such as a FMS and weather radar. Next thing I know, I am falling head over heels in love with you all over again. Won't you please take me back? I promise we will go on some grand adventures this time, even making some neat overseas trips to places like Hawaii and Europe. I can see us spending a lot of time together once again.


The Pretend Flyer

Okay, I admit that was a silly introduction to this mini-review, but it pretty much sums up my experience with the Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack product to date.

The Captain Sim 757 add-on comes in three parts: the base model 757-200, and two expansion packs for the 757-300 (stretched) and 757F (freighter) variants. I went for the hat trick on this one, mainly because I love riding around in Continental's 757-300 in real life, and my son loves the DHL 757 freighter livery. Yes, silly reasons I know. Write "sucker" on my forehead if you must.

Let us start with an external view of our specimen. Here is a Continental 757-300 at Houston's Bush-Intercontinental Airport. Note this one has winglets, which I believe Continental have yet to actually install on their -300s in real life -- though their -200s do indeed have them now.

The 3D model looks a little rough compared to some other planes I have seen, which indicates that they probably used less polygons to model it. In some ways, this is probably not a bad thing, as it may make it easier to maintain framerates on lower-end systems. In the end, it is good enough for flight sim work.

The Captain Sim 757 comes with a very lovely 3D virtual cockpit, as seen here:

Next, here is a tour through the 2D panel. We start with the baseline view:

Here is the overhead panel:

Now, the weather radar controls, the FMS, and the radio stack (including TCAS):

I did a short test flight of this plane from Houston's Bush-Intercontinental Airport to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Back in the salad days of 2007, Continental actually used to run one 757-300 a day between these two cities. Alas, Continental has scaled back entirely to 737s between these cities now. Here is a shot of the plane at cruise:

On one of my other test flights, I got some really nice activity on the weather radar. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate on this particular was too calm! Thus, I do not have any pictures of this available here at the moment.

The learning curve is pretty standard. Simmers with experience with the Level-D 767 will find this plane relatively similar in many ways. One notable difference is the procedure to align the IRS during the preflight checklist is more much realistically modeled on the Captain Sim 757, and this takes a little getting used to. Otherwise, everything pretty much works as expected.

As with all long planes, one has to be careful to avoid pitching up too quickly on the takeoff roll. It took me a couple of flights to get used to the feel of the controls of the 757. Needless to say, I was treated to a loud "bang" of a tailstrike more than once.

The navigation data in the FMS is of fairly recent vintage, but certainly not current as of AIRAC cycle 0808. The good news is that terminal procedures are fully implemented in the FMS. In fact, the 757 does a very nice job of autolanding once you get lined up on an ILS approach correctly. I did have some trouble with VNAV descents overshooting the descent profile, but that may be part of the learning curve with this particular plane. I am not yet sure if this is really a bug, or simply just a defective pilot.

The drawbacks with the software itself are mostly minor. I would really like to see support for Navigraph's AIRAC cycle updates for the Captain Sim 757's FMS. Hopefully they will work out something on that front soon.

One significant drawback for many U.S. customers is the price tag: the basic Pro Pack alone costs roughly the equivalent of US $90, which is right up there with the PMDG 747 Queen of the Skies product in terms of price. The additional 757-300 and 757F expansion packs cost even more on top of this. Fortunately, as a previous customer of the 757, I was able to upgrade at a discount; however, new customers won't be so lucky. It will probably be tough for everyone but the most hardcore flight simmers to justify this purchase, although the quality of this product is certainly very high.

Bottom line: I had originally picked this up thinking it would tide me over a while until Level-D got with the program and released their long-awaited 757 product. Instead, much to my delighted surprise, the Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack presented itself as an excellent, highly-sophisticated simulation of a Boeing 757 in its own right. My expectations have been greatly exceeded. In fact, the 757 Pro Pack itself gives the very similar Level-D 767 a run for its money, and that is a tall order. Level-D is going to have to seriously outdo themselves to come up with a better 757 than this one.

If you have the clams and are looking for a high-quality 757 to add to your fleet, this one is definitely a worthwhile addition. The 757 remains a very popular workhorse in nearly all the major U.S. airlines' fleets these days, and simmers will no doubt have lots of fun with this one. Needless to say, Captain Sim has rekindled my love affair with their 757.

Overall rating: **** 1/2

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