So since Airline Tycoon is a fairly new game instead of doing the standard format I usually do for retroactive reviews I’m actually just going to outright review this game. This was one of the more expensive sales at $20 instead of the regular $29.99.
History of the Game
The “tycoon” series should not be new to anyone. Tycoon games are basically ones in which you are supposed to be a starting poor individual who slowly builds up a large empire based on a single industry. A real life tycoon after all is just somebody who puts all of his eggs in one basket.
Airline Tycoon (and most other tycoon games) should not be thought as one continuous series. Very few of these games are made by the same person. Airline Tycoon was developed by Spellbound Entertainment who only created “unique” games. This meant that every single game in their franchise was different and whereas most studios get really good at developing one game they just continued to make niche market games.
The franchise was sold off to Kalypso Media which developed the Patrician IV, Tropicos 3 and 4, Sins of a Solar Empire and Dungeons. Kalypso is most famous for taking semi-popular games and giving them a tune up.
The airline simulator is a pretty unusual franchise. Off the top of my head the only other airline business simulator I can think of was Aerobiz and Aerobiz Supersonic for the Super Nintendo. But having said that Aerobiz Supersonic was one of SNES’ most popular titles.
The airline simulator doesn’t exactly spark up a lot of enthusiasm, as do few of these tycoon games. Most games you ask the question, “have you ever wanted to be X?” And usually the answer is yes if you buy the game. I don’t think anyone ever said to themselves ‘have you ever wanted to be an airline tycoon?” No one has ever asked that question, and more importantly no one has ever said yes.
Despite that tycoon games have always been popular and this one is no exception.
Airline Tycoon comes from a long line of business simulators. The goal of a business simulator is to make money and max profits. In this game they also include your reputation and equipment quality as a representative of your income.
You play one of the four following characters:
Igor Tuppelevsky: Russian looking to make his way in the world.
Mbangwe Mobango: Retired army pilot looking to start a company to pay for aiding his unspecific African country.
Natalie Childman: Former beauty model who wants to be taken seriously, so she starts up an airline company.
Tina Cortez: Smart girl from the old country that needs people to respect her.
Whatever character you choose has no effect on the campaign. Your character post select will be entirely for the sake of whose voice you want to hear and what face you want to see. I ended up going with Mbangwe Mobango just because he is a goofy army type and you can make him wear a funny hat in a serious boardroom:
Yep pretty cool hat there African war hero. But his accent is pretty annoying (sad to say I find the Anglo-African accent to be very annoying).
The game carries you on through a number of different levels all with objectives. As you complete each level you move on to the next. There is a little bit of continuity in the level and it keeps you in the same area (London).
The game offers a sandbox infinite play mode for empire building types. In the sandbox you start off with the one plane and one route and expand across the globe. There is no end or objectives in this style of play, there isn’t even an achievement mode. It’s just for people who want to continue to manage one company.
Graphics – 5/10
Because of the cartoony nature of the game the graphics also take on a very cartoony look that is not meant to be realistic. So this is why you never see anything outside of the windows of an airplane cab, why people’s feet are so big or why people’s lips are not moving with the dialog.
I think the main problem that I have with the graphics isn’t even the fact that it isn’t on the same level as most games. My problem is the style of graphics and the nature of the game. Business simulators are pretty tough business. Generally speaking business simulators have the WORST new player orientation into a game. So considering how much number crunching you have to do in this game… why the hell are you a cartoon?
It is damning for the franchise. Most games are coming out with this cartoony style so that they can illustrate how casual all-age friendly they are. Honestly that could be the biggest strike against its graphics, it is trying to be a game that it isn’t. When you are playing Rollercoaster Tycoon or Railway Tycoon the fun in these games is developing the various tracks and having people ride on them afterwards. In these tycoon games the business aspect is just a side aspect.
But this is Airline Tycoon 2… the whole game is about business. Yes there is a part of the game where you are designing your ship but that takes all of 3 seconds and is more business decisions than about aesthetics or functions.
If you could see the ships fly with weird designs the graphical style might have some leniency in this game. But you get none of that. The planes bouncing and forth on the screen look exactly the same, 2d top down planes.
In truth the games graphics might have been better if you didn’t have 3d moving child-like avatars interacting with other 3d avatars in real environments. If it was simply a business plan calculation you might see people happier with this game.
Newbie Experience – 6/10
Business simulators are notoriously hard on people who are new to the style of game. Generally speaking people just get thrown into a sandbox world and are forced to experiment and fail. There is generally no ease to people who don’t understand the business’s historical context or inner workings.
So having said all that, the newbie experience in this game is pretty friendly. You get brought through a full spoken dialog tutorial that leads you through the various areas of operation and teaches you how each section works. The tutorial gives you a pretty good idea of how the airline business works in every way except, how money works. I tried my hardest to finish… the first level, but no matter what it just did not seem like airlines were profitable. My competitors and I continued to plunge into bankruptcy over and over and over and became a run on who would go bankrupt first. In the sandbox however making profits was obvious and simple. As a good example I would bank $200,000 a day in the sandbox… but only $12,000 a day in the campaign.
Another major weakness in the tutorial is exactly how scripted it is. It is important for a tutorial to have objectives. However this game for whatever reason has you follow a script… while still allowing you to make mistakes. The second you fall out of the script you are stuck. In the tutorial I had six objectives at once and it would not continue on until I did the activity it assumed I had not done yet first. So it took about two hours to clear the tutorial.
The game is also insanely finger nails on chalkboard annoyingly slow. A decent starting airplane is going to cost you between $11M and $60M. As I said, I was making $200,000 a day meaning that it would take me another 55 days to get a new plane. That wouldn’t be so bad if that didn’t meant ending turn 55 times in a row. It just never feels like anything worthwhile ever happens at the beginning of the game. It almost feels like you should start off with multiple planes and multiple routes. Instead you start off with, one plane and one route.
Overall if you are new to this game you will learn how to play it very fast but run away from playing it very fast.
Opinion – 4/10
The game is trying to be what it is not, that is a casual friendly game.
A casual friendly game needs three basic elements to be successful, they are:
- Infinite gameplay: A game that casuals will play cannot have an end to it. Because of this it has to nonstop DO something with infinite possibility of growth and loss. It has to be a singular activity with a product a person can be proud of.
- Achievements/trophies: The game needs to have rewards for doing a lot of the exact same thing. People need to feel like this nonstop activity they’re doing is going to have a reward or goal, that reward or goal is an achievement that they can collect and show off publically.
- Multiplayer: People cannot really play casual games alone forever, eventually they’ll move on to another game. This is why casual gamers are going for multiplayer casual games now. The old low investment games just will not cut it. There needs to be an online community where people can compare and compete with their companies.
Out of these three things the only thing this game actually has that makes it successfully casual is infinite gameplay. But to be fair, every single simulator on the planet has a sandbox infinite gameplay to it.
Because they’re trying to look like a casual game they sacrifice a lot of things that business simulator fans will love. By doing this they are turning off the core of the gamer base they’re going after. Instead they are seeking casuals who simply… will not enjoy this game. The game has very little depth to it and feels like everything is a second thought.
The worst is that they put so much work into designing a nice shiny casual friendly looking game… and the game would be a hell of a lot better if it was more basic. Look at this UI:
Aerobiz Supersonic had an insanely simple UI and yet it worked so well, everything was at your fingertips and it felt more tactical. This game will have you run around in circles doing in 5 minutes what would have taken you seconds to do.
I understand that these graphics suck are are not even good enough for the Nintendo DS. But that copy could be beefed up quite a bit to look better.
If you compare the two games Aerobiz works on months and years, Airline Tycoon works on days. Doing daily makes it more casual friendly but makes it insanely frustrating.
What you realize is that airlines do not make a lot of money off a single route in a given day and are no doubt the size they are because of government intervention. As a lover of the business simulator I expect a lot from a business simulator and this one just didn’t cut it for me.
One part of the game with great potential that was poorly organized was hiring crews. You need to hire flight attendants and pilots for all your planes, that was fine. Then you hit a tab and get specialists who are going to help you out. None of these things are obviously valuable and you don’t realize until after you hire them what they actually do, they’re advisers. They’re those things that in every other game you get for free. In this game however you’re forced to dish out and put yourself at a disadvantage in order to get their services.
Overall – 5/10
If you were buying this out of nostalgia for Aerobiz Supersonic, don’t. It’s nothing like it with the exception that it’s about airlines. This is a very different game designed to attract the casual market. I think when Kalypso picked up this title they realized that the business simulator market is insanely crowded with European developers releasing on average 50 new business sims a year.
The game feels rushed and incomplete. You are always trying to find something more to the game, and yet it never happens. If it was done with a very simple format and without insane loading screens everywhere the game would be far more enjoyable.
Most simulators have realized they need something else to the game. This game plays more like a classical simulator, except without a real story. None of the characters are captivating and the stereotypes they represent are more offensive than anything else. Take for example this odd couple:
This is supposed to be the assistant of Maestro (a fashion expert). Both of them sound metrosexual (gay). This one is especially odd because he portrays a gay person who is so snobby that he can’t breathe the contaminated ‘normal people’ air in the plane. On top of that he is wearing a crazy get-up that no one would be seen in I guess to portray how what is ‘fashionable’ isn’t necessarily attractive. It’s just really bizarre. A child who plays this just won’t get the ‘joke’ while an adult who plays this will just think it’s dumb.
Overall not a worth while purchase for anyone.