Airline Tycoon (Windows)

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Airline Tycoon

Windows - 1998

Year 1998
Platform Windows
Released in Germany (1998)
Germany, Poland (1999)
France, Germany (2000)
Brazil, Canada (2001)
Genre Simulation, Strategy
Theme Managerial
Publisher Infogrames Europe SA, Infogrames do Brasil Ltda., Monte Cristo Multimedia
Developer Spellbound Entertainment AG, Spellbound Entertainment Software
Perspective Top-Down
4.67 / 5 - 9 votes

Description of Airline Tycoon

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When I was first given the assignment to review Monte Cristo's new management game, Airline Tycoon, I thought it would be reminiscent of other business management sims I'd played. Other "tycoon" titles came to mind such as Railroad TycoonTransport TycoonRoller Coaster Tycoon (one of my personal favorites) and the much anticipated Monopoly Tycoon.

Almost immediately upon installing the game, I was taken aback, however, by the unique look of Airline Tycoon and just how much it was unlike these other titles. I was expecting the typical overhead perspective and moderately realistic, isometric graphics (at least giving the illusion of three dimensions) that are so pervasive in any SIM City-style management/strategy game. Imagine my bewilderment when what appeared, instead, on my monitor screen was a ground level perspective, two-dimensional, cartoon representation of an airport interior. To add insult to injury, the various passengers and airline managers appeared as whimsical caricatures that reminded me of clay-mation figures from those old television Christmas specials (something like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer meets Frosty the Snowman"). My initial perception was that the game suffered from a seemingly schizophrenic mixture of genres. At first, I felt like I wasn't playing a management sim at all, but rather a goofy RPG (something akin to the Space Quest series). My inclination was to click on "quit game" and cut my losses. I decided, instead, to put my prejudices aside and give Airline Tycoon a chance.

Although Airline Tycoon's visual presentation is proffered in an extremely different manner than most other games in this genre, it contains all of the essential elements of gameplay that, in fact, define the genre. You are called upon to schedule flights, book passengers, coordinate connections, log flight plans, equip aircraft, maintain and upgrade those aircraft, purchase jet fuel, hire employees, and a myriad of other management requirements.

At the outset of the game, you choose to play as one of four competing airline managers. Your competition can either be computer controlled characters or real opponents using the multiplayer network module. Airline Tycoon also offers you the option of choosing your "home" airport from a list that includes New York, London, Paris, Chicago, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and over 40 other international locations. There are 26 different types of aircraft (with detailed stats for each) to choose from in assembling your fleet and over 200 different routes available to expand your network of flight connections. You are also given a few other preference options such as toggling off the thought bubbles hovering over every passenger's head (thank God!), volume control for airport-wide intercom announcements, and using actual airport abbreviations or substituting ones that more closely resemble the names of some of the locales.

The game is organized into two campaigns comprised of 16 missions total. There are a wide variety of mission objectives. In any given mission, you may be expected to schedule and carry out a certain number of flights, transport more passengers than your competition, link various cities with new routes, increase the value of your company to a predetermined amount, earn the best reputation for your airline, or even compete in a space race... being the first company to build and launch a space station into orbit.

Within the airport, there are a variety of places you can and must visit to be successful. Each morning you attend a briefing in the airport manager's office. In this briefing you are given your objectives for the week. It's also a great opportunity to collect information about how your competition is faring. The bulk of your planning takes place in your office. Here you use tools such as your "filofax" to schedule flights, manage fuel requirements, place phone calls, etc. Next door, there is a personnel office where you can make human resource decisions such as hiring and firing staff, raising or lowering wages, etc. You can visit the advertising agency to increase business by initiating a publicity campaign. You can also pay a visit to your competitors' offices where you can strike bargains, form partnerships, etc.

In addition to the upstairs offices, there are a number of places to visit on the ground floor concourse. At the travel agency, you can take orders for flights. You have to be very careful to study all the details of the order as well as your current docket or you'll be unable to fulfill the contract and have to pay a penalty. If you need to fill a time slot in a hurry, you can try the "last minute" travel agency. Here you'll find flights that need to be carried out on a short fuse. They pay well, but they're also extremely difficult to work into your schedule, so use caution when booking these flights. You can purchase new planes at the Aircraft Reseller or you may opt to save money by acquiring used aircraft from the museum. Financial matters such as taking out loans or buying and selling stocks can be accomplished at the bank. You can glean all the news that's fit to print at the newspaper kiosk. This can come in handy in planning your strategy. When your planes are in need of repair, you'll need to make a trip to the garage and speak with the mechanic there. In the duty free shop, you can purchase a number of items to make running your business easier including a day planner, laptop computer and cell phone. The duty free shop also carries an assortment of fine candy and liquor (really!). Finally, when the pressures of a hard day's work get to be too much, you can knock a few back at the bar. By the way, the bartender is a former airline manager himself (that doesn't bode well for your job security) and can provide advice on how to run things smoothly.

Although Airline Tycoon remains true to the basic premise of management sims, it veers off the path in several areas. I encountered a number of things that were a source of great consternation for me. For one thing, you have a list of 40+ airports at your disposal. The problem is that, no matter which location you choose, you'll be staring at the same ridiculous cartoon airport when you click on "start." Even if the designers weren't going to recreate the layout of the actual airports (which, in my opinion, is exactly what they should have done), the least they could have done is to furnish a slightly altered illustration for each rather than every airport being not only comical but also identical.

To make matters worse, you must walk to each of the various locations (duty free shop, ticket counter, departure gates) to carry out your numerous mission critical tasks. Only a small portion of the airport's solitary hallway is visible at any given time, making it necessary to scroll back and forth continuously. Constantly walking from one end of the airport to the other in this side-scrolling format not only became quite tedious rather quickly, but also gave me nightmarish flashbacks of Duke Nukem (the original). Another disadvantage to this format is that you have to make a concerted effort to position your character in front of the departure gate in order to actually see your airplane arrive, take on passengers, and take-off. Even then, your only view of departing planes is seeing them taxi past the airport window. It's completely possible (and even likely) that you will spend all of your time in this game managing your airline, never once being rewarded with seeing the fruits of your labors.

The thing that concerned me most about Airline Tycoon is that the development team at Monte Cristo didn't intend for this game to be realistic (they say so on page 5 of the manual). An unrealistic simulation game?! Who is their target audience here? I thought realism was the point of simulation games. Additionally, the manual states that Airline Tycoon is not supposed to require you to "rack your brain over too much" yet the learning curve for this game was fairly steep. Even after reading through the manual twice and completing the tutorial three times, I felt ill prepared and unsure of how to complete certain tasks. I became very frustrated after repeatedly ordering flights only to find out that I couldn't fill the order for one reason or another.

It also seemed a little contrived and downright unfair when my assistant appeared just before every flight and announced that my plane was stuck somewhere and could not complete the flight as planned. We all know that delays and cancellations are a reality, but in this game they seemed to be the rule rather than the exception. After several hours of attempts, I managed to get one flight in the air. Even then, I wasn't entirely certain that I'd been successful because, as I stated earlier, you can't zoom out and view the entire airport. Now, I'd like to qualify these statements by pointing out that I've successfully played my share of "tycoon" games, so I don't think the problem is that I'm just daft. Gameplay is just extremely complicated and a bit overly challenging.

Hard-core management sim players (the "Type A" workaholic variety) may find Airline Tycoon's challenges rewarding. If what you're looking for in a game is a rather complex series of routes, timetables, and various other parameters to manage, Airline Tycoon may be just for you. The vast majority of gamers, however, takes a more casual approach and expects a game that doesn't require an MBA to succeed. Airline Tycoon seems to target this audience with its silly animated graphics. Cute cartoon characters alone, however, aren't enough for Airline Tycoon to score high marks in the "fun" caption or to prevent the difficulty of its challenges from escalating into mild annoyance followed closely by sheer aggravation. Next time my gut tells me to click on "quit game," I think I'll go with my instincts.

Review By GamesDomain

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