Airline Tycoon 2 Review (PC)

Airports are horrid places: long queues at check in, wandering hands when you go through security, the prospect of being grounded in a foreign place for days on end – they’re hardly environments conducive to a relaxing holiday. Everyone feels the same, even the unlucky souls that have to work in them. The mantras ‘get through as quickly as possible to enjoy the beach for the next two weeks’ is common.

Pump it full of awesome
That’s why Airline Tycoon 2 is a peculiar concept. Games are known for serving the player a healthy dose of escapism. Fantasy castles, the imaginative worlds of an Italian plumber, Lord of the Rings-style plains – these are all places we can’t experience in reality, but an airport? You want to spend your spare time managing one of the most depressing places of modern society? Here’s a number for a physiatrist.

Yes, the narrative of airports is one of happiness; long lost reunions; escape from the bustle of life, but as already explained travelling through them isn’t close to peace of mind, (rather giving the staff a piece of your mind is more common). That said, anorak-style simulation is not something to be scoffed at; Football Manager, Railworks, Sim City – these franchises show just how popular simulation within reality can be. You only have to look at Theme Hospital to realise how gaming can turn the administration of a depressing place into something of glory.

Anyway, to the destination at hand: Airline Tycoon 2. It’s a severe case of hybridism. One side to the game offers a ridiculous amount of detail for tinkering with the logistics of air travel. The other is a virtual recreation of an airport. Look at the cute gift shop! Marvel at the huge lines of people waiting for your airline. Scoff at the inadequacy of your rivals. It’s all very tongue in cheek, especially considering the developer’s choice of modelling the airports after real world examples.
Maps. You will look at them
Exploration fans may cry disappointment, but it’s important to remember that this is Airline Tycoon 2, not Tourist Tycoon 2. The fact a 3D recreation of a cartoon airport is even there is an interesting choice. Could you imagine Football Manager making you walk around the training ground and getting the bus to matches? You’d certainly spend a lot of time watching things as opposed to actually managing your club. Hidden behind the airport doors are the menus. Instead of an ugly UI, you have the navigable airport. The shiny marble floors, the check-in desks, the restaurant; all of this is the interface. Granted, much of your time is spent in the back scurrying between the workforce manager, airline manager and your private office, but if you want to wander down to see a visual indicator how your policies and routes are doing, it’s there to do.

Those who prefer a faster, streamlined simulation will be a little disappointed. While the heavy reliance on numbers and meticulous planning is evident, Airline Tycoon 2 is as much about the airport as it is making money.

Even the airline planning is visual-centric. The game could have used boring, text heavy menus, but instead goes down the glossy route. Creating a plane is a lego-style blueprint. You’re given a base-plane and the option to customise it to your aim. You might want a cross-continental super-jet with luxury as its unique selling point, or you could be the Ryanair of the world, decking out your planes with slow engines, rubbish wings and aging interiors. There’s no leather seats and in-flight entertainment here. Instead you’ve got disgusting food, cramped conditions and broken lights. Oh wait, that sounds like reality.

Once you’ve designed your fleet and kitted it out with staff (cabin crew / pilots willing), you’ll need some routes. Airline regulation prevents you from flying wherever you want. There’s a Godfather-style don in charge who’ll dictate where you can go. Once you’ve opened up some flight plans, it’s up to you to schedule your planes. This means careful time management to maximise the potential of your aircraft. Sure, you can just plop some planes down and make mediocre profits. Wouldn’t you rather create a well-oiled machine of brilliance? The British Airways of the Airline Tycoon 2 world? To do so you need to think logically, reassigning flights to match the necessary passenger demand and ensuring there’s adequate maintenance periods set – after all, you don’t want your flights to be dropping out of the sky. It’s just the prices you want at rock bottom.
Sure beats a glorified spreadsheet...

Airline Tycoon is like any good simulation – easy to pick up, devilishly difficult to master. The scope available is vast, but for many the focus on 3D airports will put some off. You’re either someone who’s content with text and graphs, or a simulation gamer after something more immersive. If you’re a mix of both, you’ll enjoy Airline Tycoon 2. It’s the Virgin Atlantic of simulations – good service, okay food, but at the end of the day, just another way of getting from A to B.

Top Game Moment: Watching your rivals struggle under the weight of your managerial brilliance.

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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 12, 2011
Looks like "The Movies", but underneath there appears to be strong simulation. I like the idea and may give it a go one day. I saw it relaesed on Steam the other day, but with the Forums down I wasn't able to find out anything about it (aside from the usual waffle on the site itself).