Airline Tycoon is the perfect game for playing on your laptop during those six-hour delays and surprise overnight layovers at the airport. There's so much activity to do at a breakneck pace, that you may end up pitying the real airline executives who make sure your flights never take off on time under any circumstances.
The game is a fun, captivating simulation that requires a significant investment in time and effort. As early as the third mission of the tutorial campaign, you have to juggle charter flight contracts, regular routes, gate assignments, airplane capacity, maintenance, the oil market, branch offices, and a whole slew of advisors who counsel on everything from finances and industrial espionage to pilot recruiting and personal fitness. The fitter the character, the faster he or she can run from counter to counter through the airport terminal!
As a result, the learning curve is very steep, and several hours minimum are needed to gain even a moderate understanding of the interactions between decisions. Not only is there not enough time to do everything required in the early days of the simulation, the complexity continues to increase with cargo, gifts and bribes for other characters, seat and food quality, tips obtained from the local bartender, and hostile takeovers. You even have days when your office is unavailable and you're left working in the hall.
Airline Tycoon is attractive visually, and features a colorful cartoon look which actually enhances the comedic effects. Gameplay takes place inside a very animated airport terminal, with countless customers and other NPCs shuffling around; you spend a great deal of time walking or running from one area of the terminal to the other to buy planes and fuel, get contracts, and so forth. The audio is less interesting; as the MIDI music is played without digitized instruments even on advanced sound cards, and the voice acting (what little there is) is bland at best.
A few minor nuisances crop up, but none with the potential to ruin the overall positive nature of the simulation. Although each of the four characters that head the four specific airlines in the game has individual strengths and weaknesses, they have no obvious impact on gameplay. An inordinate amount of time is spent waiting for characters to run around, unless you pay $300,000 for the worlds most expensive virtual cell phone and notebook computer. The interface features a few bizarre choices, such as clicking on the globe on your desk to assign tasks to planes, while some important buttons, such as the access to your planes' statistics (e.g., number of seats, range), are too small.
Although done with a tongue-in-cheek mentality, and certainly not intended as a serious simulation of running a real life airline or airport, the frenetic pace is complemented by some genuinely funny animation, such as the passenger being electrocuted by a defective soda machine. Airline Tycoon is a fascinating but very complex game that may leave you confused and gasping for breath at the beginning, but the level of in-depth gameplay is worth the trip. Reading the manual is a definite prerequisite for enjoyment.
Graphics: The game is colorful and has a classy visual signature.
Sound: Sample-deprived MIDI music is a bit bland, and the voice acting uninspired.
Enjoyment: It's a fascinating game, but the sheer volume of details can easily swamp you. The learning curve is steep and full enjoyment requires some lengthy time investment to understand all the nuances and elements.
Replay Value: Simply mastering the game's mechanics requires dozens of hours.
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