Coming nearly three years after Krisalis Software Ltd.'s original game, Airport Tycoon 2, by developer Sunstorm Interactive, gives players a full 3D management simulation in which they control every facet of building, maintaining, and operating an international airport. Industrious managers must start at ground zero by buying an appropriate location in one of more than 25 major cities around the world, negotiatiing contracts for airlines, flights, businesses, hotels and fuel, and providing facilities ranging from storage and public services to transportation and emergency services.
Airport Tycoon 2 offers two major game types -- scenarios and free play. Players looking for extra challenges can play a wide range of scenarios that usually provide a limited time frame in which to meet objectives such as earning a profit, establishing a minimum number of airlines, and managing natural disasters (earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, and so forth). More than 60 buildings are available for construction with literally dozens of objects ranging from lounge chairs to metal detectors. Dynamic weather changes, security concerns, adjustable speed of play, realistic passage of night and day, and more await airport managers looking to move both passengers and cargo.
Airport Tycoon 2 follows the tried-and-true "tycoon" formula used successfully in numerous other products. Players start with a sum of money and must build an airport, manage operations, and attract businesses all while balancing growth, improvement, and keeping an eye on the bottom line. The problem is that while all the features for a successful game are in place in Airport Tycoon 2, it's just that the developers somehow forgot to include a game.
Airport Tycoon 2 is conceptually similar to the SimCity games. Gamers are faced with plots of land that can be purchases, then built on with roads and various other buildings. This includes things like taxi or bus stops, emergency services, terminals, runways, taxiways, hangars, and maintenance services. Each building often has additional properties that can be customized -- whether, for example, you offer luggage carts or where you're going to position your airport's security elements, directories, restrooms, and more. An airport that's accommodating to customer needs earns better ratings and business, although that incurs higher development and maintenance costs. Once the right parts are in place, various events periodically get triggered, but the only maintenance efforts a working airport needs are periodic component upgrades or rebuilding in the event of a disaster.
The designing/building part of the game is actually fairly interesting. As the game progresses, players will learn how to best position things such as paths from terminals to taxiways and how placing restrooms and waiting areas affect airport efficiency. The problems begin with the fact that it can be incredibly difficult to build your airport in the first place. To begin with, the documentation is skimpy and doesn't explain the functions of the various airport components very well. This forces the gamer to do a tremendous amount of trial-and-error learning because much of what makes an airport function isn't exactly common knowledge. Putting down these buildings and structures is, therefore, hardly intuitive and really needs some explanation. The online help is almost useless, as much because of the bugs in the interface as its lack of information. The tutorials are equally bad at in imparting an understanding of the game's mechanics.
The worst thing, though, is the fact that once you've built the airport, the game is essentially over. Half the fun of game franchises like SimCity is watching your creation in action. Airport Tycoon 2's dated-and-plain graphics hardly inspire the same kind of pleasure.
The slow time scale also makes it hard to enjoy the various events, such as aircraft takeoffs and landings. If you have patience, you can watch a landing, see the aircraft taxi to the terminal and get serviced by maintenance trucks, then later take off. As the airport gains popularity, the increase in the number of visiting flights gives the impression of a bustling travel center. Even discounting the small variety of aircraft types, this becomes boring fast when nothing is happening. That's why there's a time warp feature that makes game time pass quickly at the cost of stopping all of the event animations.
These then are your choices: play at high speed so you don't have to wait hours for buildings to be completed and suffer a soulless, static experience or play at the slow speed and read a novel while the animations run. There is a hybrid mode where the warp stops for the events you want to watch, but then gameplay takes on a jagged pace that makes it seem like you're always being interrupted. Could it have been so difficult to implement a game clock that allows animations to take place even in accelerated speeds and still maintain a comfortable pace?
The game also lacks the analytical tools the player needs to make proper decisions. The airport simulation depends on the player to maximize profits by tweaking service bottlenecks, but is missing the kind of statistical reports and customer guides that games like this need to identify customer expectations. Also missing from the game is any sense of competitive spirit. Other than staying in the black, or meeting the canned scenario goals (achieve X number of flights from your airport within X days), there isn't much to inspire the player to master the game.
It's always good to see companies try to create semi-educational and non-violent games and the "tycoon" category is a rich vein that developers have just begun to tap. They're going to have to do better than this, however.
People who downloaded Airport Tycoon 2 have also downloaded:
Airport Tycoon, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Railroad Tycoon 3, Age of Mythology, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Age of Empires III, Age of Empires, Car Tycoon
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