Business sims are a rare breed these days, elbowed clean out of top ten lists by the usual spate of fast-paced schmups and blastathons. However, the Tycoon family which helped to popularise the genre back in the late ‘90s is still clinging to life, and Airline Tycoon 2 is its latest arrival. But can flight plans and crew rosters provide enough entertainment to distract from mutilated aliens and malevolent terrorists?
Airline Tycoon 2 opts for a cartoony design, which sim fans should immediately be familiar with. You choose one of four budding airline managers, each a ridiculous caricature or stereotype, and each boasting their own special skill – for instance, the scheming Russian Igor Tuppolevsky can take loans with low interest rates.
At this point, if you choose to complete the main campaign, you’ll have to work your way through a number of basic missions which teach you the mechanics of the game. Believe us, there’s a lot to learn here. You’re given free range of the airport, where you must run between various departments to build your aircraft, design their interiors, hire staff and more. The tutorial does a good job of teaching you the basics but Airline Tycoon 2 is complex enough to bewilder newcomers for a couple of hours at least.
Working your way through the missions is a matter of patience. You’re directly competing with the three other characters to build a successful airline, but I found that the NPCs always raced ahead of me in the popularity stakes. Even with the plushest aircraft serving steak and champagne, passengers seemed to prefer the other companies.
So how'm I doing?
This highlighted a major problem for me, which was the lack of feedback from passengers. In games such as Theme Park and Sim City, it was easy to see what your customers or city dwellers thought of your performance, and which areas needed improving. With Airline Tycoon 2, my feedback was limited to, ‘your aircraft are in superb condition’ and ‘your staff are highly motivated’, but despite being told to ‘keep it up’, I still lagged behind the others.
Another area I felt could have been improved was the customisation of your planes. For me, this is the most interesting part of any sim – getting stuck in and making things look just the way you want them to. However, let’s take the interiors – each section of the plan generally has just three possible configurations, plus different colour schemes. I was hoping for much more flexibility, to create your own custom look, but sadly that’s all you get.
Hiring your crew is a simple process of working out your budget and choosing the best you can afford. Each applicant has a skill rank from 1 to 5, so this is a brain-free task. It’s a shame that each applicant looks identical too – all of the pilots appear to be twin brothers, while the stewardesses are generic blonde bimbos.
Come fly with me
With your plan designed and your crew sorted, it’s time to draw up some flight plans. Again, I struggled to enjoy this section, a simple case of filling out a timetable with flights, maintenance and other tasks. I can imagine hardcore enthusiasts having a ball, but I longed for the more strategic and enjoyable mechanics behind games such as Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon – ensuring that your patrons had a hell of a time, instead of carting them from A to B in a stress-free manner.
Occasional ‘special events’ such as a natural disaster rear their ugly heads to throw you off, as they did in the old Sim City games. However, while these do offer brief moments of excitement, they don’t do enough to rescue an otherwise humdrum effort.
Of course, this is just my personal experience with Airline Tycoon 2. It isn’t a bad game and it isn’t a broken one, it simply didn’t excite me enough to recommend a purchase. My advice is simple and admittedly a bit of a cop-out, but if you’re interested in the concept then try the demo. The full product gives you a few missions and also the ‘free play’ mode, where you can build your airline empire from scratch.
Airline Tycoon 2 System Requirements
System requirements for Airline Tycoon 2 are light, thanks to the basic cartoony interface - an old Core 2 Duo machine with 2GB of memory and a bog-standard graphics card will do the job. Regardless of your rig, you'll have to put up with the occasional lengthy loading times.