Wannabe aviation entrepreneurs confront real-world economic realities.
Today the airline business is tougher than ever following a decade-long siege of security concerns, a struggling economy and major consolidations. Little of this drama will reach players of Kalypso Media’s Airline Tycoon 2, a disappointing sequel that comes a decade after its original ($30, requires Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/7, 3Ghz processor or comparable, 2 GB RAM, 5 GB hard drive space, 256 MB 3D video card, airline-tycoon2.com).
Airline Tycoon 2 in many ways resembles the original, a strategy sim in which players compete to build a profitable airline. Players must negotiate between preserving capital and trying to make the airline attractive to customers. They can also launch positive marketing campaigns promoting their own flights and negative campaigns slamming the competition. Hiring employees, keeping flights on schedule and maintaining the fleet are also important to success.
The game was released with several defects, though developers continue to patch it. Deeper issues leave me unconvinced it’s better than its predecessor. The visual improvements requiring a 3D video card have little function. The interface requires a player to endure much mouse clicking and waiting while his digital character walks around the airport. More worrisome are fundamental design issues. The game is not appreciably evolved from the original. Most actions a player can take to modify his strategy and tactics are the same as before—and in some cases the new version is worse.
The most obvious economic challenges of the modern age are missing: mergers, the fuel crunch and current events. Moreover, there’s little transparency about whether your marketing campaign is working or if the airline’s image improvement is due to, say, new upscale lavatory signs. In other strategy games such as Civilization, investing in road infrastructure or technological improvements have tangible impacts. In Airline Tycoon 2, I didn’t get a good sense of what was working and what wasn’t. And since my opponents could make all the same moves, I wasn’t sure what actions differentiated my own franchise and yielded a competitive advantage.
The game’s cartoonish graphics may indicate a goal of simplicity, and perhaps I’m expecting too much. But that doesn’t change that fact that its operational flaws make it unpleasant to play and that sessions with Airline Tycoon 2 simply fail to entertain.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.