AIRLINES REVIEW - February 1994
|At first, I wasn't keen.
'An airline management simulation, Gary?', I queried. 'This isn't really my kind of thing - haven't you got any beat-'em-ups?'
'You'll be alright,' he soothed. 'It'll be like Sim City, but with great big jumbo jets.' So I gave it a go, because at the end of the day, he's right - a good game is a good game, and good games transcend genres, I always say. (In fact, I've got it tattooed on my left shoulderblade.) It doesn't matter how much of (say) a platform addict you are, a truly great RPG (say) will snare you like you've been wandering around in dungeons your whole life. If it doesn't, it's not because you 'don't like the style', it's because the game just isn't good enough, and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. But anyway.
Airlines is a bit of a stinker, if you'll forgive me getting straight to the point. The idea is to start off with 50 million quid and a load of shares, and build a profitable and successful airline with it. Simple as that. You buy planes, fly routes, take charters and so on. You can even get involved in naughty business like smuggling weapons or endangered animals. It is, inevitably, a bit like Elite without the dogfighting. Except it's rubbish. Why is it rubbish? Here's why.
There's a wildly excessive amount of trial and error in it. When you take on a route, you have to set ticket prices off the top of your head, with no suggested defaults and no indication of what your competitors are charging (you can have up to three of these, played by other people or the computer), which makes something of a mockery of the idea of competition. Not only that, but the prices you eventually end up at are often ridiculous - on one New York-Montreal route, I suffered a 100% passenger loss when I upped the ticket price to a breathtaking $40. Fair enough, the game starts off set in the 1970s, but I doubt if even then operators had to lower their prices to $20 to get any business.
The timescale presents another problem - realistically, you can't buy certain types of plane until the year they became available in real life. This is also sort of a fair point (I'll save my heartfelt treatise on why reality has no place in video games for another day), but it's a serious pain in the bum when the game keeps offering you lucrative cargo contracts for the first five years of your business (which, by the way, lasts for only 10 years in the default setting), but refuses to actually invent any cargo planes for you to buy to fly them with.
When you do get routes up and running, you get no feedback on them, not even the most basic ‘how many passengers am I carrying, on average?'. Thus, it's impossible to accurately judge the effect that price changes or improvements to your planes are having. You don't even get to know if your planes are big enough for the job they're doing, or conversely if they're running across continents half-empty, when you could be getting a smaller craft to do the job.
It's incredibly slow-paced. The starting sums are such that it takes years of piddling about with one or two little planes before you can even pay off your initial bank loan, and building up a halfway-decent fleet takes decades. This wouldn't matter so much if (a) the maximum game length wasn't only 40 years, and (b) there wasn't so little to do in the intervening time. Mostly, the game consists of picking a route, setting a fare, then sitting with your hand on the 'speed-up-time' button for the first six or seven years. Even when you do start to get a few quid together, the only difference is that you have to do it more often for more planes, and check the 'contracts available' listings a bit more frequently.
The user interface is less than friendly, with lots of lurching about between mouse and keyboard, and destinations listed by airport name rather than location, which is a pain because contracts are all listed by destination. This means that if you're not fully au fait with the geography of the USA (for example), you can spend ages clicking around on the (somewhat stylised) map before realising that 'John F Kennedy' is actually the 'New York' you've been searching for for the last five minutes.
Oh, and just to confuse matters, all the dates are the wrong way round, as well.
Highs Some of the cartoony pics when things happen are quite nice.
Lows Everything here has already been done much, much better.
Verdict A pointless and dull variation on an already well-worn theme.