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SummaryCause widespread misery as the CEO of your own airline.
The GoodSometimes when the pickings get slim at the video game store, I begin purchasing games I’ve never heard of based on the cover art alone. Aerobiz was one such game, sold at a slight premium over the normal riff-raff. Its label depicts an executive looking busy in his office while an airliner flies dangerously close outside his New York high-rise window. Maybe there’s a chance that I can be as cool as that slick-haired suit.
As you may have guessed from the name, Aerobiz is a simulation about running your own airline. You establish your first branch, negotiate for slots in various airports, and set up routes between cities based on the range of your fleet of planes. There are two scenarios available: one from 1963 to 1995, and another from 1983 to 2015. The main difference is that while many of the included aircraft configurations are available from the start in the latter time frame, the former unlocks them as time advances, providing an extremely limited selection from the get-go.
To complicate things, you’re competing with three other human or computer controlled companies. The game really heats up towards the end when competition begins for various routes. Having the best planes, the lowest fares, and a healthy heaping of good old fashioned advertising are crucial to squash the competition. Like any good simulation, it’s about maximizing profits and grinding anyone who gets in your way into the dirt. The goal is to accomplish a set of objectives before you opponents. These consist of attracting a certain number of passengers, earning enough profit each quarter, and linking a certain number of cities. I feel this is a better alternative to the old Monopoly method of bankrupting your opponents, and it ends the game a lot quicker than simply reaching the end of the scenario time frame.
To win takes constant negotiation. You’re allotted three negotiators who you can send out into the world to buy slots at various airports. The limited number of negotiators makes sure that even if you’re making money hand over fist, your competitors still have an opportunity to catch up through careful planning. There’s a decent amount of strategy required. Buying planes with big passenger capacities and using them on longer, more popular routes while relegating smaller planes with less range on commuter routes can make a big difference on your bottom line. It’s not overly complicated and may not have the depth of some other simulations, but there’s enough there to keep you busy for the length of a game.
For better or worse, Aerobiz starts off at a pretty quick pace. Rather than starting out with short commuter flights and propeller planes, each player is given a veritable fleet of jets and two routes available for opening at the start. While this could be viewed as the game being dumbed down to just the basic concept, it does mean that games are kept to a reasonable 2-4 hours with no real slowdowns in developments as the various companies fight tooth and nail for passengers. It’s actually quite lean for a business simulator, and it’s refreshing to have one that aims to be compelling, rather than just addicting.
It’s worth noting that, because of its turn-based gameplay, Aerobiz features a multiplayer mode for up to four players. I wasn’t able to try this out, and would probably have a difficult time convincing someone to sit down with me to compete over the airline business, but it’s there if you have a more fulfilling social life than I do.
The BadIn what strikes me as strange for a business simulation, there’s a severe lack of information and feedback provided. I often felt as though I was left in the dark as to where, exactly, my money was going. Sure, I’d consistently turn a profit, but I lacked crucial data needed to maximize my efficiency. For example, I have no idea if the planes that are left in my hanger have a monthly cost. Does it tie into my maintenance budget? The game doesn’t say. What about the slots you buy in each city: onetime fee or monthly cost? The game doesn’t say. Is it so much to ask for a monthly expenditures sheet?
It’s also a rather sterile production. It may sound a bit strange, but I’ve always enjoyed the hypnotic soundtracks of the era’s simulations and part of my motivation for even playing Aerobiz was to hear if its tunes were in the same league as the SNES version of SimCity. The truth is, while its songs contain the same buzzy instrumentation, they’re rather bland and many of them are nearly grating. You can thankfully change the track that plays while you make all your decisions to any of the country themes, but they all have the same basic generic feel to them.
Adding to the sterility is the game’s lack of imagination. Aerobiz was released in 1992, and the second scenario’s deadline of 2015 was quite a ways into the future. In Street Fighter 2010, Capcom thought we’d be fighting aliens, and in Outrun 2019, Sega believed that we’d be driving rocket cars in a few years. Yet as far as I know, no fictional planes are used in Aerobiz to fill the sizeable future gap. The cancelled McConnell Douglas MD-12 is the furthest extrapolation the game was willing to take. This seems like the one chance the devs had at injecting a little imagination into the game and it was totally passed up. The advisors, the planes, the cities; there’s not a hint of personality to any of them. There isn’t even much that you can inject yourself, as the corporations aren’t customisable in anyway outside their names. Even those are limited to 7 letters which I filled with SUCKAIR.
Part of this lack of ambition might be because the developer has shown a bizarre reverence to airliners to the point of clogging gameplay with scenes of jets being slowly delivered to hangers or taking off and landing. Stick around past the end of the game and you’re treated to a slow, unskippable montage of low-res pictures of historic airplanes. It sometimes makes the game feel more like a showcase for the various historical jetliners. Maybe if you’re interested in the subject, you’ll appreciate the attention to detail, but commercial airliners don’t exactly have me grinding my thighs together.