Air Bucks v1.2 is, not very surprisingly, a kind of enhanced version of Air Bucks. So what is Air Bucks? Well it's a sort of Richard Branson/Freddie Laker (or whoever) simulator. A strategy game based on setting up an airline in 1946 and running it through until the present day. (Or going broke in the process.) The original version was fairly stuffed with charts, numbers and stats, but not enough for the American market. This enhanced version has more numbers, more trading and an all round more corporate feel.
Let's get one thing straight from the start. If you don't feel even the slightest hint of excitement at the sight of a balance sheet, or if your sap doesn't even start to rise at the sight of a ledger, you're not going to get far in this game. It's a business sim without very much in the pick up and go, instantly playable stakes. It loads, and you're presented with a map-screen. The map, however unsexy. is fundamental to the game. It is here that you can peruse the airports to which you have landing rights and indulge in an assortment of other aviation-related activities. When you begin the game, you possess landing rights to only one airport - Miami - and control one of four airlines who also have their bases at Miami. The other three companies can be either human or computer controlled but, because the game runs in real-time and there are no 'turns' as such, human players have to decide amongst themselves when each gets a go of the mouse. This option obviously requires consideration for others, patience, and a calm, selfless nature, which made it pretty redundant as far as I was concerned.
The first course of action, regardless of the number of participants, is to procure some more landing rights, since no landing rights means no landing, and if you can't go anywhere except from Miami to Miami, you're going to have a bit of a crappy airline (then again, it would certainly save money on fuel). Seeing as the dc-3 you have at the outset is to aviation what the wheelbarrow is to Formula One racing, you have to choose a destination within 1000 miles. Having chosen a site you cough up the dosh and, after a month or so, the deeds come through provided your bid was successful.
I'm Mandy, fly me
The rest of the game goes something like this:
Decide on ticket price for your destination.
Realise you're losing several thousand dollars per flight.
Choose a new price.
Repeat steps two and three about 50 times until your predicted income is no longer preceded by a large minus sign.
When some moolah starts rolling in, buy a new plane.
Think briefly that building an airline fleet from scratch might constitute a fun idea for a game.
Realise that the amount of number juggling involved in pricing tickets and buggering around refitting planes, only to have to alter all the pricing again, constitutes a feasible alternative to medieval east European torture devices.
- Buy some more landing rights, foolishly thinking that the game will become more interesting as your aerial empire expands. Watch your accounts get redder than a particularly brightly hued rooster submerged in three gallons of scarlet fine emulsion paint.
- Decide you're really not cut out for the airline industry. Think 'sod it' and get a job at MacDonald's.
You might think I'm being rather harsh, but compared to the likes of Sim City and Civilisation, Air Bucks is rather inaccessible. It does have a few nice touches - including the ability to write your own slogan (but since this has no effect on the game it's a completely pointless nice touch) and the historical accuracy of the events which occur between 1946 and the present day (like the release of new planes) - but whereas in Sim City one could glean a certain sense of achievement from creating a metropolis from a patch of mud (or a patch of mud from a metropolis in my case), it's just not the same when all you're staring at is a nest of red route lines. Due to an extremely sluggish menu system and pretty lacklustre visuals and sound, unless you're a total aeroplane fetishist and love the idea of being around to see the release of the DC-4, you should go so far out of your way to avoid this game that you'll probably end up in Luxembourg.
747 strangers in the night
According to the manual, much of Air Buck's appeal and 'fun' is in deciding 'Whether you wish to try a cheaper price with less luxuries, or go for the best in quality with less passengers'. Hmmm. It's probably not the best way to woo would-be players, is it? After all, there can't be that many people who would instantly say. 'Cheaper price? Less passengers? Wowee! Saturday nights will never be the same'. (Actually, our good editor probably would.) That's the whole problem with the package: after the initial thrill of reaching the first year and being told that your fleet is of ample size and so on, the game continues and becomes repetitive jolly quickly. There isn't even an option for inciting dirty tricks campaigns -even the laughably bad Oil Imperium offered that. For those who love the world of business so much that they even want to spend their leisure hours indulging in it. then there is quite a lot of game here. Plenty of aspects to keep an eye on. However for the casual browser this lacks both accessibility and any real excitement. Although a die-hard fan might argue that the sense of prosperity and development can rival that of Sim Hurth et al, the crucial sense of conquest and achievement is more missing than a rattlesnake.