Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Airport Mania: First Flight Review

Airport Mania: First Flight, developed by South Winds Games and published by Reflexive Entertainment.
The Good: Nicely balanced chaos, can queue multiple actions, customizable airport upgrades that impact gameplay
The Not So Good: Gets repetitive, can’t skip levels
What say you? The click management genre takes to the skies with good results: 6/8

Click management games, where you use the mouse to direct a character to perform specific tasks, are fairly popular. Most of the titles in the genre revolve around food service or a similar small business. Airport Mania: First Flight takes the click management game into the world of aviation, a place historically dominated by flight simulators or realistic air traffic control reproductions. Will this new setting spice up the gameplay?

The animated feel of Airport Mania: First Flight shines through in the presentation. Though the graphics are relatively simplistic, as the game is rendered in 2-D and it looks like it could have been put together over a long weekend using Paint. But you don’t have to worry about any 3-D artifacts, camera angles, or confusing overlays, or high system requirements. The planes are nicely modeled: Airport Mania: First Flight is the only game that features both male and female aircraft. The various buildings around your airport are easily identifiable and large icons are displayed to show each plane’s next appropriate destination. So even though I would not call the graphics “impressive” or “groundbreaking,” they won’t destroy your computer and they don’t get in the way of the gameplay. The sound is cute: each airport has its own jaunty instrumental theme and the plane reactions are satisfyingly adorable. As far as click management games go, you could do worse than the graphics and sound of Airport Mania: First Flight.

Airport Mania: First Flight puts you in the role of airport manager, an abstraction of an air traffic controller, where you direct planes to land, unload and load passengers, fuel up, and get repairs. There are a lot of levels in the game, and each stage has you continually improving a single airfield. The levels unlock in a set order, so you unfortunately can’t skip ahead to the more difficult scenarios if you get bored early on. Also, the amount of new elements introduced in the game is very low: almost every structure you will need is given to you in the first stage. This means you won’t want to see what unlocks next since you’ve seen everything by the first handful of levels. There are a number of rewards to earn along the way that can be earned by keeping planes happy or using runways in quick succession. The rewards aren’t enough motivation to keep you playing, but they are a thoughtful feature.

So here’s what you do: each plane needs to land, go to a gate, and then take off. Some planes will also need repairs and fuel before loading new passengers. Orders are given by simply clicking on the plane and then the object (runway, gate, parking spot) you want it to use. This relative simplicity makes Airport Mania: First Flight easy to comprehend for all skill levels and makes the game approachable as a whole. You can queue half of the actions up in advance (before or after passenger unloading), which makes running a functional airport easier. The game will even send planes directly to a gate if it opens after you have given a landing pad order. Airport Mania: First Flight will not show the queue for planes that are not directly selected, however, so you can lose track of how many orders you have given to existing planes when the action gets hectic. Airport Mania: First Flight offers up just the right amount of controlled chaos: the first levels aren’t terribly difficult and ease you into the game, which the closing stages require a lot of managing skills. Each plane is rated according to the income you’ll receive, the number of passengers, loading and unloading speed, and their patience. Your job is to make sure all of their required tasks are completed before they get mad and fly away. You can earn score bonuses for having the same colored airplane use the same gate in a row, in addition to landing or taking-off planes on the same runway in quick succession. You will have to make key decisions on which color bonuses to sacrifice in the interest of getting all of the planes unloaded and flying again. Each individual level passes by quickly enough that Airport Mania: First Flight doesn’t drag.

The feature that keeps Airport Mania: First Flight from being just another run-of-the-mill click management game is the upgrades you can purchase. Unlike a lot of games in the genre, Airport Mania: First Flight does not predetermine which upgrades become available, so you can tailor your improvements to your gameplay style. Keep a lot of planes in the air? Get in-flight movies to keep passengers happy. Like to earn a lot of color bonuses? Purchase new gates. The most useful upgrade is the radar, which tells you the next four colors that will appear; this is great for deciding which gate color bonuses to keep and which to switch to a new color. You can also get more efficient gates, additional parking spaces, and new planes that can bring in more cash. I like to have freedom in my strategic decisions, so allowing the user to determine which upgrades to get next is a wonderful feature.

If you like click management games, then you can’t go wrong with Airport Mania: First Flight. The controls are straightforward, the actions are intuitive, and the game balance is well done. I do wish there were more objects available later in the game as the levels tend to become repetitive after a while, but the pace is quick enough where you won’t notice too much. Airport Mania: First Flight might not have the best graphics, but it does have an inviting theme. I really like the upgrades that can be added in any order: they not only impact the gameplay, but letting the user choose which ones to get makes the entire experience better. Being able to queue actions is great, and the fact that the game is smart enough to remove unnecessary queue orders when a gate opens up is fantastic. Airport Mania: First Flight will not win over anyone who doesn’t like this type of game, but it is surely good at what it does.