When it comes to simulation games, there is little argument that Roller Coaster Tycoon is the holy grail. God knows how much time I sunk into meticulously managing the finances of criminally overpriced theme parks as a kid. I also spent a good portion of my life in or around airports. So when I heard there was a game that let me do with travelers what I did with theme park visitors I was immediately excited. This is exactly what Airport CEO is and this is my Airport CEO review.
Airport CEO: What Is It?
Airport CEO is a “tycoon” style simulation game available on steam, it lets you be the CEO of an airport. In this title vaguely inspired by a prison architect, you design, build, and manage an airport.
It is not completely formulaic, however. The reason this game is called Airport CEO and not tycoon or simulator is that it makes you the CEO. You are no longer the omnipotent creating and destroying everything with a click. Rules apply to you too. You spend most of your time looking at little business dashboards and signing contractors to do your work for you.
Gameplay: How Do You Even Manage An Airport?
As soon as you start the game you are greeted with a simple-looking menu. Upon choosing to start your airport, you are asked to enter your name and select any version of a dollar store Heath Ledger’s Joker as your avatar. The graphics inside the game are no more impressive either.
But don’t let any of that fool you. Soon, you learn how terribly deep and complex this innocent-looking game actually is. There is a tutorial, of course, but 90% of the exploration is left entirely to you. Even before you can accept your first plane, you have to go through a million other things. From signing contractors to do your construction for you to building runways, taxiways, and towers, hiring staff, establishing the infrastructure – long story short, it’s complicated.
You manage everything! And you do that through a little computer window – it’s like your own CEO dashboard and terminal. Quickly enough you’ll learn how to navigate through the dialogues and tabs to get where you want. By then you’ll be totally blind to the simple introduction you got to the game and realize that every pixel counts.
Why Airport CEO Works
I realize when I was not worried about my resources or about mismanaging flight schedules, I was having a lot of fun. The complexity of the game is not just for show. It is the backbone of this simulation gem. Even after you learn the ropes – after some good hours – the game does not get boring. Even if you know everything you need to know and how to do it, there is constant pressure for you to keep things rolling.
Like a real CEO, if you neglect your duties everything can and will come crashing down. There is no point in the game where you feel like “now what?”. This is partly due to the sheer depth the game has to offer, but it is also a very clear design decision made by the game’s creator. Learning all the ins and outs (which I’ll admit I have not done a good job at) is not all there is to the game.
As your airport grows, you create more overhead for yourself. There is always this challenge of not making yourself the limiting factor for your airport. Like real management, the challenge and fun of the game come from developing an efficient workflow that allows you to do more while maintaining all other tasks nicely.
But It’s Not For Everyone
With all that said, this game is clearly not for everyone. More often than not you may be put off by the sheer depth of the game – even if you are a simulation fan. Getting to a point where you can thoroughly enjoy the game can be a bit of a grind.
Airport CEO can be very serious and straight-faced, to a fault. There are way too many (realistic) details to learn that it can be dry at times. It’s so authentic that I’ve learned a thing or two about airports myself. And if my formative years have taught me anything, it’s that teachers forcing a moral in entertainment usually ruins both.
Although I am not a big fan of long tutorials, I felt this game could have used one. Maybe even make it a separate map. But the 10 minutes of hands-off guiding provided with your first airport are not that helpful. And while I did enjoy the menus being styled as computer windows, navigation ultimately wasn’t as streamlined as it could be. But maybe that’s just a byproduct of the game’s depth.
To conclude this Airport CEO review, Airport CEO is a game for most simulation fans. The authenticity, the depth, and the way the game deals with the boring end-game stage are all commendable. If you’re looking for more than a weekend’s fix of management fun, by all means, dive into Airport CEO. Oh, and make sure you check out the developer’s excellent devlog too.
If you’re in the market for a casual game then stay very clear. There is a steep learning curve ahead. While the game is as difficult as it is rewarding, there is a lot of learning involved. Not every game can be a game of the year candidate, but if it can make you chill and enjoy your free time then it’s a good game. And Airport CEO is exactly that.