Air Bucks version 1.2. (Impressions airline simulation game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Peter Olafson
A version number in a game's title is a pretty sure sign that the game in question is a flight simulator: Witness Flight Simulator 4.0, Falcon 3.0, and Chuck Yeager's Flight Trainer 2.0. You could hardly be blamed for figuring Air Bucks version 1.2 to be a flight sim as well.
It is, but only in an abstract sense. Air Bucks 1.2 is a substantially improved version of Impressions' well-received airline simulator, and it's first class all the way.
You're placed in charge of a startup company with a base of operations (Miami) and a little pool of money ($100,000). Over the years (beginning in 1946), you're expected to transform the company into the talk of the industry. You can't control the weather or the baggage-handlers' union, but you do have intimate control over capital expenditures such as new planes, landing rights, routing, fares, advertising, and maintenance - all handled rather elegantly via the mouse or keyboard.
Of course, there are as many as three other little airlines - controlled either by the computer or other aspiring Richard Bransons - trying to pull the same stunt. They are acquiring landing rights in the same cities and flying the same domestic and intercontinental routes. And your board of directors is watching how you do.
It's easy to play, even without the manuals, and easy to enjoy. (Beating out the competition is quite another matter.) There are lots of pleasant little features - especially on the fare-setting screen - and detailed financial information is always at your fingertips. You can even invent your airline's slogan - a charming touch - or pay for market research to tell how you're doing. It's all nicely knit together, so it's never overwhelming. And the hours spent in Air Bucks drift by unbidden.
Unlike some corporate sims like Black Gold (oil) or Ports of Call (freighters), however, this one doesn't have any lighthearted arcade extras (no lining up incoming planes with runway lights or extracting seagulls from a turbine engine). It's still a game, naturally, but it's also a broad business simulation as opposed to a toy. And though it has been sweetened with digitized sound, 256-color graphics, and some modest animation, it never bumps that basic premise. (The music's delightful, too; it seems to take off from Ultima VI.)
My only objections are a certain lack of integration - it would be nice to be able to see and edit everything about a route and its planes on a single screen - and the absence of online help. An Are you sure? requester might have headed off situations in which, for example, you assign a plane to a route that exceeds its range or neglect to assign ticket prices. (Passengers then fly free.)
For registered owners of the original Air Buckt,, version 1.2 is available free as an upgrade. (There have been a host of user-suggested changes, so basically it's smarter, prettier, and better stocked with info.) Impressions also makes upgrades to Air Bucks and its other products available through its online support area on the CompuServe online network. And if you haven't already had the pleasure of flying the not-so-friendly skies, be sure all carry-on luggage is safely stowed and raise your seat back to its full upright position. You're in for a delightful ride.