Air Bucks logo

Wow! It's great, you play the role of Gringile the Gnome as he spends a few hours taking out alien hordes with his magical, mithral razor and V11 WolfBat cruiser... Well, not quite. In fact not at all. Air Bucks is a game that requires more thought than your average role-player and more strategic planning than a war-game.

Yes, you get to play to play Sire Freddie Laker - for those of you too young to recall the heady days of this heroic, bald entrepreneur, just think of him as a hip version of Richard Branson - while you attempt to set up a successful airline business.

You start the game with a knackered old Dakota DC-3 plane and a measly $100,000 (I'm not sure what that is in real money) and the situation is complicated by the fact that the year is 1946. The year, you would assume, would work in your favour, what with there being thousands of unemployed USAF pilots looking for things to do. Oh yes, by the way, you start the game in the United States.

Waiting to do the business
You can play with up to four players and there are different levels of difficulty set for each one. I can only imagine what it would be like to play against real-life human beings - no-one else wanted to play, so I was stuck with three computer opponents all of whom seemed to have a much better idea of world domination via commercial airlines than I did.

Air Bucks has a great deal of waiting around while the statistics resulting from each player's decision are calculated. This could have been done with style (and the occasional animated graphics of a hideous nose-dived crash into the Appalachias where the survivors are forced to eat each other before moving on to the airline dinners) but nope.

What you get is a screen with the standard map of the world in front of you, and the incredibly dull background music blaring out in tiny synthesizer style. Once all the calculations are made, the date changes and it's time for you to move on to another endeavour. Could do better.

But the point of this game is definitely not the graphics, which are average, or the music, which is a bunch of notes slung together so they don't sound too nasty. The meat of Air Bucks lies in the planning, the thought and the sheer commercial instinct that you are prepared to expend on it.

Traveller's checks
You are in charge of every aspect of the business, from the routes you decide to bid for, down to the level of luxury the passengers will put up with, while still paying the exorbitant fees that you will inevitably want to charge for a trip from Tuscaloosa to Tuscon.

You have to oversee the fitting and re-fitting of your aircraft, make the decision as to when to sell the DC-3 in order to buy a newer, bigger and more profitable aircraft - damn, you have to do everything. There is no delegation in 1940s business or so it seems.

All this calls for a level head and a total lack of emotion. The biggest, and potentially most profitable or harmful decisions are whether or not to approach the bank for a loan, or to flog off some shares. The latter also means keeping the shareholders happy. But sooner or later you're going to have to approach someone for some money. This really is the critical stage.

Basically, Air Bucks is a game that will have plenty of appeal to those people who enjoy fiddling with profit and loss ledgers, who adore stomping on other people's chances of success, who go all wet and squidgy over the idea of flying as a way to buy a Beverly Hills mansion, who ooze over good gameplay, but don't really give a monkey's oxygen mask for great sound of graphics. A good addition to Amiga's armoury of game genres.

Flieg & Spaß

Air Bucks logo

Die rührigen Leutchen von Impressions, sonst alte Stammkunden unserer Flop-Seiten, haben umgesattelt: Statt der üblichen Sechseck-Metzeleien präsentieren sie dem erstaunten Publikum nun eine luftige Handelssimulation - und die macht richtig Spaß!

Damit ist nicht die unfreiwillige Komik mancher Screentexte ("Diskette 2 einlegen und entrer procken") gemeint, sondern wirklich der Inhalt des Games: Bis zu vier menschliche/digitale Spieler versuchen sich als Manager einer Airline, wobei sogar jeder unter einem anderen Schwierigkeitsgrad werkeln darf.

Der Hauptscreen besteht aus einer Weltkarte mit zahlreichen Pulldown-Menüs, die per Maus oder Keyboard zugänglich werden; leider sind die Tastaturkürzel englisch. Man kann Flugrouten bestimmen, mit Landerechten handeln, Ticketpreise festlegen, diverse Flieger kaufen, verkaufen und umbauen, Kredite aufnehmen oder den Aktienbestand der Gesellschaft verscherbeln.

Für Realitätsnähe sorgen Streiks, schwankende Treibstoffpreise und Landeverbote wegen schlechten Wetters.

OK, die Optionsvielfalt ist nicht berauschend, dafür hat man sich in punktio Spielbarkeit und Präsentation sehr bemüht. Die Menüs sind logisch aufgebaut, nette Zwischengrafiken gibt es zuhauf, eine Digi-Zeitung kommentiert historische Ereignisse, zu jedem Jet ist eine Reißbrettzeichnung erhältlich, die Weltkarte läßt sich ausschnittsweise vergrößern, und gelegentlich ertönt sogar passable Musik.

Für die Genre-Oberliga reicht es aber trotzdem nicht ganz, vor allem, weil Spieltiefe und -komplexität nur durchschnittlich sind. Doch der gute Wille und die eingeschlagene Richtung zählen, außerdem läuft Air Bucks entgegen dem 1MB-Packungsaufkleber bereits mit 512K - na, bitte. (pb)

Air Bucks logo

So you want to run an airline? Then why not check out Air Bucks?

I 've seen the lot in my time. I've seen flight simulations of everything from a Harrier to a 747 to a MiG29. I've even tried my hand at air traffic controlling. But one thing I've never done is top step into the air-wear shoes of Freddie Laker or Richard Branson and actually run my own airline.

Air Bucks offers all that and more, with the player competing against three friends (or computer friends if real ones are in short supply) for supremacy of the sky in the commercial world (much messier than in wartime).

Okay, so the premise of the game is promising enough (in an overtly strategical kind of way), but Impressions come close to blowing it right form the start with one of the nastiest menu systems I've used in quite some time.

Menus pop up (eventually) but there they stay until the mouse button is pressed again. This, combined with the fact that there are sub-screens inside sub-menus (some of which are identical to the main screen except for the menu line - confusing, huh?) and that unless the player isn't currently residing in any of these menus (sub-menus, sub-sub menus, etc) then time does not pass in the game world. Ahhhh!

But wait, perseverance is the key. Wade through the ineffectual presentation (come on guys - I know it's a strategy map-based game but the animation and music suck, and the disk swapping is pretty inappropriate too) and there's actually a game in there. After a while, I was quite surprised to find myself warming to shares, passenger seating arrangements, and site acquisitions.

Make no mistake, Air Bucks isn't going to appeal to all gamesplayers, but it stands a chance of appealing to more than the usual propeller-head crowd, largely because of the multi-player option. Hell, even against the computer it's pretty entertaining. For a while at least...

Because one major snag is that once a global airline empire has been established, it's often just a matter off letting the pilots do their thing.

Sure, even Sim City had its quiet moments, but even that was better to look at than this. Which is a shame, because Air Bucks isn't half bad. If only its presentation cried out, 'I'm Air Bucks - fly me!' instead of 'Unsafe aircraft!'.