It's not often that I will buy a game on Steam that is new and on Early Access. Something about Airport CEO made me go back though, time and time again; so let's see if it was worth the money.
This review was last updated in November 2017 - Apoapsis Studios are currently updating and patching Airport CEO on a regular basis. With a new Alpha build being released this article is due for review during January 2018.
Waiting at the Gate
So let's make this as simple a summary for the game: You are the Airport CEO. The current trend of top-down, 2D simulations appears to be continuing as you take a simulated look at being the next owner of BAA and rushing off to apply for a consultant position at Heathrow Airport. Whether you are building the check-in desk queues, bolstering the security, or simply decreasing the discount in the Duty Free, this game looks like it has potential. Over the coming days I am going to be playing Airport CEO on my Twitch channel as well as updating this review.
In The Beginning
Quite literally, all you start with is a road onto your patch of land and a parking space for your construction materials and workers. This will be the bread and butter for you to build the first roads to your new airport.
The first thing I do is start to manage the road layout. As you might be able to tell here I have used the two lanes of the road and created a simple one-way loop* that would eventually lead to the passenger drop off points.
Blueprint - that is the perfect word for the first game day of operations. You have the ultimate blank canvas and you can just bulldoze your way as the Airport CEO. The construction materials for the building of roads, buildings, toilets; is all delivered automatically.
How many construction staff do you need though? the more you hire, the more it costs to build your airport quicker. Sorry.... who is going to build the airport? In lieu of having staff to write a procurement contract and hiring and firing, I suppose it is down to the Airport CEO! Thankfully you get the choice (a blueprint is ALWAYS about choice) - you can either hire a Procurement Manager to advise you, or you can bulldoze your way through signing your first construction contract.
Top Tip: vehicles in your airport do not understand the concept of one way roads, so don't bother trying. They will try to crash into each other!
The Information Screens
Easy to follow information screens can be found on the right hand side of your screen and contain everything from your e-mails to your contracts. So as we are talking about contracts for construction, we can take a look at one now, the first one, all about getting your Airport CEO career to a flying start with.... an airport.
I have yet to see how the influence of your new management board will affect the way that the system works. At the moment, the procurement manager will help you unlock the commercial aspects of an airport terminal, but then what will their $30/hour bring?
The tutorials, prompted by messages in your e-mail inbox, are great for when you are starting your first airport. The first tutorials, quite frankly, were rubbish and had you bankrupt by the end of day 2.
The update to version 0.22 though has brought some promise, highlighting the fact that you can start making money with a simple airfield and stands for small private aircraft to park. It still has bugs, some of the tutorials still do not acknowledge when you have completed them, but it is getting there. To be fair though, once you have done a few airports, the tutorial is redundant and you will know what you are doing. By your third airport your first priority will be getting aircraft in quick and out quicker - the General Aviation way.
General Aviation on Airport CEO
Like millions of airfields around the world, your first airport can be just a small private airfield. These aircraft do not need check-in facilities, or boarding gates. There is money to be made though in landing fees and refueling, so the first things that you should need are a runway, some connected 'Small Stand' gates and a service road to provide fuel.
General Aviation aircraft are offered an interface icon which goes green when there is an aircraft asking to land. You can opt to accept or refuse the aircraft, but you can also opt to 'accept GA automatically' in your CEO dashboard. I was worried that letting the interface manage private aircraft would result in a traffic jam, but it doesn't. This makes it almost too easy. Build, set to auto and forget.
You can even forget the maintenance for now, but we will come to that later. You have to be careful though; sharing a stand to both commercial and general aviation aircraft can be troublesome. You can not pre-determine how long the plane is looking to stay and can block a stand for hours overnight.
Rescheduling stands for commercial aircraft is not yet a thing; but the option appears to be there for future inclusion. The one thing you have to remember though, and with a build and forget concept it is far easier to do. As an Airport CEO, you will probably want to build GA stands as far as they eye can see; but in reality once you get to 15 or so stands even a 2 runway approach (arrivals and departures) gets clogged up with queuing aircraft.
Once your airport is built and a baggage system is in place (or not, it's up to you, the Airport CEO) then you can start signing contracts for commercial flights. Contract lengths vary, the number and size of planes vary as well. It's your job to juggle them to fulfill all the contracts and earn the most money. You get the option of picking contracts that have recurring daily flights for a number of days, or to have to schedule and run a specific number of flights in a short number of days. Run the contracts right and $000's are yours!
As you can see, there is plenty of information about each flight, small aircraft must be allocated to a small stand and medium aircraft like the ATR72 must be allocated to a medium stand. As you add facilities like baggage and fueling then these will be allocated. What isn't in the game yet, certainly not as far as I have seen, is the large aircraft stands and large aircraft; we are probably talking like the 747's and Airbus Dreamliners of the world. Considering we have small and medium though, it would not surprise me if it is in the internal roadmap.
Servicing Your Commercial Aircraft
Once you have things rolling you have to consider servicing your aircraft. Right now you have to have ramp agents baggage loading and handling (requiring staff AND vehicles) and your check-in and boarding facilities. Hire the wrong number of staff, buy the wrong number of vehicles and the planes will get delayed. You don't want to delay planes, especially when you have another one blocking the taxiway wanting the stand!
When you are finally building your baggage routes you need to make sure they are well placed and enough for the number of commercial flights you want to fly. By now space is a premium, underground baggage belts can take bags from the check-in to the security scans to the baggage bay. Service trucks bring the bags off your planes, then
take the outgoing bags back to it think about things, go back to the vehicle depot then maybe come back out to take the new bags out to the plane.
So how do you keep your customers happy? You have to manage the customers arriving on commercial aircraft as well as those waiting to fly away on business, holiday or just for a trip to the mile-high club.
It does not matter whether you are landing Cessna or Jumbo Jets, someone will bring their luggage on board the plane. The first thing of course is to get the luggage from the aircraft to the customer as fast as you can. You don't know where they came from, it could be full of dodgy food, ancient Japanese artifacts or adult magazines.....
This is the baggage from one of my Twitch-streamed airports (at the time of writing we are on Airport #6) and it worked quite well; the
passeng customers have a dedicated egress from airside and out that door! Of course for the 'orrible lot who bring contraband to board a flight you have options for that as well; a range of simple to personalised scanners and baggage annihilators.
Airport CEO is Great.... but
Apoapsis Studios is still working on getting this game from Alpha to Beta. There are some issues that they are working on, they are very responsive to the call both on the Airport CEO forums and on the Airport CEO Twitter. They are a small team and release small patches every few days, but the patches are listening to the people playing and streaming the game. It is also worth noting that the team have left full-time careers to work on the game! That dedication does show in the increase in things being developed and bugged. They also take the time to acknowledge the people that are playing the game. Their DevLog blog posts often feature pictures of Airports uploaded to their forums and even admitting their flaws. They are using steam to upload their patch notes, so if you are still on the fence, take a look at what they are doing to make the game better.
I am not going to list all the little things that bug me; there are a few and I should expect there to be when I am playing the experimental Alpha builds. Aircraft sitting on top of each other can also be an issue, or maybe they are trying to join the Runway club and make baby Cessna. For an Early Access and Alpha-build game I am enjoying Airport CEO.
Is Airport CEO worth the £12 price tag?
It has promise, the developers look like they are dedicated to it. I would say, based on the current experimental build 23.3-4, to give it a month or two.
There have been some strange bugs that make no sense to me and I would wait to see how quickly they are ironed out. Yes it is a risk that it will never make it out of Early Access, but then so is PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds!
You can find Airport CEO on Steam.