A few months ago there was a show on TV which took a look at the job of air traffic controller. You may think this sounds a little dull but it proved an excellent insight into the world of aircraft and airports. You will probably never find a job quite as stressful, the pressure these guys were under was unbelievable.This week Shrapnel Games sent over a title called Air Command 3.0, something I hadn’t heard a great deal about. After reading some info on the Shrapnel Games website the game was duly installed and I prepared to become super-stressed and lose my rag very quickly trying to organise the skies above some of the busiest airports in the world.
Air Command 3.0 is a simple game in concept and you only have one screen in the game, the radar screen. The game is divided into difficulty levels, the harder the level the more aircraft you have to oversee and the longer your shift at air traffic control. When the game starts a few aircraft start to appear on the screen and it is your job to check their ‘schedule’ and look for their VOS points. A VOS is the point where you need to guide the aircraft to so it can be handed over to another controller. The only job you have is making sure the aircraft reaches that point safely.Sounds simple. Well, trust me it’s not.
As each game progresses more and more aircraft start to appear and there’s a catch. For an aircraft to be handed over to the next controller it must reach one of the numerous VOS points at an altitude of 10,000 feet. It is your job to make sure the aircraft is heading in the right direction and that it will reach that point at the correct altitude. Get the altitude wrong and ‘BAM!’, you could have a nasty collision on your hands which means game over.Once you master the art of getting the aircraft to the correct locations, at the right altitude and speed you also have the job of making sure aircraft take off on time.
The game interface is very straight forward. In the right panel next to the radar are the pilot’s requests and information, it’s up to you to authorise any take-off requests and make sure there is enough time and airspace to do it. Some of the airports are pretty hard, New York is particularly treacherous with its many airports and heavy traffic making it a real challenge. It’s times like this you can feel yourself losing the plot, eyes darting all over the screen as you try to ensure the safe passage of hundreds of passengers. You do of course have audio communication by way of radio with the pilots and definitely helps a lot.If you can’t find the aircraft on the radar, it’s not always easy, there are hazards like cloud cover that block signals, you can click the tab on the right hand column next to the aircraft to select it and issue further instructions. Without this ability the game would be practically impossible as it does get pretty frantic.
The more aircraft you direct successfully the higher the score. Should you cause a near miss or miss a VOS then points are deducted. It’s a simple idea, score as many points as possible in your air traffic control shift.Air Command 3 is nothing special in the graphics department, it doesn’t really need to be. The game has 2 modes 1024×768 and 800×600 depending on your preference and also comes with its own built in ‘boss key’, you know, the one you whack frantically when the CEO walks into the room and you pretend to be working on the latest company figures. Neither is the music much to get excited about and becomes irritating but thankfully you can opt to mute this. The radio chatter is a nice touch and keeps you on your toes at all times.
This is a game you could fire up at work to pass 30 minutes or so much like old favourites Tetris and Hearts, just make sure that sound is off, hearing TW385 announce “What the h** are they doing down there” could be rather embarrassing.If you get tired of the same old airports you can always investigate the editor and start creating your own scenarios. To make everything authentic, hit the net and find out as much info on the airspace of your choice. The editor is very easy to use and will add some longevity to the game.There is a certain amount of satisfaction controlling the skies, sending instructions, getting aircraft to change altitude, controlling the runways and landings. Air Command 3.0 is probably a game that you will come back to periodically to pass some time but it won’t keep you hooked for long sittings.
If you have any interest in air traffic control as a career then I could see this giving you a good preview of how you’ll be spending your days. For the rest of us, the game is a lot of fun and certainly something a bit different. If this sort of thing gets you excited the price tag of around £20.00 is pretty good. You can order a copy from the Shrapnel Games website.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.