Game Review - by James Allen
One of the most stressful jobs in human existence is that of an air traffic controller. With an ever-increasing number of airplanes flying to and fro through the great blue sky, this occupation bears even more responsibility than ever. There is nothing quite like turning a high stress job into a computer game, and that's what we have with ATC Simulator. Stressing the authenticity of the product, ATC Simulator simulates sitting down in front of the amber glowing box yourself, dictating the heading, altitude, and speed of any aircraft in your area. However, when a game comes without the CD in the box, it usually means trouble ahead. Will ATC Simulator follow this mediocre tradition, or live up to its flamboyant expectations?
ATC Simulator puts the user in front of the ARTS-IIIa radar terminal used at TRACONs around the US. Forty-seven different sectors are included, hitting the high points of airports in the United States. Each airport has eighteen scenarios (one for each hour of airport operation), and with the randomized wind option, all the scenarios add up to approximately 1700 hours of unrepeated gameplay. Where did all the time go?
You can play the simulation as the approach operator, departure operator, or both. Difficulty is built-in to the scenarios, as realistic traffic is included; if you would like an easier scenario, just pick one with fewer aircraft. The incoming and outgoing aircraft are very realistic. The actual airlines schedules are included, with the real flight numbers (some have changed) at the correct times. Thus, difficulty is not made just by the program alone, as you experience the actual traffic that is witnessed at the actual airports. Want to tackle 184 planes in one hour at New York's TRACON? Go right ahead, crazy person.
After the completion of each scenario, you are rated against the rules of the FAA, and given a percentage rating. You can be cited for separation, procedural, collision, or speed and clearance errors. You can even track your career, and earn advancement with a rating of 70% on each scenario. The performance rating assists you in correcting the wrongs in your feat, and career tracking adds yet another draw for ATC Simulator.
One of the most hyped features of ATC Simulator is the voice recognition support. And I have to say, I was quite surprised on how well it worked right out of the box. It takes a little bit of trial and error the find the correct phrases, but the benefits are worth it. It's a nice feeling when you tell Delta 1356 to descend and maintain 7,000 feet, and they do. Even appalling microphones (like mine) work fairly well. If anything, ATC Simulator will teach you to enunciate more clearly. The only feature that could be implemented is multiplayer, with one person serving as approach and another as departure. That'd be neat. Still, the features in ATC Simulator are everything you could realistically hope for.
The totality of sound in ATC Simulator is occasional beeping of the console, and the speech from the pilots in the form of digitized voices (part of the voice recognition engine). But, how many sounds do real air traffic control personnel hear? Let's see, the voice of the pilots. Any other sound they included in this simulation would be over the top, and unrealistic. In a simulation that strives for realism, sometimes the simple road is the most accurate.
It's been stressed before that ATC Simulator screams authenticity, and that's paralleled in the gameplay. Your task is to issue instructions to the pilots to afford clean and efficient landings and departures. Arriving aircraft are taken over from center, and can be issued new altitudes, speeds, and headings. Depending on which direction the wind is coming from, certain runways will be open at each airport. As the approach controller, you need to descend the aircraft to 2500 feet above ground level, line them up with the appropriate runway, and hand the aircraft over to the tower. This sounds easy, but when you have 10 or so aircraft vying for the same piece of real estate, it's not so simple. As departure controller, you must direct the aircraft up, up, and away toward the correct exit from your sector at an appropriate altitude. This seemingly simple gameplay is very easy to learn, but hard to master. You can experience the stress of controlling aircraft for yourself, without the added expense of dealing with real planes. ATC Simulator is very realistic and fun.
ATC Simulator accurately represents the screen that real life air traffic controllers use. The displays are adapted directly from video maps used in the real world. You will not find pretty accelerated graphics here, because they would be out of place for an accurate simulation such as this. The atmosphere of controlling large hunks of flying metal just by a radar screen is very precisely shown here.
If you've ever wanted to experience the life of an air traffic controller, ATC Simulator is your game. Everything about the game shows its attention to detail, and obsession to be tremendously realistic. And ATC Simulator delivers with the most realistic TRACON experience outside of the real thing. The game is recommended for everyone who has ever wanted to push some tin.