Prepare for takeoff!
I genuinely love flying. I know that sounds weird considering how much of a chore it’s become, but often it’s one of the few opportunities I have anymore to be completely unrepentant about how I spend my time. In fact, I have a general routine — get to the airport about an hour or so early, check in, then sit down at a restaurant and order a nice drink while people-watching. While onboard, I bring out Taiko no Tatsujin for the Nintendo Switch and play a few rounds in-between whatever in-flight entertainment may be available, or simply zone out while the minutes slip by. As someone who constantly has something to do and deadlines aplenty, being forced to do absolutely nothing feels less like a boring prison and more like relaxing freedom.
This is the mindset I had going into Airplane Mode, and this is the one players will need to adopt if they’re going to get any real enjoyment out of this incredibly realistic commercial flight simulator.
Developed by Bacronym and published by AMC, Airplane Mode released on Steam on October 15, 2020 with an introductory price of $10.79 (typically $11.99). Touting “all the thrills of a real-time, six-hour commercial airline flight—in Coach,” Airplane Mode risked being glossed over any other year; in COVID-19’s wake, however, even the flight-averse may feel the urge to take to the skies after months of lockdown. In the very least, it’s safe to say that, while cruising altitude may be tens of thousands of feet in the air, the promises aren’t all that lofty — you should know exactly what you’re getting into when you read the words Airplane Mode, and it absolutely delivers.
Airplane Mode allows players to choose between a quick two-hour jaunt or a five and a half hour excursion (give or take some minutes) and then promptly places them at their window seat. Frequent fliers know what comes next — a flight attendant passes through the cabin to tell you to stow your bag and fasten your seatbelt in preparation for an in-flight video explaining where the emergency exits are, how to use a flotation device and oxygen masks, and all the regular boring stuff you probably already have memorized. After that, it’s time to taxi, followed by takeoff.
Once you’re in the air, how you spend your time is up to you. The in-flight entertainment features what I assume to be free-use movies and shows, including a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and some card games like solitaire and blackjack. There’s also a magazine with some interesting articles and puzzles, including a crossword and sudoku. There’s a sketchbook and chapter book in your carry-on bag, along with your phone and some headphones so you can quietly listen to some chill music or preloaded podcasts. To really immerse myself in the experience, I pulled out my Nintendo Switch and played a round or two of Taiko no Tatsujin, the loud hum of the airplane providing oddly comforting background noise.
Although Airplane Mode promises a bit of variety in the form of some turbulence or a crying baby from time to time, I’m happy to report my flight was perfectly smooth and downright relaxing. I played the crossword for the first time in years while watching our flightpath on the monitor. I treated myself to some red wine instead of just settling for sparkling water because WHY NOT, and, gratefully, my seat partner wasn’t the chatty type so I spent most of my time listening to relaxing music while casually entertaining myself. Other than feeling some slight pressure to finish the crossword puzzle before landing, Airplane Mode was a soothing experience that provided peace of mind for a couple hours.
That isn’t to say Airplane Mode didn’t have any flaws — I have no clue why Airplane Mode doesn’t have a pause button, for example, and that really frustrated me. Like I get you can’t eject yourself from a commercial flight at cruising altitude, but I had to cook dinner about 80% into my flight and it’s not like I can just tell my family to wait for me to pretend to land in Halifax. I pressed escape thinking that would pause it, but instead I came back to the flight attendant asking me to put my tray table up after we had already landed. Still wanting to finish my crossword puzzle, I decided to hop on the next flight back to JFK to see if I’d get the same one again; as it would turn out, the flight attendants don’t clean the cabins between flights, as my crossword puzzle was right where I left it. Yay?
Additionally, Airplane Mode also doesn’t feel quite finished. The scenery outside the plane feels bland and boring, which is a shame considering how looking out the window is one of the best parts of the entire experience. And while I get they could only utilize free-use movies and videos, they could have given us more than the four available. Same with the card games — planes I’ve been on have a bit more variety, and when the experience the game is simulating is already pretty underwhelming, it would have helped to beef up other areas for those of us who require a few more in-flight distractions. And can we get more flight paths and seating options? I’d love to be wined and dined in first class for once. It is a simulator, after all.
Moseying over to the Steam reviews for Airplane Mode suggests plenty of turbulence trying to launch the game, but I am happy to report I had no issue whatsoever. No crashing, no freezing, I was able to quit as needed and my PC didn’t sound like it was trying to take off itself. Just like my flight, performance was smooth sailing, so it’s entirely possible I’m either quite lucky or there’s a very responsive dev in the cockpit — a quick glance at the Steam discussion notes seems to indicate the latter. Perhaps there was a rocky launch for some, but from here on out, I’m hoping it’ll be clear skies for the rest of the passengers.
Despite the lack of variety in terms of in-flight entertainment, flight paths, and seating arrangements (I really hope there’s an update where we get to fly first class), I believe Airplane Mode is more of an art piece than anything when it comes to video games. A clunky music parallel that comes to mind is John Cage’s 4’33, where the composer argued that everything we do is music as he recorded the emergent, random sounds of the audience for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Airplane Mode asks players to spend two hours doing anything to occupy their time from point A to point B — even checking out to play another game on another console is acceptable — thereby challenging the way we think about games. If nothing else, it’s at least a true to life experience that really makes you feel cramped in coach.
Airplane Mode is the very definition of “you knew what you were getting yourself into.” It simulates a very mundane experience and captures the essence of commercial flight quite well. There might even be some benefit when applied in cognitive behavioral therapy to help people get over their fear of airplanes. As I stated before, I’m someone who loves flying because I’m allowed to unrepentantly waste time, but this isn’t going to be for everyone. I genuinely loved Airplane Mode and think it’s an art piece worth playing, and as long as you really love flying and have two to five consecutive hours to spare, it may be your complimentary cup of soda water.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: AMC; Developer: Bacronym; Players: 1; Released: October 15, 2020; MSRP: $11.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Airplane Mode given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.