Air Traffic Controller Games Round-up

How would I define the magic of an ATC sim? Well, it’s the one simulator which can nearly perfectly recreate the actual experience it is trying to simulate. Being a controller involves sitting in a room, staring at a bunch of blips on the screen, and making them move around. So does playing an ATC sim. I would imagine a perfect ATC sim would make it impossible to tell if you were actually doing it or not, other than the screams of doomed passengers as they plummet to the ground in a fiery ball. More than that, though, the magic is that it’s kind of like slow-motion, three-dimensional Asteroids. And who wouldn’t want to play that?

Now, let’s take a look at the contenders.

Endless ATC

For a free Android app (and a $3 PC game), this gets so much right that many of the other “more sophisticated” (and expensive) sims get wrong that it’s kind of embarrassing to the other sims. It is definitely a “game”, as planes just keep coming, more and more, until you can’t handle it, and the more planes you can handle, the higher your score. That’s it. You can “cap” your score to keep traffic from increasing, but by that time you’ve probably had enough anyway. It’s terrible easy to use, perfectly suited for a tablet/phone, and just does the whole “line ’em up like a string of pearls” stress-fest about as cleanly and well as possible. If I was going to introduce someone to the genre, I would definitely, without question, tell them to start here. The PC version is slightly superior, but they’re both just fine. Score: 8



ATC-SIM

This is a web-based sim, free to play, but $20 gives you a “lifetime registration” which offers a bunch more airports to control, and you can get your name on the high score list for each airport. It requires that you be both the tower and the app/dep controller, which is not realistic, but the game is simple enough that the full documentation is in a little iframe on the website, so if you removed that, it’d be almost too simple to play. Commands are entered with the keyboard. It works. It gives another good taste of the genre for those new to it, and would be my second choice for the newbie, behind Endless. And you can’t beat the price. Theoretically he’s working on version 2, but it’s at least two years late, so I doubt it will happen. Score: 6


Global ATC Simulator

Here’s the only one you can buy on Steam. It’s main draw is that it contains virtually every airport in the world, complete with published approach/departure procedures. Except a lot of them are wrong, and unclear how to use anyway. Also, while there is a “rush hour” mode where traffic ramps up until you kill someone, the standard mode just goes until you press Quit, and doesn’t keep track of any of your history or anything, so you kind of have to make your own goals. It features realistic terrain, and has some other nice features, but is also fairly buggy, and as with most of these goddamn things, support is indistinguishable from nonexistent. I don’t dislike it, but it doesn’t really do anything GREAT (other than provide all those airports), so there’s not a huge draw for me. Plus it’s $35, which is more expensive than most of these things. Score: 5


ATC4Real

This one is pretty solid, as far as it goes. It does not offer anything like ILS approaches (which, for instance, is all that Endless ATC offers) and has something like a career mode where the more shifts you put in, the more options open up to you for future shifts. The problem is, the first two or three shifts are ridiculously dull, and last 45 minutes, so it can be almost a two hour grind to get to the good stuff, and that’s for each airport. The base game is free and comes with a couple airports, but you can buy $6 bundles that have about three more each. But you have to do that grind on all of ’em. My patience ran out quickly. It’s not complex, but it pretty much works (another rarity), so hey, free, try it out, the fuck do I care? Score: 6


Radar Chaos Hawaii Edition

While looking the most “gamey” of all of them (you’re limited to tablet-sized resolution, little cartoon characters pop up when you do something good or bad, etc.) it’s probably more realistic than any of the previous entries. It is the first one I’ve listed, for instance, where you are required to hand off departures to center. Now, that consists of a mouse-click, instead of telling the pilot which facility and radio frequency to contact, but having to remember to hand off planes is one of the challenges of these sims, so having it in there is appreciated. And there are even (a few) arrival/departure routes. Not realistic ones, but they’re there. So, there’s a lot here, it’s just simplified for the gaming crowd, but it’s good fun. It’s also $10. But you get four Hawaiian islands to play with. I think back fondly on my time with RCHE. Score: 7


ATCSimulator2

For many, many years, this was by far the most realistic simulator available. It’s still in the top three. It’s very old and outdated now, and a pain to use, and still RIFE with fucking bugs, but the main thing I think about when I think about ATCSimulator2 is what a fucking nasty, grumpy, hostile dickhead the developer is. I hadn’t thought about the game for a few years, but for this article I wanted to refresh my memory, so I tried to download it again. My download links from when I bought it the last time (I’ve bought it TWICE over the years, because dickhead only allows you to install on a couple computers before he demands you re-buy it) don’t work, so I sent him a question about getting a new download. My hopes that he’d softened over the years were quickly dashed. Here was his reply to me, a customer who has bought his overpriced ($45 now, was more before) pile of bugs TWICE:


Download access is only granted for a 7 day period once you order. If you your receipt is from 2012, that was 4 years ago. You are required to make a backup of the download file. But as of right now, downloads have been suspended. I am in the middle of the next update, which is a few weeks to a month away. It will be free to existing 3.5.0 users.

I know it was from four years ago, DICK. Jesus, this guy. Thankfully, this is no longer at the top of the heap, so I can issue a final FUCK YOU to this douche. Score: MINUS TEN BILLION


Tracon! 2012

Jesus. Well, this was the first one I ever played where I got voice recognition working, and really, if you get into these sims, VR is a must. It is just a fucking blast frantically rattling out descend, climb, runway clearances, radio handoffs, etc, while the little blips trot across the screen, hopefully not crashing into a mountain (NOTE: as realistic as this one is, terrain is, amazingly, not modeled, so you can fly everyone around in Vegas 1000 feet under the ground.) It is bugged as fuck, though, and the devs have basically abandoned it to move onto their next ATC Tower simulator. And of course, see the other thread for my tribulations and hysteria with the editor. Still, though, if you are looking for prime realism, and cannot afford ATC Pro (see below), it can be had for about $15-$20, and does stuff none of the others (except ATC Pro) can do. Feelings: MIXED. Score: 3 for customer satisfaction, 8 for realism.


ATC Pro

The only thing that sucks about this one is their SEO. You can Google “ATC Simulator” for days and never find their website. That’s why I wasted all my time with the above pieces of shit. This one not only does everything right that the others don’t, it also does way more stuff. It’s $60. If you are interested in the topic, though, there is no other choice. I was bitching about picking game genres that have no real “great” entry. I was wrong. This is great. I’ll talk more about it in a separate thread, if anyone’s interested, which they are not. Score: 10, and thank flaming, crusty Jesus on a cannoli for that.

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