Remember flying? AMC does. And now you might too.
There’s something bizarre and strange and enjoyable to me about being on a flight. Maybe it’s that I know I’m going somewhere, but I don’t actually have to do anything to get there. I can relax and do my own thing, away from work and obligations, for several hours at a time. I’m in my own world, controlling my own time, the master of my own (limited) space. I know some people hate flying, but not me. My last flight was at the very beginning of March, coming back from Florida just before everything hit the fan. I’ve survived mostly on foot or bike for locomotion, with a few car trips here and there, but have been itching to travel somewhere, anywhere.
AMC Games’ Airplane Mode might seem like the most mundane idea, but it captures that mundanity so accurately that it fills that hole in my travel-deprived heart. We can’t go anywhere right now, but what if we could at least get the experience of going somewhere, good and bad? The game lets us take either a short flight from JFK (to Halifax) or across the Atlantic, and simulates every aspect of the trip. Short flights are a couple of hours, so that’s how long the game will last. Crossing the ocean? Several hours more.
I started off with the shorter trip, akin to something I would take from Detroit to Boston for PAX East.
I treated the experience like I normally would a flight, and it was surprisingly comforting. I nested. I buckled myself in, and fiddled with my phone before take-off. I reclined, I looked awkwardly at the passenger a couple of seats over, I scanned the other passengers to get a lay of the land. I even read the complimentary Stratosphere magazine. I plugged in my headphones, turned on the in flight entertainment (IFE) on the seatback in front of me and watched one of the (public domain) films in the background while I read a little bit of the book I had in my bag. At some point I scrolled through the cat pictures on my cell phone.
The experience was exactly what I remember of flying, and became even more so bizarre and accurate when I started breaking the fourth wall between game and real life.
I put the book away in-game, but while I had the experience running I started playing Hades on my actual Switch, delicately balancing real life gaming with an experience I was actually “playing”. Though I played on the Switch with my headphones on, I cranked up my laptop’s speakers to hear the airplane noises, popping my head up if I heard anything over the PA system, or if I wanted to look out of the window to see where in the world we were flying over. The passenger seated a couple seats down from me was quiet the whole time, watching a movie on her own IFE.
The table where my gaming laptop is set up is up against a corner, so I was actually able to lean onto the wall a bit as I played, echoing how I’d lean up against the window of the plane (I always get a window seat) and resulting in a terrifyingly realistic ordeal.
And… I loved it?
The game incorporates a ton of details of a typical flight. The sights and sounds are all here, from the overhead air blasting too much, the people unzipping and zipping bags, the captain giving semi-regular updates, the grinding of wheels, the chime when a call button is pressed. Because each flight is a randomized series of events, the passengers and moments change every time. I didn’t experience any turbulence, for instance, but there was definitely a really loud kid a couple of rows up. Visually, it’s nothing to get excited about — people are stiff, you can’t really zoom into anything for a better view — but in the rare occasion it’s fine here. I don’t need this to look good, I just need this to feel right.
The controls are a little difficult to get used to, and don’t always seem obvious as to how to interact with something. “Do I need to tap on a screen, or drag and scroll?” In fact, the janky-ass IFE on the seatback is perfectly copied from the horrible ones on a plane (right down to the deployable remote). The buttons don’t always work, the touch screen isn’t accurate, and the menu design is all over the place. I can’t tell if it’s bad coding in the game, or intentionally meant to feel like bad design, but that adds to the authenticity of the experience even more.
This isn’t going to be the kind of game someone will want to play by sitting in front of a screen to “win.” Instead, Airplane Mode is a dumb, albeit strangely cathartic and comforting experience. I’ve been on enough flights where the atmosphere and process feel like white noise now, and perhaps that’s what Airplane Mode should be treated as. I’ll likely play it again, perhaps letting it run in the background during my normal work day instead of a typical podcast or Spotify playlist alone.
Really, the only things missing are the farts from other passengers and a final destination to a warmer place. I’ll turn up the thermostat and wear shorts while I wait to travel again.
This review is based on a Steam copy of the game sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.