YS announces the last call for flight TLL. Your captains are Ross Holman and Dave Nicholls. We hope you have a smooth flight...
Imagine you're in a swing-wing fighter bomber on a training mission to seek out and destroy enemy targets around an air base. That's right, if you've ever fancied being a Tornado pilot, now's your chance to start training.
The aim of Tornado Low Level (TLL) is to swoop in low over the 'enemy targets' (seen to you as ground markers) and destroy them. Sounds pretty easy, eh? But think again, because your eyes and hands have to work overtime making sure you're on target, at the right height, and that you're not going to hit any of the many hazardous objects which have an annoying habit of getting in your way.
FLIGHT OF FANCY
TLL doesn't go for the in-flight realism of Fighter Pilot, but rather it's a cross between an arcade game and a simulation. Whichever category it falls into there's no denying that it's graphically superb. Author Costa Panayi has carried on developing the graphic techniques he used in Android 2; now, with new heights of perfection, you'll find the area of land over which you fly is simulated in incredible detail.
An isometric perspective is used to depict the scenery - the player seeing only a part at any one time. We look down on a landscape of trees, buildings and cliffs which plunge into large areas of water... and the plane is superimposed over them. Clever use of colour - normal and bright - gives the buildings, walls and cliffs a feeling of width, depth and height. The view below scrolls continuously as you fly, wrapping around in all directions; cursor control has been used, presumably to alleviate attribute corruption problems and maintain speed.
And there's more, for not only can your plane bank in either direction, but it can also climb and dive. You don't so much fly over the landscape as through it. The best visual clue to your height is the shadow of your plane on the ground - which behaves very realistically, climbing walls and passing over roofs as you jet over them.
TLL is a slickly-presented piece of software; it's both nicely packaged and offers reasonable instruction options from loading. One minor irritation is that it only caters for keyboard and Interface 2 control, and violently objects to Kempstons and some other peripherals. Vortex reminds everyone to remove these, not on the cassette sleeve but (rather irritatingly) by interrupting loading and sticking up a suitable message.
The instructions are brief and to the point - you're given your mission and a rundown of the instruments. Start the game and for a few seconds you'll see a complete map of the playing area, showing the runway and five flashing blocks that indicate the positions of the targets. The view cuts to the main screen where a region of 22 by 23 cursors act as your window on to the world. Offset to the right are the instruments. Top right is the radar which actually shows a larger area than you'll see through the playing window; here any targets will appear as single pixels. The area currently under surveillance is depicted by a bright square and the whole region scrolls in unison with the main map. Below the radar is an altimeter which shows height above ground level, and completing the gadgetry line-up there's a fuel guage, 'targets destroyed' counter, and current and high scores.
Controlling the plane is simple - just up, down, left and right, plus another key that doubles as a take-off and swinging wings control. The 'M' key can be used to re-examine the map showing your targets, but only while you're sitting on the runway. Pressing a swing-wing key and 'P' together will abort the current game.
To begin with your plane sits at the end of the runway waiting for take-off. Power on and, as it starts to accelerate down the runway, you'll hear the roar of the engines (simulated by a fairly standard beep) which changes in pitch to indicate that you've reached take-off speed and it's time to leave terra firma. Once in the air, you'll delight in your new-found freedom - climbing, banking and diving; in fact, the plane will only line up on 45 degree bearings, though it animates through 16 phases in rotating through 360 degrees. The keyboard response is very good, allowing the fighter to turn in comically tight circles; it may not be realistic, but it's necessary if you want to avoid the obstacles. Pixel by pixel height adjustment allows you to skim at zero feet above the ground - if you dare!
For a while, I was quite happy to just get a feel for the controls and learn how to judge the height of buildings; then I got a bit more adventurous and swung the wings back. This makes things move much more quickly and, although the plane is just as manoeuvrable, your fuel tank runs dry in what seems like no time. The sensation of flying in three dimensions is even more incredible and the shadow thrown by your plane dramatically adds to the visual impact. This really is a very clever piece of programming - disappearing behind buildings, breaking up over trees and dropping down to. appear on the water surface as you go over cliffs.
WHAT GOES UP...
Once you've marvelled at all these wonderful effects and discovered (the hard way) the height at which you can skim the rooftops or dive under the power cables, it's time to try a mission proper. Here's how my first sortie went.
Having first mentally noted the positions of most of the targets I set off down the runway - tally ho! Pulling back on the stick, I took off, made a sharp bank right over the pylons and saw an enemy target at one o'clock. I needed some practise at swooping in low, circling and lining up on target... finally, I got it right, and my great achievement was marked by an appropriate explosive sound effect. You really do have to be low to destroy them, and the lower you get the more points you score. The targets on level one stay in much the same place each time and gradually I discovered the best way of approaching each of them.
If you begin to run short of fuel - or can't find one of the targets - then you'll need to land; you automatically get refuelled and, of course, you can use 'M' to look at the map again. Landing is tricky and requires some practise. Rule one is never try and land (or take off for that matter) with the wings swept back or you'll crash for sure. Secondly, line your shadow up with the centre of the runway; because of the wrap-around effect, you'll re-appear before in the starting position if you carry on. Don't forget though that precious time is ticking away - so don't hang about, you've got five targets to destroy before you can return to base successfully.
As you get more proficient and progress to new levels, the targets are laid in more difficult positions - near trees or even on the water (which demands some rapid manipulation of the controls). By level four it starts to get really tough, and route planning is necessary if you're to get anywhere near the target. In one instance, you have to fly low over a large lake, zoom under a bridge, bank sharp left between the coast and a small island - and there, at close hand, is the objective. For later levels, targets are placed under pylons, closer to trees and houses, and even in narrow channels between cliffs; for some reason, it all gets easier after level eight or nine. Last thing, beware the objects that you can't fly over... a tower and some tall thin poles are strategically placed to catch the unwary.
TLL not only shows that British software leads the world in quality and innovation, it's also a salutory lesson on just what can be done on the not-so-humble Spectrum.
A terrain hugging mission in which you control a swing-wing fighter bomber charged with obliterating enemy ground targets. Shadow graphics are what make this game. The screen picture shows an aerial view of the craft below you moving across the terrain. This is the viewpoint that, in reality, would probably be shared by defence aircraft carrying the look-down radar tat would aid in the destruction of a Tornado engaged in such a fool-hardy low-level penetration mission.
Nevertheless, this is a tough exercise in co-ordination and judgment, even though there are no ground defences or enemy aircraft to obstruct you in your mission. First, you must fuel up. Then you scoot off the runway - it is possible to land and refuel at any time so you can prolong the action for as long as you wish.
By pressing the fire-button it is possible to sweep your wings back for supersonic speed. When attacking targets, which appear as small circles with a central dot, all you have to do is descend to the right altitude, make a low pass directly over the target zone and it will be destroyed automatically. Not as easy as it sounds; you must watch out for power-pylons, trees, houses and other assorted ground clutter which traditionally do little to enhance the aerodynamic qualities of an aeroplane flown directly into them. Program options include advance warning radar and landscape map; there is also a keyboard or joystick option. The multi-screen wrap around landscape is vast. Challenging, but in view of the lack of defences, to be viewed more as an acrobatic exercise, Excellent graphics and it would make sense for Vortex to imporvise on this theme in future programs. Perhaps they should join the helicopter craze!
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