Tornado. (computer combat flight simulation) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
The old infantry maxim, don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes, could easily apply to pilots of the Tornado, Britian's premier low-level figther/bomber. Words can't describe the rush you'll feel clipping tree-tops at 600 knots or leading a six-plane intediction strike to carpet-bomb a weapons factory at 400 feet. Spectrum HoloByte captures all the strategic nuances and white-knuckle, in-your-face action of this sweep-wing dynamo with Tornado, one of the most polished combat flight simulations of recent years.
Designed by Britian's Digital Integration, creator of Electronic Arts' F-16 Combat Pilot, the simulation successfully targets beginning, intermediate, and advanced combat pilots. The sim is the first to spotlight the Panavia Tornado, a recent star of Operation Desert Storm, in both its GR4 Interdictor/Strike (IDS) and F3 Air Defense Variant (ADV). As the plane is best known for its deadly efficient air-to-ground strikes, the game focuses primarily on the IDS.
The program's extensive group simulator and training missions provide an exceptional introduction to all major flight control, navigational, and weapons systems, as well as in-depth mission planning. In fact, the game's thoughtfully designed simulation mode and training exercises are what truly separate this product from it competitors. While other sims merely jettison you into crippled versions of actual missions or into unstructured free flight. Torando offers a self-paced, comprehensive program right out of RAF flight school. Here you'll learn everything from lof-bombing ane foul-weather landings to using group-radar targeting and coordianted multicraft group strikes.
The game's Super VGA preflight interface is striking. Depending upon your rank, the Mission Planning screen allows you to plot strategies, gather intelligence data, pin-point targets, study mission briefings, draw flight plans (way points and air patrols), verify payloads, and veiw weather maps. One particularly interesting feature provides a 3-D, vitural-reality view of any area of the map via a remote-control camera. Explore objects at close range or rocket cross-country at 800 knots. Sure, it's pure fantasy, but a lot of fun.
The selection of game options is huge, offering ground simulations (20 missions), hands-on training (10 missions), single-player missions (60, divided among three different war zones), multimission campaigns (six, on two skill levels), and Commander mode (three full-scale situations, with complex military and political strategies). There's even a two-palyer dogfight option, requring either full or remote modem links, supporting up to 14.4-kbps serial connections.
Limited external view choices during air-to-air dogfighting make it difficult to achieve visual sightings, even at close range. Remember that you're strapped into a heavy bomber, not a nimble fighter, so don't expect to win many dogfights. The best defense is to simply hug the terrain and avoid enemy radar.
The game's biggest fault is the needless complexity of the in-flight keyboard controls. A double-sided, foldout reference card is provided, but referencing it during the heat of battle is an awkward task. The key assignments aren't that difficult to learn, but they're burdened with finger-cramping combinations of Alt, Ctrl, and Shift keys. A keyboard overlay would help tremendously.
In-flight graphics are strictly state-to-the-air, featuring excellent bitmapped cockpit displays, especially the rear-seat weapons and navigational controls. Outside graphics are solid-fill polygons--nothing fancy, just clean and fast. The game performs well on any 386 PC, and it screams on a 486. All aircraft, ground vehicles, and weapons systems are described in detail in the superb 332-page flight manual.
Veteran air-combat fans will no doubt find fault with the simulation's slightly simplified flight model. However, the aircraft's unique design and specialized combat role should attract even the most jaded air warriors. Those new to the genre will find Tornado a combat sim they can grow into, not out of, with a nearly flawless learning curve and significant long-term challenges.