Tornado (AGA) (Second Review)


Title	     	Tornado (AGA) (OCS version also released) (Second Review)
Game Type	Flight Sim
Players		1 (2 via serial link)
Compatibility	All AGA Amigas with hard disk
Company	     	Digital Integration
HD Installable	Compulsory
Submission     	Seppo Typpö (groucho@pp.inet.fi) Profiled Reviewer

Back in 1989 Digital Integration (DI) released F16 Combat Pilot -  one of
the finest Amiga flight simulations ever. It pioneered some features which
nowadays could be seen as obligatory in a good flight sim - dynamic
campaign, mission planning for multiple fighters and strategic flight
command mode. While being overshadowed in public by the more glamorous
looking Falcon it offered unmatched depth of gameplay to serious flight
sim players.

With this background DI's next release, Tornado, was eagerly awaited. The
ECS version of this game was released first, followed by AGA version which
was the first Amiga flight sim to fully utilise 256-colour AGA graphics.
This review concentrates on the AGA version although most of the applause
and criticism applies to both versions.

Tornado is - like the name reveals - a very detailed flight simulation of
the Panavia Tornado, the first real 'eurofighter'. The player can choose
between two variants of the plane, GR.4 (Interdictor/Strike) and F.3 (Air
Defence Variant). Depending on the chosen plane, air-to-ground or
air-to-air missions can be flown in either simulator, training or real
combat mission conditions.

The game comes on five DD disks and a thick 332 page manual. Keyboard
controls extend to well over 100 different key combinations - this is one
heavy duty simulation indeed! It must be installed to hard disk before
play - so floppy only systems will have to pass or get a hard disk if they
want to play this simulation.

After installation and starting the sim it becomes clear that Tornado is
one of the most configurable flight sims on Amiga - the graphics can be
tailored to allow the game to run at acceptable speeds even on 020 Amigas
with fast RAM. Various parameters can be altered, allowing the player to
choose whether he (or she) wants to go for a more arcade-like setup
(unlimited weapons, no crashing) or try the real thing with a realistic
flight model. Be warned though, even on the simplest settings this
simulation remains very difficult to play - there's still the full set of
controls to learn, meaning it takes serious studying to even get the plane
properly off the ground.

Tornado offers a fixed set of missions in three different categories.
'Simulator' missions allow players to safely learn the flying and fighting
abilities and also to fly some unique 'special missions' in which various
emergency procedures (caused by engine failure or sweep wing problems) can
be practiced. The helpful manual even describes how to set up conditions
which cause a spin and then how to recover from it - thorough stuff indeed!

'Training' missions have realistic flying conditions (killing your pilot
is possible here) while 'Combat' missions add live and active enemies for
the player to worry about. The missions in each war zone can be completed
in any order while campaign missions are pre-planned and must be completed
in coorect order to achieve a victory.

A two player link up option via serial cable is provided to those who are
willing to match their skills with human opponents. Sadly the 'Command'
options (which was one of the strongest parts in F16 Combat Pilot) has
been omitted from Amiga versions of Tornado which removes the ultimate
experience in multi-plane missions and campaigns.

                             *  *  *

Flying Tornado is quite different when compared to other Amiga flight
sims. The plane possesses a multitude of autopilot options which allow the
in-flight computer to fly the aircraft through navpoints with almost no
human assistance (look Ma, no hands!). While this sounds boring it is
sometimes useful to let the autopilot do the flying while the player
concentrates on more important business - like painting the primary
target with the onboard laser guidance system for the smart bombs.

The most thrilling aspect in flying Tornado is to drop below 200 feet and
fly manually at high speeds. A steady hand and delicate grip on the stick
is needed, so the selected control method plays an important part in
successful stunt flying. The plane can be controlled by mouse, keyboard or
joystick but only the analog joystick gives a smooth and accurate response
and therefore comes recommended as the only viable control device for the
serious Tornado player.

Being a combat flight simulation, one essential part of the game that
the player has to master is weapon handling. The weapon systems of a
Tornado is highly advanced (and complicated) and allows some very
interesting bombing tactics (like LOFT aka toss bombing which allows
the player to 'lob' the bombs to targets over a safe distance). There's
again lot to learn as each weapon has its own firing method - this
challenge makes succesful attacks on the targets ever more satisfying.

The graphics are worth their own song. Until TFX arrived there was nothing
to match to the lovely graduated sky and fogging effects Tornado offers.
The detail level in the planes and especially in the battlefield objects
is impeccable - the game offers a special 'Explore' option just to allow
player to visit and admire different detailed locations like train
stations, oil refineries (complete with railings on oil tanks and on
refinery towers!) and cities. DI chose not to use texture mapping on their
3D engine (unlike most PC sims at that time) but partly because the
detailed graphics are exactly the same in the PC version and still run
at acceptable speed even on a moderately accelerated Amiga.

Speaking of speed - I would not recommend this game to be played on
anything less than 25 MHz 68030 with fast RAM. A high powered Amiga is
needed if player wants to keep graphic detail up on missions and still
have an acceptable frame rate - even on a 68040 equipped machine Tornado
is not exactly smooth - some fiddling with detail levels is still needed
to prevent slowdown when lots of objecs are on screen. The sim seems to
be programmed with slower machines in mind which means it does not benefit
from extra processor power as much as it should. Unfortunately DI left
the Amiga market soon after Tornado AGA was released, so there's very
little chance of a more optimised version for faster processors.

Mastering the deadly art of flying and fighting ultimately is the highest
reward this flight sim offers. All the completed missions are recorded
into the pilot log - as are the flying hours, various target 'kills' and
promotions. Sadly the finest award through promotion (commanding a flight)
is not on the list for Amiga pilots.

The overall difficulty curve is quite steep meaning lots of frustration to
novice pilots - you'll need the patience of Job to learn even the basic
tricks. Like I said earlier in this review Tornado offers several handy
autopilot modes which practically fly the plane itself, but ultimately
the player wants to 'shave the hills' and deliver weapons manually and
succeeding in that takes lots of time and practise.

                             *  *  *

For such a high calibre flight simulation, Tornado AGA does have some sad
shortcomings. The biggest minus is down to DI itself. The Amiga version of
the sim was designed to run on unexpanded AGA Amigas (with only 2 Mb of
memory). Because of this memory restriction not only the command option
but also the highly sophisticated mission planner was dropped from the
Amiga version.

The irritating fact of the matter is that at least some fast RAM expansion
is needed to allow the game to run at any speed - which would have allowed
players with uppgraded machines to have memory for the mission planner
too. Now all that is left is the set of fixed missions (even on campaigns)
which considerably shortens the sim's long term interest.

The missions themselves are interesting but limited - the player has no
means to plan his own - maybe better - route to the targets. As part of
the fun of flying a combat mission is to be able to plan it this 'fixed
approach' makes things very frustrating. The accompanying maps are too
simple and obscure to assist in-flight navigation so the player has to
stick with the existing (fixed) navpoints if he (or she) wants to find the
targets. This (and the absense of the mission planner)  removes any chance
of trying different variations of approach and attack tactics on a
mission. It also takes the best aspect away from the campaigns - making
them just a set of loosely connected missions with no apparent effect on
the ongoing battle.

The artificial intelligence of the computer opponents (and even
computer-controlled wingmen) is also a bit suspicious. The enemy fighters
have no qualms about performing kamikaze attacks against the player's
plane and frequently the dogfights end up in a mid-air collision; the
enemy planes unable to anticipate even basic dogfight manoeuvres such as
the high-G scissors turn.

The wingmen seems to fly a very fixed route with no apparent awareness of
their surroundings or ability to react to the events around them - even
the player's plane seems to be invisible to them as they quite easily
collide with it if the player is not careful when flying close to them.
This is easily demonstrated during multi-plane landings where the computer
planes quite happily ram the player's plane if he (or she) is somehow
unable to stay tightly 'in formation'.

                             *  *  *

Even with all these faults, Tornado AGA is still an excellent flight
simulation. With its realistic flight model it offers hours of
entertainment even before the player starts to learn the combat side of
the sim. Even the novice pilot is able to get 'into action' provided he
(or she) is willing to invest enought time in mastering the complicated
controls and flying techniques.

In this sim learning to fly and fight is half of the fun - the excellent
manual combined with the highly configurable environment allow the player
to gently introduce himself to new aspects of the game instead of being
thrown straight in at the deep end. Using these new skills successfully on
a combat mission gives the player a feeling of satisfaction very few Amiga
flight sims can offer.

Tornado AGA looks gorgeous with its semi-undulated terrain and in that
sense beats its ancestor F16 Combat Pilot, but the latter offers the
features (mission planning, flight command option) which could have made
Tornado the undisputed king of Amiga flight sims. Like the excellent
JetPilot from Vulcan, it offers a level of realism which puts many
so-called 'flight sims' to shame. Infact, it could be said that Tornado
AGA put the word 'flight' back into Amiga flight sims.

                             *  *  *

A final word of warning. If you have a towered Amiga model with a keyboard
adaptor which does not always correctly interprete simultaneous key
presses (like I have) then playing Tornado might not be possible. The
keyboard controls require lots of key combinations (like ctrl-c,
alt-return etc.). Some vital functions (like ejecting from the plane or
even ending the mission) are tied into these combinations. A poor keyboard
adaptor might make these commands virtually impossible to execute, ruining
the whole game.

IF YOU LIKE TORNADO ALSO CHECK OUT (reviews in AGDB):

- JetPilot from Vulcan Software. Ultra realistic, ultra hard flight sim.
  Sometimes makes even Tornado look like kindergarten stuff ;)
- F16 Combat Pilot from DI. Ancestor to Tornado, old but versatile
  simulation with very strong strategic elements (flight command,
  interactive campaigns)
- B17 Flying Fortress. Possibly MicroProse's finest hour. A very realistic
  flight/crew simulation of the famous WWII bomber
- F/A-18 Interceptor from Electronic Arts. Despite the simple controls
  it offers one of the best flight models on Amiga flight sims.






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