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If we were to ask you which flight simulation front end has had you most impressed in the past year, your answer would probably be either Spectrum Holobyte's Falcon 3 or the quite recent Domark's AV8B Harrier. And we wouldn't disagree. What we would do. however, would be to tell you that as far as we can make out both of these front ends are about to have a giant one finger salute made in their general direction.
It sounds a bit twatty really, doesn't it getting so worked up about a map... but the point is that if the planning stages of a flight sim are of a high enough quality then you get more out of the game when you're in the air. Real flight sim fiends - after spending the obligatory nine hours flying upside down between buildings and seeing whether or not they can eject onto the bonnet of a jeep - will eventually take the manual to the toilet, digest it while having a good hearty dump, and then get stuck into all the tactical stuff that's the lifeblood of an enjoyable campaign. And this, as we all know, involves The Map. You have to be able to zoom in. You have to be able to zoom out. You have to be able to click on things and yove to have a little compass (because it looks pretty). But what else do you need? Digital Integration have been thinkin about this question and have come up with a very comprehensive answer: "You need everything".
Everything? So what does that entail?
When playing Tornado at its highest level, you rcalw are in complete control. We've watched Operation Desert Storm and the subsequent skirmishes on the telly and ever since then we've wanted tip do it ourselves We've want d to be our wry own boys'... noi poncing falcon piloyga but stiff upper lip Tornado chaps. We've wanted to go on Tong and gruelling low level bombing missions. War wanted to take out a baby-milk factory. And more importantly we've wanted to organise the whole shooting match, not leave it in the hands of some fat redneck. And now we can at least we will be able to in about a month (and by the way, the scenery packed, hilly, green landscape of Tornado is far more attractive than the poxy desert sands of Iraq). But that's next month. For now, here's an idea of what'll be available to you before you even take to the sky...
The map as you first find it... or most of the map, anyway (you can scroll it up and down to reveal tht hidden bits). "What's so brilliant about this?" you may be thinking. Well, we've only just begun, so not a great deal is stunningly brilliant at the moment - but it looks nice all the same, doesn't id It's got a character all of its own. All those neat thin lines. That 'businesslike' menu down the side. Face it... if this map was a dog. you'd be totally cacking yourself.
Aha! Now it's looking even meaner. Those lines, those lines, those contour lines. This is ordnance survey stuff with knobs on. and it's all so much bigger and scarier here on Zoom Three. Zoom One wasn't half as impressive... all you could see were the railways (black lines), roads (red lines) and rivers (blue lines). But now there are little dots coming into play. Villages. Towns. And what are those dots by the railways? Could they by any issibility be stations.
And now we're right down in there, right amongst the people. You can virtually smell the cooking wafting from the open kitchen windows. You can almost hear the distant sounds of children playing football on the recreation fields. You can almost feel the vibration of the juggernauts as they trundle past. This is Zoom Five, the magnification mode many people will never reach... they'll have been scared away long ago, even before the dots appeared.
So it's back out to Zoom One for a bit of Target Browsing: and now you'll be starting to get the idea, in that it's turning into a bit of a Windows session. (You can drag the windows around, as you may have guessed). Here we've clicked on 'Military targets' in the Class Menu and have been treated to a sub-menu containing different types. Clicking on any of these (we've gone for 'Military Building') highlights their location(s) on the map. Orange equals enemy.
But that was just a 'for instance'. What we're really after is a baby-milk factory, so having highlighted the Large Light Industrial on the main map we likely looking unit and zoom in. Looks like e typical sort of place a baby-milk factory would doesn't it? So it's time to place your first typoint... and with the easy-to-use Tornado map d planning system it's a piece of cake: all you ed is the Flight Plan Window. It's all looking very military' now. No?
And now it's time to obscure the map almost completely with the largest and most ninjafied window of the lot: the Payload Loading Window. What bombs are you going to take? Where are you going to put them? How about some Air To Airs? That sort of stuff. In the Gulf War one Tornado pilot reached his target only to realise that he forgotten to load any weapons at all. He'd clicked on exit before visiting this screen, obviously. Prat.
Falcon 3 had one, but it wasn't a patch on this... it's the Map Explore Mode. Click anywhere on the map and you'll find yourself in a weird flying camera with a top speed of 800 mph and a service ceiling of 10.000 feet. Have a long last look at your target from any angle you desire. You can even stick to the ground... just set your speed to about 13 mph. make sure you stay on the roads, and you can pretend you're a nun in an Austin Metro. Excellent.
So there you are. But we've only just brushed the surface: for instance, you can design comprehensive flight plans for not only your own aircraft, but for up to six other computer controlled Tornadoes. Think about it. With careful use of the Time Of Attack. Speed and Altitude commands you can co-ordinate things so that all seven members of your flight sweep across the target simultaneously - all from different directions. (And all at the same height too... just like the Italian Red Arrows did at a certain European air show in 1988). Silly you say? Fair enough, but even if you use just the one plane in sensible attacks, you'll still be crouched over the map till the wee small hours. In fact you may never even get around to taking off at all - although t hat'd be a mistake, because if you think the map and planning stages in look good, just wait until you see the rest of it.