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Tornado Low Level (TLL) (1984)            

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Details (Sinclair ZX Spectrum) Supported platforms Artwork and Media
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Vortex Software
Costa Panayi
Interface 2
Audio cassette
UK (£5.95)
Advertisement, Game map
Also appeared on Vortex compilation, "The Best of 3D"
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Amstrad CPC  NR
Commodore 64  8.6
Sinclair ZX Spectrum  6.8

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Issue 17 (Crashback)
Added: 9 Nov 2012
TLL was one of the first games where you operated a plane but it wasn't a simulation. The idea behind the game was to fly low over the landscape and destroy the enemy targets, the lower you flew the more likely you were to destroy. At the beginning of the game you are given a quick glimpse of the whole of the playing area and the locations of the targets. The whole game is presented in 3D and you saw the action from slightly above your craft. Once you have destroyed the first six targets another six appear but in places that are harder to get to. At any time during the game you can land and refuel but you must have sufficient space on the runway to be able to stop the plane.

General rating: addictive and difficult, generally recommended.

Use of computer 83%
Graphics 79%
Playability 85%
Getting started 70%
Addictive qualities 84%
Value for money 84%
Overall 81%

I was never really keen on TLL because I always thought there wasn't much to it. Today TLL seems just as boring. The graphics are good but the sound is poor. Playability-wise TLL is good but there isn't enough to the game to make me want to come back after a few goes. Undoubtedly some people like it (that has been proved with its success in the Hotline charts) but to me the graphics are the best things in the game.

I really enjoyed TLL and it still looks good today. It's not a very hard game to play and it only takes a few days to complete (once you've got used to the keys). It hasn't got the lasting appeal that most of today's games have so TLL becomes unplayable and a little monotonous after a few goes. The 3D effect was good but 3D games recently have had a far superior effect.

(Rob) As far as its ratings are concerned the one that would suffer the most would be its Addictive qualities which would go down by about 20 to 25%

(Ben) I wouldn't really quarrel with any of the ratings, except addictiveness and playability, these would go down by 5 and 4% respectively

Issue 8 (October 1984)
Added: 7 Dec 2014
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.

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 run- down 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 gauge, '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 maneuverable, 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.

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 re- fuelled 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 salutary lesson on just what can be done on the not-so- humble Spectrum.

Ross Holman, Dave Nicholls
Added: 7 Dec 2014
The player controls a Tornado fighter jet and must manoeuvre the plane at low altitude in order to destroy 'targets' on the landscape by flying very low over them at high speed, while avoiding pylons, bridges, and other structures. As the level progress, the targets are placed in more difficult positions e.g. closer to buildings and on the water in narrow gulleys.

Each level had a time limit, and the Tornado had a limited fuel supply. Landing on the airfield would refuel the aircraft. The Tornado had two speeds - the high speed was necessary to destroy the targets, but used fuel at a much greater rate. At high speeds the plane's wings "sweep back". An interesting feature of the game was the 3D view, which included a shadow of the plane on the ground.

The game was voted number 10 in the Your Sinclair Official Top 100 Games of All Time.

Panayi's later game, Cyclone featured a similar graphical style of play.

Issue 30
Added: 3 Jan 2010
Low level high-flyer
WHY any self-respecting pilot should want to fly a jet fighter at high speed through a built-up area a mere 10 or so feet from the ground is difficult to understand but that is the premise behind TLL from Vortex Software.

You are the idiot who has opted for the mission, of course, and your aircraft is the Tornado. You have to take off from a runway and seek six enemy targets represented by small discs. Unfortunately for your health the only way to destroy the targets is to skim above them, thus putting you in the embarrassing situation of risking collision with trees or telegraph poles.

Vortex claims to have produced the best-ever graphics. Such claims should be disregarded on principle but the picture of the town in which the game takes place is beautifully detailed in quasi-3D perspective; the representations of the buildings solid and attractive; and the screen scrolling is absolutely smooth and flicker-free.

The Tornado is less impressive but casts a shadow on the ground which, while irritating at first, becomes very useful as a guide to your altitude and precise position.

There is the mandatory display of fuel gauge, altimeter, time elapsed and so on, as well as a map of the playing area and a small outline of your position and any targets or solid objects nearby.

Because the graphics are so highly-developed, the operating system for the Tornado is simple and cannot be described as a simulation. You cannot accelerate or decelerate except by changing the attitude of your swing wings, and take-off and landing is a matter of pressing the appropriate button at the proper time, although obtaining a good approach to the runway for landing is more difficult.

Fuel is limited and there is usually only sufficient time to destroy two targets at most before being forced to land and refuel.

It all adds up to an exciting game, requiring fast reflexes and cool nerve, and if you think you are made of the right stuff, try flying under the telephone lines without panicking. TLL is no picnic.

Chris Bourne

TLL Memory: 48K Price: £5.95 Joystick: Sinclair Gilbert Factor: 8
Added: 21 Sep 2010
TLL or Tornado Low Level was released for the ZX Spectrum by Vortex software in August of 1984. Spectrum gamers were enthusiastic about the game due to it's nicely rendered graphics and eight-way scrolling.

The developer of the game, Costa Panayi was already well known for his previous games on the ZX Spectrum (also released by Vortex) Android and Android 2. TLL was a good arcade game that enhanced Costa's reputation further.

The story behind TLL was that you take control of a Tornado jet (swing wing model - not real methinks!) to eradicate some 'evil dots' that have appeared on the landscape. Bizarre I know. These enemy dots were 'dotted' around the ground (and sometimes on the sea), usually next to buildings and in hard to reach places, making your mission all the more tricky.

To rid the landscape of these dots you had to fly your jet directly over them at an extremely low altitude. Acheiving this 'low level' pass would remove the dot permanently from the map - and there were a few dots to be removed on each playing area.

You would observe your jet and the landscape via a 'birds eye' view - which was very effective for the game. At the start of the game a map would display the location of the dots before switching to the game view, showing your Tornado sitting on a runway, ready to take off into the wild blue yonder.

It was up to you to accelerate towards the end of the runway and pull up into the sky, and on first playing the amazement of seeing the shadow of your aircraft on the ground (beneath your Tornado) would probably cause you to crash into a building or a telegraph pole! The whole environment was represented in a sort of pseudo 3D style, all items on the ground (buildings, pylons with wires, poles, trees etc) showing 'depth' against the ground. Impressive visuals.

There were also rivers running throught the area which were lower than ground level, meaning you could streak along a river below ground level, take out a dot, fly under a bridge then pull up and streak away across land. Exciting stuff.

Your tornado could fly in eight directions (sort of north, north east, east etc) and the landscape scrolled nicely in the direction you were facing. Pretty smooth scrolling too. To the right of the screen your instruments were displayed such as height, fuel and so on. Running out of fuel resulted in you crashing, so making it back to the runway to top up was always at the back of your mind.

On later levels the dots were placed in hard to reach places which even Pete Mitchell would have found hard to take out. The game was over when you lost all three of your Tornados, usually caused by crashing into cliff faces or pylons.

On Release:
Gamers marvelled at the graphics in TLL, and the use of bright and normal shades from the Spectrums pallette. The shadow of your plane (which also 'broke up') when half over a building and ground was impressive stuff. The smooth scrolling (which was very quick when you engaged swing wing mode) added to the playability of the game, and the fact that you could fly under bridges and power cables was a real bonus. The only downside was a lack of enemy aircraft to avoid or destroy, but the fact that TLL was a bit different from anything else on the market added to it's appeal.

The test of time:
We here in the land of Spectrum games reckon that TLL should be regarded as a cult classic game. The 3D effect was quite something back in 1984, and many people spent time flying along rivers and under bridges and not bothering with the dots! (which was fun in itself). These days TLL does not have much depth, but it's still a fun way to spend 20 minutes.

Give TLL a go and try to acheive that 'low level'. Up up and away eh?

We recommend getting hold of the real hardware but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download TLL for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online. Keep it on the low low.

GENRE: Arcade Game (3D scoller)
RELEASE DATE: August of 1984
RELEASED BY: Vortex Software
DEVELOPER(S): Costa Panayi
PRICE: £5.95 - UK
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This title was first added on 24th January 2010
This title was most recently updated on 4th May 2015

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