Terminal Velocity Review

Apparently, Saturday was “Review A Great Game Day”. Never heard of this before. But I’m not one to let these things slide. So let’s see… it’s still Saturday in Honolulu. I guess it still counts, right? Right. Let’s try and review something a bit less famous than usual.

This is actually quite representative of the game itself. What a rare sight.
This is actually quite representative of the game itself. What a rare sight.

Terminal Velocity was developed by Terminal Reality (can’t be a coincidence…) and published in 1995 by 3DRealms, back when they were still relevant. You probably remember the developers for pearls such as Kinect Star Wars and that Walking Dead shooter, but ages ago, they were also fairly big in the early Windows scene, making games that were at least trying to take advantage of the newly-fangled Direct3D technology, including Hellbender and Monster Truck Madness. I pity them, because by all accounts, early Direct3D was terrible.

Terminal Velocity is, for my money, still their best game (though admittedly I haven’t played all of them: I heard pretty good things about Nocturne). In case you couldn’t notice from the cover, it’s a space shooter, a very common genre in the mid 90’s, thanks no doubt to the amazing success of Descent, which had spawned several clones. But TV breaks the mold somewhat by letting you fly on large planets, making it less claustrophobic and far less nausea-inducing. Interestingly, you can still fly your ship in complete freedom, so it’s actually possible to go far above the clouds and near the atmosphere even. Good luck spotting your targets from there.

There are three camera modes: first-person, third-person, and a weird fixed camera third-person mode that is near unplayable but probably very cool for screenshots.

The structure is fairly similar, if somewhat repetitive: you get objectives to complete (usually flying to a spot and then destroying a target base), weapons to collect (lasers, missiles, your typical arsenal), enemies to kill, bosses to survive. Since everything takes place on open terrain, you are usually free to take the route you want, and exploration is even encouraged by hiding powerful weapons off the beaten path. You’ll also get attacked from all directions, so keep wary. Sometimes things can get overwhelming.

In order to retain a sense of purpose, you are often asked to fly through underground tunnels. These are presented as point A-to-B voyages where you need to dodge doors and destroy ships who just love ramming through your own. There’s a vague sense of Descent in these 3D metal tunnels, but with completely straight paths, it’s a bit more like a rollercoaster. For extra fun, try using the afterburner in there, and see if you can survive.

With the small radar pretty much useless, you’ll quickly learn to play with the super-imposed radar constantly on. Turok didn’t come first, guys.

The controls work fairly well for such an early game, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with that. Even the graphics are quite pleasant for their time, once you get used to the giant pixels. Since you know I’m a 3D accelerators aficionado, I’ll also tell you the only “accelerated” version was made available for S3 Virge cards. Of course, in exchange for texture filtering, it actually runs slower than the base version. Don’t cry. Also, as was standard procedure for the era, there are not many music tracks in the game and the few available ones are repeated very often. Still, they are quite catchy, so I’m not complaining all that much. There are also vague hints of a story somewhere in there, presented at the start of each mission, if you can be bothered. I don’t think the developers cared that much either though.

A tunnel. It looks better in motion, I swear. The pixels aren’t attacking your eyes like thousands of small knives, for example.

There’s the distinct feeling that terminal Velocity could have been an all-time great, but it’s somewhat held back by its repetitive structure. With nine different planets and three stages on each, it would have taken a lot of variety to keep players interested throughout, but the game just doesn’t have that. The different tilesets are nice to look at, including giant volcanos places (maybe a Venus expy?) and snowy landscapes (before Skyrim made them all the rage), but I don’t know how many people will have the willpower to see it through to the bitter end – and bitter it was, if I recall some of the later bosses were an utter pain, made worse by the lack of saving during missions.

So, the game was repetitive, much like my reviews. That shouldn’t deter you too much though, because while one might not last long enough to see the ending, at least there’s fun to be had for quite a while. Besides, most 90’s games didn’t even have a meaningful ending, so what do you care? Get on that ship and fly to your heart’s content. The game is easily available on GOG and Steam. Did you know there’s even an Android version? Never tried it, but just to be sure, I’d steer clear of it. Besides, I still have the old disc. Fun times.


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