Tag Archives: terminal velocity

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.

Advertisements

Virge, I choose you!

I finally found a use for the Virge DX. I honestly thought I would never actually use it, outside of benchmarking. But no, there’s a real reason to put it in the PC now: it’s the only graphics card I have which doesn’t create jerky scrolling in Commander Keen. I’m amazed.

After all, why else would anyone want to use a Virge? Although, for all its framerate woes, compatibility was actually somewhat decent. I’ll let these captures speak for themselves. All native resolution… I’m afraid. Pixel-doubling them seemed to show the dithering in an even worse light than it already was on my screen, so I kept them at their original resolution. You may need glasses.

The textures in Blood 2 work, and that's more than I can say for the Mystique. On 320x240 and minimum, bottom of the barrel details, the game runs somewhat decently, but framerate will drop frequently.
The textures in Blood 2 work, and that’s more than I can say for the Mystique. On 320×240 and minimum, bottom-of-the-barrel details, the game runs decently enough, but framerate will drop frequently. As the developers themselves say in the options screen, “performance is questionable”.
Ever wondered what Rogue Squadron would have looked like on the PS1? This is probably a decent approximation. Except for the filtering, but I imagine an eventual PS1 version would have run a lot better than this.
Ever wondered what Rogue Squadron would have looked like on the PS1? This is probably a decent approximation. Except for the filtering, but I imagine an eventual PS1 version would have run a lot better than this.
Terrain issues make Mechwarrior 2 something of a mess. The only solution seems to be disabling ground textures, but then you might as well play the Pentium edition.
Terrain issues make Mechwarrior 2 something of a mess. The only solution seems to be disabling ground textures, but then you might as well play the Pentium edition.

Turok, as one of the granddaddies of Direct3D benchmarks, deserves a few more screenshots.

This is what happens if you run the game with everything on. Clearly the mipmapping causes trouble. Not that it would be any playable, with barely 1fps.
This is what happens if you run the game with everything on. Clearly the mipmapping causes trouble. Not that it would be any playable, with barely 1fps.
On the other hand, disabling everything will make the game run okay-ish. There are still visual glitches, perhaps some issues with Z-buffering.
On the other hand, disabling everything will make the game run okay-ish. There are still visual glitches, perhaps some issues with Z-buffering.
When I de-selected "fancy sky", I was hoping I would still get something a bit better than this. Nintendo 64 owners must have been laughing in our faces. Well, joke's on them, we had a mouse and keyboard.
When I de-selected “fancy sky”, I was hoping I would still get something a bit better than this. Nintendo 64 owners must have been laughing in our faces. Well, joke’s on them, we had a mouse and keyboard.
Dithering is an issue. What's the use of gratuitous blood if it looks this bad?
Dithering is an issue. What’s the use of gratuitous blood if it looks this bad?

Terracide has a specific S3 setting. A nice surprise, since the regular D3D was slow as molassa.

Running the game on 512x384 with low or medium textures and no filtering, will yield the most playable results. It doesn't mean it has to look good though.
Running the game on 512×384 with low or medium textures and no filtering, will yield the most playable results. It doesn’t mean it has to look good though.
By 1997, I guess very few people actually still used a Virge for games. With good reason.
By 1997, I guess very few people actually still used a Virge for games. With good reason. At least the colored lighting works.

DOS games coded for the specific S3 API tend to fare a little better, but just slightly (photos resized to 640×480).

Terminal Velocity is stuck at SVGA resolution and high textures on the Virge. Bad choice. Even with no filtering, the game isn't smooth at all. Also, judging from those textures, I say the regular version looks better.
Terminal Velocity is stuck at SVGA resolution and high textures on the Virge. Bad choice. Even with no filtering, the game isn’t smooth at all. Also, judging from those textures, I say the regular version looks better.
Screamer runs very well at 320x20, but the dithering is overkill, so you might want to set it at 320x400, as shown here. It's still smooth enough, surprisingly, and doesn't look nearly as bad.
Screamer runs very well at 320×20, but the dithering is overkill, so you might want to set it at 320×400, as shown here. It’s still smooth enough, surprisingly, and doesn’t look nearly as bad. Unfortunately, Screamer is still a terrible game.

S3 eventually made other accelerators, including the decent Savage line. But those won’t work with the S3 API, even the Trio3D has trouble with many titles (I only managed to make Croc run). So it’s a Virge or nothing.

But hey, all of the above becomes meaningless if you consider the smooth scrolling in Commander Keen. I had forgotten how good it looked. So, let’s raise a glass to S3, if just this once.