We first saw Terminus almost three years ago as Karthik Bala, head of Vicarious Visions, gave a select few people a private preview in a hotel at ECTS. Karthik explained that he wanted to create a space-faring RPG, with far more depth than your average Wing Commander style of shoot 'em up. Karthik resisted lucrative publishing offers in order to keep control of the 8irection Terminus took, and Vicarious even took contracts porting console titles in order to keep funding its baby. Finally, after three and a half years of development, the game's been launched and the big question is, can it do for the space sim what Deus Ex and System Shock 2 have done for the first-person shooter?
Where Is My Cockpit?
Terminus pitches you as a spaceship pilot at the beginning of 2197. Friction between Earth and the independent Mars colonies have brought the solar system to the brink of war. With pirate clans and mercenaries battling each other, our corner of the galaxy is a dangerous place to live.
Fly! Be Free!
There are several different ways to play the game and all of these are also available to play online, except for Training (which is just a short offline series of missions to familiarise you with your ship): Gauntlet is a deathmatch style game taking place across the whole solar system, or an enclosed area of space.
Zero-G Hockey is a team game where players use whatever equipment in their ships to get a puck in the opposing goal. Far more interesting are the Story and Freeform modes.
Story mode puts you at the outbreak of hostilities where you can choose to join either the Earth or Mars military. Recommended for beginners, your missions and ships are handed to you on a plate, with all mod cons being provided by your chosen side. For a more hands-on approach, you can choose the life of a pirate or mercenary where you have to trade and fight to finance your operations. If you take on a mercenary mission, you'll have to make sure you can supply your own ships and equipment to make it successful and pick up your fee. You also need to watch out for the enemies you make, as the various factions remember when you stood on their toes.
Freeform mode is exactly as it sounds. You are given the open-ended Terminus solar system and simply told to go out and fighting as the other ships go about their business. If you're playing the single player game and want a freeform, Elite style game with a backplot storyline, we'd recommend starting with the Story mode, as the game will run you through the Mars-Earth war before dropping back to the open-ended Freeform mode.
Getting into the game proper, you're presented with a space-station setting where you can chat to the locals, read the newscasts, trade commodities and items with other players, or buy and equip ships. Even in space, you can still be paged with important missions if you wish to race off pick up special assignments.
Here you start to see the attention to detail that Vicarious Visions have implemented. It's quite possible to upgrade your ship with engines big enough to tear it apart as soon as you turn the ignition key. Hull stress, fuel, power systems, stealth and emissions, component damage, radiation effects on the pilot, and more are all modelled and affected by the gear you put into your ship. Even the weapons you use make a huge difference. For instance, mounting a large kinetic weapon on a small ship will put huge stress on the hull when you fire it.
All Over The Place
Launching your ship into space, you'll find that Terminus uses a Newtonian flight model, allowing six degrees-of-freedom. Although there is a compensation mode that has the computer firing the engines to keep you flying in the direction you are pointing, the ship still has to fight against inertia. For combat purposes, you're better off learning how to fly with compensators disabled.
In this way you can spin and bring your weapons to bear in one direction, while your ship travels in another. If you really can't handle this, you can turn the inertial flight model right down to a Wing Commander point-and-squirt. Bear in mind that in online games, this won't give you an advantage, as the server operator decides how realistic the flight model is for everyone.
The HUD is a little small in high-res, but with an EWe-style radar, multifunction displays and ship trails, it does its job well enough, picking up ships too far away to see with the naked eye, and giving a good sense of depth to the surrounding area. Space is pretty dark, so learning to fly by your instruments is a must.
The in-game graphics are pretty good, but not quite up to the latest cutting edge technology. The polygon count has been kept low in order to handle situations when 50 online players turn up at the same place. The textures and moody light-sourcing works well, with light levels tailing off as you get further away from the sun, spinning space stations, engine flares and lots more nice graphical touches.
Missions themselves can be varied, and range from simple patrol or mining to escort, spying, assassination or cargo hijacking -yes, you can 'persuade' an enemy to drop its cargo so you can scoop it up. If you're lazy, you can even sub-contract jobs out to other pilots. If you don't fancy the violent life, you can simply trade goods to make your bank manager happy.
Long Term Relationship
Terminus loses points for its out-of-date front-end interface, and doesn't gain them on its good-but-not-stellar graphics engine. Where it succeeds is the successful implementation of a freeform solar system with combat and trading missions, a backplot storyline, RP6 elements, ship design, and the inclusion of a real physics model. There's even a flight recorder and a scene manager for you to edit your most spectacular successes into movies. More importantly, Terminus allows players to do all this in a persistent online universe and it's only a matter of time before the clans and squadrons start battling across the Internet for supremacy. Also worth a mention is Todd Maston's musical score, which is excellent and sounds like Christopher Franke's score for Babylon 5. Dark and moody instrumentals set the scene and add a lot of atmosphere to the proceedings, suiting the space-bound setting of the game.
Overall, while not as flashy as other recent space-sims, Terminus has lots of substance. It packs so much into the game that any self-respecting space-simmer should grab a copy just as soon as it hits the store shelves. Check out the exclusive demo on our cover CD and you'll see why.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP