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Terminus

It occurred to me recently that views of the future of mankind, varied as they may be, tend to share one common characteristic: none of them are ever happy. We're almost always at war with various ugly aliens, rebellious human factions, or poorly programmed robots (or perhaps all of the above). If it's not a war, it's the bleak discovery that the solar system is about to be destroyed as the sun explodes again, or something similarly daunting. Of course, how interesting of a game could you derive out of the premise, "Mankind discovers alien technology leading to world peace and cure for all diseases?"

So, it comes as no surprise that mankind faces struggles in the future that is Terminus. The United Earth League was formed in the latter part of the 21st century, so that the differences between the nations of Earth would not inhibit activities in space. Over the course of time, the UEL faced and overcame a variety of unpleasant challenges. They controlled space, for the most part, but slowly the Mars Consortium, an alliance of colonies not completely restricted to Mars, began to gain power. As the MC grew in power and wealth, it began demanding more and more independence from the UEL. Adding to this situation was an unpleasant entourage of pirates who began making a steady profit hijacking miners and traders in the asteroid belt. And let's not forget the independent governors of space stations, willing to contract mercs for missions of all sorts, adding further tension to the mix.

Of course, the discovery of alien technology didn't help things much either. Discovered in the Callisto research station, centered on the moon of Jupiter bearing the same name, the alien technology lead to the development of the vortex gates. These gates offer instantaneous travel between two points separated by the infinite blackness of the void. The vortex gate system allowed the Mars Consortium to gain more wealth and power, adding a bit more spice to the relationship between the MC and the UEL. The gates also allowed ships carrying cargo to get through the asteroid belt much quicker, making life much more difficult for the pirates. In the wake of the gates, the emergence of the Marauder Clan as the dominant clan of pirates caused much stir, as rumors persisted that the leaders of the Clan sought to eventually bring the Clan past hiding and hijacking, and into a more powerful role in the galaxy.

So now that you are caught up on the situation, how can you make a difference? There are four different career paths for the budding Terminus pilot. The military path is open, of course, flying for either the United Earth League or the Mars Consortium. For the morally challenged among us, the Marauders are always looking for a few good pirates. Finally, for the amoral pilots out there, the option of becoming a Mercenary is always open. I chose Mercenary for my first go (something I wouldn't recommend doing).

It was about now that I became aware of my first problem with the game. It is billed as a space combat RPG. While I readily admit that the player plays the role of one of four different types of pilot, I would never consider this game a role playing game. It would be like calling a Wing Commander game an RPG because you play the role of Blair.

As I mentioned, I started off as a merc, despite the warning that only advanced players should try the merc or pirate career. Pretty arrogant of me, I know. Even more arrogant of me, I set the difficulty level to "hardcore" and decided to try realistic physics, despite the fact that I tend to hate them. As the mercenary, I started off on Lunar Commercial, with a not-so-great ship and a couple of credits. By clicking on any of the people in the station, you may check to see if there are any new conversations to have. Of course, there is the pleasant introduction/tour conversation that familiarizes you with life as a mercenary. As a bonus, the guy told me they may need me for a "special job" sometime soon, and if I'm interested, I will be paged with more information. I accepted it, realizing right away that this "special job" probably paid more than normal jobs, and may be part of the story. As it was, they didn't need me yet, so I headed to the commerce computer to browse the available contracts.

Strangely enough, browsing contracts is pretty identical for all four career paths. The main difference is the fact that military types don't get paid, and they hardly ever get hijack contracts. In fact, the vast majority of military missions are patrols, during which the occasional besieged merchants or fellow military ships will ask you for help as they defend themselves. The various mission types are strike (search and destroy), hijack, patrol, transport, spy, and mine. I have never managed to successfully hijack a ship. I have tried ordering them to drop their cargo; I have damaged them and then asked them to drop their cargo. I then figured that if I destroyed them, I could just use a cargo scoop to snag their goodies. Yet every time their ship went "piff", I got the "mission failed" message. Later in the game, I even used an immobilizer to disable their ship, and the stubborn jerks still wouldn't jettison their goodies. So, in a fit of rage, I blew them up, failing the mission. It was worth it.

So, I was on a strike mission way out at one of Jupiter's moons (Callisto, I think), and I got that fateful page for the special job. They needed me to show up at the Belt Station in three minutes. Right, vortex gates or not, I'm not that quick. Anyway, I sped my ship to the fastest speed I can go without taking stress damage to the hull, and it actually looked like I was going to make it. With about fifteen seconds left, I got to docking range with the Belt Station.

I pressed control + D to begin docking procedures. As it is, every time you dock or launch from a station you have to watch annoying docking/launching cut scenes. Of course, the faster you are going when you try to dock, the longer the cut scene is, because it takes a bit of time for your ship to fix itself. The scenes weren't really impressive the first time I saw them, and they only got more and more annoying as I saw them more and more frequently. This specific viewing of the docking procedure ended up getting to me big time though, as during the twenty to thirty seconds it took my ship to dock, my timer expired and I missed my mission. I was not a happy merc. As far as my keyboard mashing can tell, there's no way to skip the cut scenes either. Be forewarned that space bar does not skip cut scenes, it fires your weapon. This happened to me several times, coincidentally always when the torpedo was my selected weapon, and always when the explosion could cause massive splash damage to myself. Damn it.

After missing out on the next special mission, I felt the need to start over. I couldn't exactly center my review on a game that played without me, even if that is one of the features of Terminus. In an effort to decrease the ego of the average player, the universe does not revolve around your actions. Instead, they continue with cold indifference as to whether it is a human player or an AI ship flying the storyline missions. Feature or no feature, I wanted to get some involvement in the stories for review purposes, if nothing else. Starting over, I managed to get to the Belt Station in time. In the end, I had to go blast some pirates. It was pretty easy (although I admittedly took a fair amount of damage), and I got a fat check for it. As you may have guessed, playing as the pirate career path will put you on the opposite side of this exchange for your first special mission. You may be wondering what the benefit of completing missions as a military pilot is, since they get no credits. They live off of their reputation, so that the higher it is, the better off they are. Reputation is all well and good, but I'd rather earn a fat check.

Because the check was so fat, I almost had enough to buy a new ship, and after a couple more missions, that's what I decided to do. While there were already plenty of pre-outfitted ships to choose from, there would be none of that jazz for me, mainly because I wanted only the best. Now, buying and building a ship is a complicated process. You have to outfit it with computers, scanners, life support, weapons, armor, engines, thrusters, and all sorts of other gadgets. As you check out each possible component of your ship, you are informed as to its pros and cons. For instance, engine number 1 might not have the greatest power, but it has stellar fuel economy and doesn't kill your stealth. On the other hand, engine number 2 has superior power but drinks fuel as a frat boy drinks beer, and is just about as stealthy as that same frat boy after a six pack. As far as most of the components go, they get better overall as they get more and more expensive (go figure). The most expensive engine, for instance, may have great power, slightly bad fuel economy, but it may maintain a fair deal of stealth. For budding ship builders out there, if you want a superb ship, prepare to spend upwards of a million credits.

Be prepared for setbacks, though. I didn't examine what the manual had to say on ship components (although, after the fact, I don't think it would have helped). Due to my relative inexperience in designing combat-capable space fighters, I had no clue that energy weapons would draw heavily from the ship's energy supplies when used. I figured they would be somewhat self-sufficient. As a result, I tried to use particle cannons on my ship with a battery as my energy supply. Tip from Bane: never attempt to have any form of heavy weaponry without a reactor. Floating around in space with no power is a good way to end up dead. Very dead. After all this, I found it interesting that even after an upgrade, my weapons didn't seem that much more effective than the wimpy rupture cannon. Oh, well.

Combat in Terminus, even on realistic physics mode, is quite fun. On similar recent games, when playing on real physics mode, you suffered a bit of "floating turret syndrome." With this horrible syndrome, the game takes on the feeling of floating freely in space, incapable of any evasive maneuvers, or any movement, really. However, somehow Terminus manages to avoid this, and even with physics on, an able pilot can use inertia compensators, flightlock, and thrusters in order to maintain the feel of actually piloting a ship, and not a stationary turret. Combat can be fairly challenging up on hardcore or elite difficulty levels, as well. Another hint from Bane: do not get extremely close to a big transport ship; they will ram you right out of the sky if you aren't careful.

I mentioned above about the annoying cut scenes; they really didn't impress me, visually. I would say that this is true of the entire game. The graphics are dated by a couple of years, and can't hold a candle to current games such as Starlancer. The sound failed to thrill me, either. There were a couple parts of the soundtrack that were good, but a lot of it was rather formulaic. Effects were pretty standard -- ships taking damage and weapons fire sounding a little weak, but still had the right sound.

The game ran a lot better than the first ship I designed. A couple crashes with no explanation; one minute I'm blasting pirates, the next I'm staring at my desktop wallpaper thinking that something wasn't quite right. Other than these extremely isolated instances, the game ran pretty much flawlessly.

In the end, Terminus failed to truly excite me. That's not to say that the game isn't fun to play; it does offer a good time to the pilot within us all. However, it doesn't offer anything special enough to seperate itself from the crowd

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REVIEW STATS

Author:
Steve (Bane) Rhoades
July 26, 2000
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Reviewer's System:
P2-450
128 MB Ram
TNT2
Montego II A3D
56K Modem
4.8x DVD-Rom
10 Gig HD

System Requirements:
Windows:
P2 300 MHz
64 MB RAM
3D accelerator card w/ DirectX or Voodoo w/ Glide
DirectX capable sound card, full duplex required for real-time voice communication
4x CD-ROM
DirectX 6
Mac:
G3 400 MHz
96 MB RAM
3D accelerator card w/ OpenGL
Full duplex required for real-time voice communication
4x CD-ROM
Game Sprockets 1.7, Apple OpenGL 1.1.2, Open Transport
Linux:
Same as Windows except:
Sound card must be Linux supported.
GNU libc 2.1, Glide 2.0, pthread library 0.8

Genre:
Space Sim

Pulse Rating:
Concept: 63 - Fairly familiar story. Weapons we've all seen.
Gameplay: 85 - Combat is pretty challenging and enjoyable.
Graphics: 48 - Would have been much higher a couple years ago.
Sound: 70 - Fairly nice soundtrack; effects need more edge.
Technical: 88 - Couple random crashes; nothing especially devastating.
Overall: 71 - A decent game, but one that could have been better.

Release Date:
Available

Publisher:
Vicarious Visions

Developer:
Vicarious Visions

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