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
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
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
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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