This is a particularly personal review for me. Terminal Velocity came out for DOS PCs back in 1995 and it was one of those games that just floated around from house to house. We all played it, we all had a bit of fun with it, and we all kind of shelved it. But at my house on my Pentium 90 with a 256 MB hard drive and 16 MB of RAM, it stayed installed. Always.
My dad was a ridiculously huge fan of Terminal Velocity. He played it for years. I’d randomly come downstairs and he’d be playing it in the middle of the night. Before work he’d get a couple of games in. We ended up buying a stick for him to play it with because he felt more like a pilot. It was my dad’s game and it was a mainstay on my desktop for three whole computer systems. My dad passed away in 2019 and I’ll be honest, I’d entirely forgotten about Terminal Velocity until publisher Ziggurat announced that the Terminal Velocity Boosted Edition was coming to Steam. All those memories came rushing back all at once and I’ll admit, I got a little verklempt thinking about the fun my dad had playing developer Terminal Reality’s seminal 3D game.
Now, you might be wondering what’s so special about Terminal Velocity aside from its very personal meaning to me. The short answer is not all that much. It was an inexpensive game that most people had, it was remarkably approachable as action flight sims go with easy to use controls and solid 3D graphics for the mid-nineties. Not a surprise since it was primarily programmed by one of the original Microsoft Flight Simulator programmers. It was pretty long too, at a whopping 27 levels and many of them are definitely not easy. But it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Turns out Terminal Velocity is fun because it’s simple. There’s a minimal plot that’s essentially meaningless and then there’s the chance to blast everything in sight, rocket about and through tunnels, and generally just have fun.
Like most games of this sort, there are some clever little nuances to Terminal Velocity that make it unique. Expandable weapons and a variety of power-ups make the game interesting and more ‘game-y’ than other flight sim style games. It’s highly recommended that you switch the controls to inverted though, or if you’re like me, you’ll fly right into the ground over and over. In addition to power-ups, there are a number of different enemy types with different attacks and tactics and even some bosses. All standard stuff. Start out weak, get more powerful, blast everything that’s firing at you, rinse and repeat.
But that ephemeral fun factor is there too. Suddenly you’re upside-down, taking out three enemy ships in a row and aiming up to hit a target on the ground, buzzing by and hitting the afterburners while you rotate again and come in for the next target. The weapons are wildly overpowered and the enemies are weak (especially at the start) so you never think there’s much of a challenge until the first boss obliterates you. And the environments change significantly from area to area as well. It’s a pretty game, at least for the time. Sure it looks wildly dated now, but I assure you, it didn’t used to.
That’s cold comfort for modern gamers however as there’s little purpose to a remaster of a remarkably average game if you don’t have any memories of it. The visuals on Terminal Velocity Boosted Edition are not improved. The draw distance is increased and the game can be used with modern controllers (works great with an Xbox One controller!) but at the same time, there are no improvements, resolution caps out at 1920 x 1080, and nothing is smoothed or cleaned up, which leaves your display covered with the same rough polygons and minimalist textures that it did in 1995. Sure, it actually runs smoothly on a modern system which is a feat in itself, but there are no new modes or surprises really waiting here.
Level design is very dated as well with wide open areas and hidden tunnels that lead you to new areas and fights. Instead of showing on the minimap, targets are located using a rangefinder in the upper left corner of the screen and it’s your job to hit the targets and take out the enemy. Kills only matter for score but since those scores can’t be uploaded, there’s not a whole lot of purpose to scoring other than to prove to yourself you can succeed. That’s tough on the higher levels since the game’s difficultly seems to increase exponentially as you progress and simplistic slow attacks just won’t cut it anymore. For those gamers who really care about a bit of showboating though, Steam achievements have been added to the gameplay just to spice things up a bit.
The weapon assortment is decent with powerful missiles, lasers, and plasma beams, as well as a handy afterburner boost that really speeds things up and feels remarkably responsive. Both lasers and plasma can be upgraded from a double shot to a quadruple one and there are even homing missiles and a secret weapon for a total of seven weapon options. That’s not bad for a game that’s almost 30 years old and honestly, the responsiveness, weapons array, and open vibe of Terminal Velocity work together in a way that makes it less dated than you’d expect for this old fogey of a game.
There are two types of people that are going to end up buying Terminal Velocity: Boosted Edition. The first is older people who want a bit of a nostalgia trip with a few less rough edges. The second is the sort of person who just wants to blast stuff like crazy and rack up a few achievements. It’s a fun game no matter how you slice it and old or not, the later levels are darn challenging. With controls that are incredibly responsive and flight design that’s easy to master, this is one of those unique older titles that manages to be worth your time even though it could use a facelift and some tweaking. There’s just something about mindlessly flying about and blasting everything around you that hits in some primal, visceral area of the hind-brain and Terminal Velocity: Boosted Edition scratches that itch. For $12, that’s not a bad thing.
This review is based on a digital copy of Terminal Velocity:Boosted Edition provided by the publisher. It was played on a gaming desktop. Terminal Velocity: Boosted Edition is also available for Nintendo Switch and is forthcoming for Xbox and Playstation.