The Essential Games: Terminal Velocity (1995)

A tech demo 3D shooter that’s still impressive today

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Welcome to The Essential Games, a series I wrote for 8 weeks in 2017 then abandoned for a year! Here’s the full index of articles.

During its 20 year run, game developer Terminal Reality worked on all sorts of content with varying degrees of success. They made everything from the Bloodrayne games, to movie-licensed titles, to…that Spyhunter game that was supposed to be based on a movie, but then the movie was never made.

But their first title, created largely by former Flight Simulator programmer Mark Randel, is an exceptional action flight game with a fully 3D software-rendered world crafted in an era where that was still a mindblowing feat.

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Terminal Velocity has a story that takes up one screen of text at the beginning of the game, along with a few info screens before each of its worlds. The gist is that you’re piloting a powerful experimental aircraft and you have to blow up some bad guys and their installations because reasons.

You’ll fly across fully 3D landscapes, taking on other aircraft, land vehicles, and dangerous boss encounters. Interiors are also featured in the form of expansive underground tunnel complexes, and the seamless transitions into these lairs are still impressive to me today.

Terminal Velocity entirely believes in the immersive power of video games, and it pushes that agenda as hard as bleeding edge 1995 technology could muster. The game ran at a solid clip even on modest computers of the era, and if you had Intel’s new Pentium processor, you could turn on the Pentium settings in the options menu and really crank things up.

Microsoft was so impressed with the game that they hired their former programmer and his company to make an expanded version for Windows 95 called Fury 3. I don’t know why it was called Fury 3 because there was never a Fury 1 or 2.

But that game sold well enough that they also commissioned a sequel called Hellbender, starring the voice talents of Gillian Anderson.

Man, that’s one of the most “90’s” sentences I’ve ever written.

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Since the original game was made for DOS, you’ll need to run it in DOSBox on most modern computers. Fortunately, there are versions for sale on GoG and Steam that have done the hard work for you.

If you’re looking for a more modern interpretation and you own a modern smartphone, Mark himself re-released the game on Android and iOS in 2015 for 3 bucks. I played about 30 minutes of this version, and it works pretty well even when used with the default touch screen controls. The menus are a bit fiddly, but the graphics have been slightly improved, with clearer textures and a much-improved draw distance.

Terminal Velocity didn’t win any awards for its depth or originality, and got many strangely negative reviews on launch from outlets that derided it as nothing more than a tech demo. But I thought it was really cool when I was 11, and I still think it’s really cool now, 23 years later.

It’s not the most complex game, but its scope and graphical ambition still impress me and its blast-happy gameplay is undeniably fun.

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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