Terminus is an open-ended, multiplayer space combat simulation that's playable on the Windows, Macintosh, and Linux operating systems. It's an ambitious cross-platform game that actually offers multiplayer action and role-playing elements in a persistent online setting, though it also has a single-player campaign. Unfortunately, the game has a number of problems, such that players who aren't very patient may find it terminally repetitive and too inaccessible.
Without a doubt, the most notable feature in Terminus is its ability to run on the three major operating-system platforms: Windows 95/98, Mac OS (8.6 or 9.0), and Linux (kernel 2.2.0 or greater). Multiplayer sessions of Terminus can include any mixture of clients running these operating systems - a definite point in the game's favor.
The basic design of Terminus is similar to other open-ended space combat and trade simulations like Elite, Privateer, and X: Beyond the Frontier. Essentially, you begin as a fledgling pilot and get to pursue your career of choice in a futuristic version of our solar system. Unlike its worthy predecessors, Terminus also provides some basic structure: You can begin the game as one of three types of pilots, in league with one of four different factions. As a fighter pilot, you can fight for either Earth or Mars defense forces in a variety of military operations. As a marauder, you embark upon a career in piracy; while as a mercenary, you can fend for yourself and avoid trouble or welcome it as you see fit. The latter option basically encompasses the open-ended role available to you in Elite, Privateer, and X, while the first two options help to set Terminus apart.
Each type of career has different advantages and disadvantages. For example, mercenaries must outfit and pay for repairs on their own ships, while fighter pilots needn't worry about such things. But regardless of the career path you choose, the basic flow of the game remains the same. As you play through the single-player story mode, you will choose new missions for yourself from a list of available assignments. Successfully completing your missions results in more prestige, more money, and greater opportunities for more challenging missions to come. Another option, free mode, is essentially identical, except that the game's story elements are left out.
The game's mission types range from attack and patrol assignments to mining expeditions and reconnaissance. As a freelance flyer, you can also peruse the latest bounty information and go hunting for fellow pilots with prices on their heads. If you manage to amass enough of a fortune in the game, you can even pay other pilots to tackle missions that you dictate.
The gameplay is fairly typical of a space combat simulation. As in the highly acclaimed capital-ship sim Independence War and Microsoft's own online space sim Allegiance, inertia is a key consideration in Terminus - ships slide and twist while traveling in a completely different direction. This can be initially confusing and requires some getting used to in the game's training missions. If the difficulty proves too significant, you do have the option to tone down the inertial effects for a more relaxed interpretation of Newtonian physics. Combat in Terminus can be exciting and intense - but it can also take a great deal of practice, since the ships often hurtle toward each other at alarming speeds but don't change course easily. Still, the weapon controls and visual aiming cues are generally effective, and there certainly tend to be enough ships to fight.
However, Terminus' graphics aren't particularly good. Planets and other background scenery appear rather blocky, while many of the ship designs are plain or otherwise uninspired. Fortunately, some of the explosions and weapon effects like missile contrails are rather impressive - but Terminus' sound effects are another matter altogether, as the game seems to have been sound-engineered by someone with an affinity for explosions and fireworks. Whenever you blow something up, you hear a seemingly endless sequence of identical bangs, which isn't so bad. But when you enter a jump gate, you hear another loud bang. Or if you activate the jump gate before entering it, you hear a sequence of smaller bangs. All the different banging can make it difficult to tell what's going on, and besides, why does a futuristic jump gate sound like a 50-year-old Ford with exhaust problems?
Terminus offers a persistent universe for its players, but only so long as the player-server host keeps the game running. That is, the game doesn't offer a persistent world in the same sense that online role-playing games like EverQuest and Ultima Online do. Terminus does allow for up to 64 players per session, though we never had the opportunity to log into a game that size and so cannot attest to the game's stability or performance with so many players. But judging from the crashes that cropped up from time to time in single-player mode, it seems that such a heavily populated online session would encounter at least as many problems. Most online Terminus sessions seem to support around half the reported maximum number of players.
Unfortunately, Terminus' crash bugs are actually the least of its problems. Aside from the poorly done video-overlay techniques used to produce the shipboard settings between missions, Terminus has a bad habit of withholding critical information during gameplay. For example, military mission briefings stay onscreen for barely a moment before the display winks into 3D mode and takes you to the launch animation. To access the mission goals again, you have to dig into the personal information screen. What's worse, the game doesn't automatically update your navigational route or waypoints for most missions, so you have to plot your course yourself. That wouldn't be so bad if the in-game map had any intrinsic value whatever - or if the mission goals themselves were clearer. For instance, one mission is to attack a specific character last seen near the Mars Mining Station, but it leaves you wondering whether the target is a fighter craft, a person, a capital ship, or something else entirely. No one and nothing of that name appears anywhere on the game's list of ships, people, or anything else.
This general lack of information is also a problem during basic spaceflight and combat. The game will tell you when a missile has been launched or when weapons have been discharged in the area, but you never find out where these things happened or who fired the weapons unless you happen to witness the event. The game's lack of simple key-command functions like "target nearest attacker" only exacerbates the problem. In addition, the consequences of damage sustained by your ship are similarly mysterious during gameplay, despite several pages on the topic in the game manual - a heavily damaged ship often simply shuts down until it's blown to smithereens. Other game elements, such as mining, are never fully explained in the manual or the training missions.
Terminus offers flawed but nonetheless decent space combat action, along with an impressive online play feature. The game ought to be appealing on account of this and its cross-platform compatibility, but its glitches and general lack of polish considerably diminish its overall quality.