Terminal Velocity: Boosted Edition brings the 90s classic back.
Terminal Velocity is something of a space-sim classic from the 90s, and yet never gets mentioned in the same breath as the likes of X-Wing or Freespace 2. Perhaps it’s due to it being a bit more arcade-like rather than a more serious simulator. I have fond recollections of playing it as a youngster with my dad, and I’m pretty sure I still have the box and disc in the attic, so it was nice to see a re-release pop up on PC and console recently. I say re-release rather than remake as there’s actually very little that’s changed or been added since the original, but more on that shortly.
You play a generic space pilot tasked with saving the Earth, and indeed the universe, from evil aliens. That’s about as much plot as you can expect given that this is an action game from the 90s. But no one was going into this for a sprawling space opera. You want to fly fast and shoot baddies.
And that’s pretty much what you do. Over nine planets, with three stages on each. You’ll fly from one objective marker to another, blowing up buildings, flying through tunnels, and destroying bosses. Along the way, enemy fighters and turret emplacements will try to gun you down, but you’re more than a match for them. Your ship is faster, stronger, and better equipped than your enemies, so their numbers advantage won’t last for long.
Combat is pretty by the numbers, but your ship’s speed makes it feel quite satisfying. Foes will mostly fly at you, firing their lasers before swooping away as they get close, but your weapons will make short work of them if you can get shots off first. Your shields are solid, but with enough incoming fire you will be destroyed, so making sure you can get behind enemies and destroy them quickly is key.
You also have an afterburner which gives you an enormous speed boost for as long as it lasts. Ammo, shields, and afterburner fuel are recharged through floating pickups of course, but these tend to appear in abundance, so you’re rarely short of what you need. The afterburner is great fun when you’re flying through tight tunnels, as you reach Ludicrous Speed instantly, resulting in you hurtling along and probably pinballing off the walls as you go.
Planets themselves are quite expansive, with a lot of landscape to cover if you want to. The thing is, there’s really little reason to. The surface isn’t completely barren, but all you’ll come across are more enemy buildings, maybe a tunnel or two, and some powerups. There’s nothing different, and I quickly found myself simply pointing my ship towards the next objective and getting there as quickly as I could.
Reaching the end of the third stage on the planet will have you facing a boss. These are all creatively designed and have the silliness you might expect from a 90s-era shooter. Giant magma monsters, robot-arms on a cylindrical torso, and what appears to be a bodybuilder on a TV screen. They tend to function in the same way, but the variety in style certainly keeps things interesting. Most of them will present enough of a challenge to result in a couple of deaths and have you thanking the fairly generous autosave system, or the brevity of the levels.
Speaking of brevity, I finished the normal mode in just under three hours. That’s fairly brief, but there are a number of difficulties as well as a secret planet to play on if you follow the instructions to unlock it. This in itself is fine enough, but I do find the price tag a little steep considering that this is literally Terminal Velocity from nearly 30 years ago. There are next to no changes beyond some nicer audio, an increased draw distance — which means you can see spawned enemy ships just floating in the air as they haven’t been triggered by your presence yet — and the display fitting to your screen. It’s nice to have a digital version of the game, but this feels like a minimal-effort release, and I’d expect a minimal price tag to match.
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the nostalgia of going back to a classic from my youth. I don’t think this is suddenly going to find a new, modern audience, but if you played the original back in the day and want to replay it without having to dig up an old copy, well here’s your chance. It’ll feel just like playing a thirty-year-old game because that’s exactly what it is.