Sometimes the gameplay leaves something to be desired, however. There are three major modes that you can try in Terminus
, each rather different. In the Gauntlet mode, you'll find yourself getting hosed by wave after wave of fighters, as you struggle to stay alive. I got creamed so often in this mode, I found myself playing the others out of frustration. The meat of the game is the Story Mode, where you pick one of the four sides available in the game and enter a vast storyline. Then there's Free Mode, which is set in the same universe as Story Mode, but without the whole plot thing to mess you up.
When you pick Story or Free Mode, you have to choose a side. You can pick the UEMS, which is a conglomeration of all Earth countries. You can fly for the Martian colonies as well. You can also pick to be a member of a Pirate group, which has its own rules and such, despite being outlaws. And you can pick to be a mercenary, which basically means that you choose no sides. The side that you pick heavily influences the game that you experience, especially in Story Mode. For example, both the UEMS and the Martian forces don't do 'contracts' in commercial space-ports. Instead, they sign up for sorties at the military base and go from there. Since the military will be picking your ship and your payload, you don't own a ship of your own. Picking the Pirates or the Mercenaries, however, makes it so that you have to go out and find contracts to sign up for, making sure that your ship is capable of executing said contract. It's definitely different, and pleasantly unique.
In the Story Mode, you'll find yourself involved in a growing web of intrigue surrounding the recent insurrection on Mars. Depending on which side you play, the missions you run and even the 'tinge' of the news reports you receive throughout the game are colored. It's amusing to see the UEMS complaining about the Martians, and then load your Martian game and see the exact same thing, only sides switched.
This is all well and good, you say, but how does the game itself play? Unfortunately, this is where Terminus falters. When you start a game, you pick a physics setting, from 'Arcade' to 'Realistic.' Depending on your choice, the ship will handle either, well, arcade-style or realistically. Terminus is one of the few space sims (the Elite series being another one) where Newtonian physics are actually done correctly. When you let off the throttle, the ship doesn't slow down. Instead, you have to reverse throttle to slow down. When you have your intertial compensators on, the ship will try to go in the direction that you point -- but you can turn it off and look in any direction as your ship continues to travel in a given direction. Very cool, I must say, but it takes some getting used to.
When you go on missions, especially plot missions, you'll see the real flaw of Terminus -- often-times, it plays itself. You'll find yourself called to do a mission for whatever group you're working for, you'll start the mission, you'll see that you're flying in the wrong direction or something, and by the time that you get oriented and jetting off the right way, you'll see a 'Congratulations!' message and the mission will be over. Huh? Admittedly, plenty of the missions require you to be up and in there, but a lot of them are basically 'play-on-your-own.' Although realistic, I suppose -- ten wingman shouldn't need your help to blow up two enemies -- it takes you out of the simulation somewhat.
The ship controls are similarly complex. You can turn every single subsystem on and off, and queue them up for repairs. This is nice, but often unneeded. And when you try to target a ship or location, you'll find that it's a major hassle. Reading the instructions and learning that hitting '/ and typing 'target (ship)' or 'navlock (ship)' will make your experience much more pleasurable, but it's still something of a pain. The fact that you can't target anything other than what's in your scanner range is also problematic -- at long scanner ranges, it's impossible to discern what the hell's going on.
Terminus is a fun game -- don't get me wrong. I enjoyed practically every minute I spent of it, besides the interminable long flights between Vortex Gates that you inevitably experience in any game of the genre. But sometimes its complexity gets the best of it, and you'll find yourself wondering why the hell you bothered jumping two or three times to the location that you're at if they were going to succeed anyway.
The game has multiplayer possibilities as well, where you jump into the persistent universe that someone's running on a server and have at it, in any of the various modes. Of course, the server has to be powerful enough to keep track of all the crap going on in the universe, and with a good enough connection to handle all the players. It's a neat idea, and one that I hope catches on, but only time will tell if the multiplayer aspect of Terminus will live on.