It's a great shame that many great games can disappear into obscurity where those who may go on to love them will have probably never heard of them. It's an absolute travesty that most games from Looking Glass Studios fall into this category. Their output was inventive, universally praised yet played by so few. The subject for today's post - Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri - is no different.
The beginning of Looking Glass Studios looked bright. Just for they merged with Lerner Research for form the company, Blue Sky Productions gave the world Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss. It was a critical and commercial success when it was released in 1992 and lead to two games being put into production under the new company name. These were the sequel to Ultima Underworld subtitled Labyrinth of Worlds and Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri.
Terra Nova was plagued with problems during its production. The complex and heavily ambitious game saw many delays as they tried to compete with their competitors. Their biggest delay was due to the addition of the full motion video cut-scenes - a response to the recently released and hugely popular Wing Commander III.
It was eventually released in 1996, before which the highly influential, yet slow selling game System Shock had its entire production and release. This didn't hurt the critical reception which was full of high praise, yet some did bemoan the pixellated 3D engine. Most 3D games of the era took place inside. Exterior location, especially with the scope and detail of Terra Nova were rarely seen due to the technical limitations. It was perhaps for this reason that they decided to use this style and keep an impressive draw distance that was so crucial for the game to work.
Despite the pixellated graphics, you needed a fairly powerful PC for the time. It was perhaps for this reason that the game did not sell. If you had the PC specs to run it, why not choose the more impressive looking Quake? If you weren't rich enough to afford the upgrades, why buy a game you can't play? As such, many people missed out on one of the greatest tactical shooters of the era.
Set on a distant planet in a dystopian future, you lead a team of combatants to keep peace in a place where space pirates run rampant and Earth's corrupt government are keen to take over. Your team is equipped with powerful mech suits that have can take a while to get used to. It has many different functions resulting in a lot of keyboard juggling and mouse wrangling in tight situations. You'll definitely need to keep the quick reference card handy.
Unlike other shooters, you don't shoot directly in front of you, instead you use your mouse to aim via a crosshair. Once you get out of the FPS mindset which now has a universally accepted control scheme, it works quite well and adds to the feeling that you are actually controlling a mech. While at first glance it does look like it'll play similar to Doom or Quake, once you begin to increase the members of your team, you realise that this it was never meant to compete with them. It's telling that the game that caused them so much worry during production was a sci-fi flight sim and not a first person shooter.
So many great games were released from Looking Glass Studios and despite their demise in 2000 just a few short months after the release of Thief 2, their legacy can still be felt today. Bioshock, one of the greatest and most successful franchises of the past ten years owes a great debt to System Shock and the team based tactical shooters take a lot from the mechanics and impressive AI that appears here. Their games may not have had blockbuster sales, but each and every one had a level of care and attention and a belief in new styles of play that many companies should take heed of.
Terra Nova is an exceptional game. All of the technical limitations put upon it on its release are no longer valid as it works flawlessly under DOSBox. Give it a go and have a look for yourself.
As of 25th June, Terra Nova is now available to buy on Good Old Games.
Buy from GOG
Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri is © Looking Glass Studios
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me