Reviewed: June 2, 2009
Released: May 19, 2009
I’m a big fan of the Terminator series, at least when it comes to the movies. I even liked the third one. The games haven’t done nearly as well as one might expect given the exciting source material and loads of untapped potential. Since the whole time travel premise has been played out I was eager to see the new movie and play the new game that was going to take place in the future – post Judgment Day.
But Terminator Salvation didn’t really deliver that post-nuclear, apocalyptic feeling at the theater or in the video game. Where were the dark skies and piles of rubble littered with human skulls? I was expecting the James Cameron vision and got something entirely different. If Skynet is going to nuke the world then why does most of this game look like I am exploring the ruins of some ancient lost Aztec civilization? After a nuclear winter nothing should be growing let alone flourishing, but Terminator Salvation has more to overcome than just logic.
My biggest complaint with the game is that it doesn’t “feel” very Terminator. Some of this has to do with the look of the game, but mostly it’s lurking in the gameplay and style. It’s almost as if GRIN bought an existing title and re-skinned it with Terminator art and pushed it out the door to coincide with the movie. And if I had to guess I would say that re-skinned original was Wanted: Weapons of Fate – another game GRIN recently released. Both games use the same movement and cover style combat with a large focus on distracting and flanking the enemy.
Salvation is extremely repetitive and predictable. You will move through seemingly open levels although your path is limited to one, maybe two options. After a quick uneventful hike through an abandoned building or a ravaged city street you will come to an open area with fairly obvious items intended for use as cover, and just about then a swarm of enemies will attack. These natural arenas rely on either you and a co-op partner, or the quirky AI, to distract, flank, and attack from the rear; a process that works a lot better with a smart human partner than the computer that assists you in the solo game. The AI will get the job done...eventually, but it just takes a lot longer than a partner you can direct and work with as a team.
To further add to the repetitiveness, there are only a handful of enemy types, each with their own specific method for defeating them. The Aerostats or wasps are the air enemies and will go down easily with a single shotgun blast or several rounds from a machine gun. T-7-T or spiders are large patrol bots that are heavily shielded in the front, forcing you to flank them and attack a small battery pack on their rear that is conveniently highlighted when exposed. I did note that the enemy AI seems to single out and prioritize the human player versus the AI, so it can take a long time of you hiding behind cover before they turn to address your teammates, giving you that rare moment to take your shot.
And then you have the T600 in its raw metallic form as well as a “skin job” variation. Both are extremely tough and require several clips, pipe bombs, or grenades to bring down. The T600 is my favorite enemy and the most dangerous, as it will relentlessly pursue you. Most games afford you a feeling of invulnerability when you are hiding behind cover, so I was more than a bit surprised when one T600 advanced on my cover position, came around the corner and bitch-slapped me into the reload checkpoint screen.
And these are the enemies you will be fighting 98% of the game. Sometime they will be combined in mixed waves to create some more challenging air-land combat situations but that’s about it. There are a few special enemies thrown in like a few Hunter Killers that require rocket attacks to bring down, and those sleek and deadly motorcycles from the movie are part of an exciting on-rails car chase level and an underground train chase level. And near the end you will actually enter and take control of a massive Terminator robot and make the deadly march toward Skynet HQ complete with red-tinted "terminator vision".
As cool as this might all sound the game requires very little thought. The levels are linear so you never have to explore, and there is nothing to find even if you could. Other than weapons and ammo there are no pick-ups or collectibles. Arenas are obvious, even when they are fashioned from real-world debris, and you can scan any situation and instantly see the items to use for cover and any stairs leading to an elevated flanking position. Then it's just a matter of waiting for your teammate (human or AI) to distract the enemy long enough to make that kill shot.
You can’t order or position your AI teammates but they also cannot die, so you don’t have to worry about protecting them either. There is no shortage of ammo or weapons, and the right weapon for any given situation will always magically appear near the encounter, so if you see that rare rocket launcher lying in the corner expect an HK very soon.
The overall presentation is average at best. The graphics are decent, although, again, I didn’t feel like I was playing a futuristic Terminator game; at least not in the way that Atari showed us back in 2004 with Terminator 3: The Redemption. The human characters and animation is excellent and the robots…well, they look and move like robots; slightly clumsy and awkward but still able to instill a sense of dread when that T600 is marching straight for you. The 360 version supports 1080p with a nice collection of special effects and impressive draw distance.
The audio portion is again, only average. While it has the traditional themes and music from the franchise as well as all the signature sounds and realistic weapons, explosions and crumbling debris, all in Dolby Digital, the mix isn’t very immersive. There’s not much use of the rear channels and the subwoofer doesn’t get used as much as it should. The voice work is quite good with believable performances, and even some movie talent has been brought onboard, but Bale chose not to lend his voice to the virtual John Conner. His stand-in does a fine job, but it’s clearly not Bale.
Another thing to note about Terminator Salvation is the extremely short playing time. I finished the game in just over four hours and I wasn’t rushing. Sadly, much of that time will be spent in the game’s frequent and painfully long load screens. You know the loads are bad when the designers actually give you analog control so you can spin and pan the endoskeleton head around the screen. Checkpoints are frequent so you won’t have to play too much of the game, but they also checkpoint before lengthy cutscenes that you cannot skip – annoying.
As mentioned previously, the game is much better when played with a human partner but there is no online option, so you are forced to play in split-screen. Even with my 65” HDTV, I still hate sharing screen space. If you are a fan of easy achievements then you can easily get them all if you play the game on Hard. Sadly, the uninspired, unoriginal, and extremely short nature of the game makes Terminator Salvation a rental at best or a cautionary purchase when it hits the $20 bargain bin.