Because there’s a very small chance that a SF fan didn’t see or at least heard of the Terminator series, I’ll skip the description of the three films that the leading role was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc. “I’ll be back”, spectacular chases, excellent special effects, the end. But now the cast had to be changed (uncle Swartzi is a governor now and pretty old too), so Christian Bale, the actor who made headlines with his performances in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, took John Connor’s mantle.
As expected, someone inevitably had to make a game off the new Terminator as well. Warner Bros has to eat, you know. But if we take into account the many failures based on this recipe, nobody really expected to see a Terminator Salvation video game with some decent quality. Even if GRIN studious (responsible, among others, for the Advanced Warfighter series) were handling the development it and it may have been a bright light of hope.
The end begins
Unfortunately, in this case there are some question marks regarding the quality right from the first few seconds. That’s because John Connor doesn’t look like and doesn’t have the voice of Christian Bale. Instead, he’s rather similar to Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. And this is a big no-no if you’re making a game based on a blockbuster. The ironic part is that the main supporting characters (Blaire and Barnes), who also make an appearance in the movie, have the voices of their respective actors (Moon Bloodgood and Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr, aka Common).
If only this was the only issue. The biggest is the fact that the game ends in approximately 3 hours and a half; there’s not even time to figure out what’s all about and you are done. But on second thought, it’s better this way, considering its repetitive nature. Had I stayed longer in his company, I surely would have fallen asleep.
There’s no point in producing a game without technical problems, with a gameplay that works, if there’s not much to do in it. It’s better to watch the two hour movie it’s based upon and you’ll feel like you’ve been entertained something.
Gameplay type T-1000
Terminator Salvation doesn’t have anything of interest going for it and half the time you’ll destroy Aerostats, drones that better fit in as human-detectors rather than fighters, and T-7-T, huge mechanical bugs with very durable armor. The latter must be flanked every time and unfortunately, the fights with them tend to be a hide and seek game that lasts too long, especially when there’s more than one.
The notorious and feared T-600s are only encountered near the end and aren’t as powerful as they should have been. Sure, they are resistant to bullets, but that’s why we have grenade and rocket launchers. There are also the so-called Skin Jobs, disguised T-600, but there’s nothing special about them other than their looks.
The producers wanted to introduce a bit of variety in a 3-hour game and came up with some car chases (aka rail sequences) that, ironically, are the most intense and interesting moments of the whole package. Not that their length is any better than the rest of the missions, but there’s a special feel about them that takes us back to the adrenaline filled sequences from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
On the other hand, if there wasn’t any cover system, the game would have been too hard, because the enemies have a respectable firepower and an armor to boot. Seeing how a T-600 comes directly to you without any remorse, you’ll often just run and use whatever cover you can find. Even if it’s not perfect, the system does his job well every time and can be counted on the good parts of the game. Yes, it’s the same cover mechanic that we’ve seen over and over again in various other titles, but the combination with continuous movement makes the fights more engaging.
On the enemy AI department, the robots behavior perfectly fits their power, but don’t really impress, intelligence-wise. In the beginning you have the impression that they have an “engine” that actually tells them what to do, but soon you figure it out and the game becomes a routine, losing in the process the feeling of fear that you should have when you see several robots coming towards you.
The allied characters aren’t a real help either. There were times when I didn’t have any bullets and they offered me ammunition, but in other situations they simply ignored me, at which point you’ll have to wait a while for them to bring the robots down, especially T-7-T, which doesn’t expose his back very often (its only vulnerable part). At times like this there you realize that the AI is useless and it would have been better to play alone, but with a little more ammunition at your disposal.
Despite this, the weapons are decently modeled and have a decent accuracy. Which is worthless if you don’t actually have ammunition to shoot with. I really missed games where there’s only a small quantity of ammunition which requires good use of it, but in Terminator Salvation this doesn’t really apply because of the companions. You must empty full magazines and 2-3 rockets on a T-600 to destroy it, and the other models are not far of this “standard”. So if you don’t manage to bring them down, you might as well grab a cup of coffee and wait for the companions to do it.
And if this wasn’t enough, a mission lasts 5 minutes, and then you suddenly see the loading screen. Without any explanation, without nothing. The action itself takes place during a day from John Connor’s life, before the events in Salvation, but everything is just a big blur, as not even the cinematics help clear any questions that a player might have.
Walking through Los Angeles
Those that expected the graphics to rise above this trend of mediocrity will be disappointed. Yes, we can see how Los Angeles would look like after Judgment Day, the levels are pretty decent, but there are many low-resolution textures that ruin the artistic impression. And no, you can’t improve them by trying to change the graphic options, because there aren’t any. Resolution, brightness and Aspect Ratio, for those who have widescreen monitors. And that’s it.
The sound is decent, but with much measure. The dialogues are in small number and the atmosphere loses much by not having Bale’s voice. The sound effects don’t impress either and I can even say that during the city chases, the collisions “sound” rather strange. Only the decent music manages to save the situation a bit.
Given the fact that in your adventure you’re followed by additional characters, a co-op mode would have been welcomed. It exists…but only locally. So if you want to destroy robots with a friend, you’ll have to put a gamepad in his arms, ‘cause there’s no online mode.
Likewise, there’s no kind of achievement or extra content that would justify a replay or a deeper exploration of the levels. No behind-the-scenes sequence, no concept-art or promotional images, nothing. Only the satisfaction that you’ve finished the game even faster and that you’re no longer at the hand of the AI if you run out of ammunition.
Bottom line? If anybody should ever ask you why you freak out when you hear about another game based on a blockbuster, you can offer Terminator Salvation as an eloquent example. A title without any kind of charm, released only to get a few more bucks from Terminator fans. Stay away from it and better look for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. At least the latter showed us that there are indeed exceptions to the rule.