Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation
Terminator Salvation Cover
Platforms PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows
Genre Gears-like third person shooter
Score 7  Clock score of 7Gameplay: 7
Fun Factor: 8
Gfx/Sound: 7
Story: 6
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Terminator Salvation is the recent adaptation of the McG helmed latest installment in the Terminator movie franchise. The game was developed by Halcyon Games with Grin Entertainment, the same company known for pumping out some of the years most underwhelming licensed properties and sequels, including Wanted: Weapons of Fate (review forthcoming) and a 3-D re-imagining of the classic Capcom game, Bionic Commando.

The game is a cover-based third person shooter. It revolves around several of the main characters from the film of the same name; John Connor, Blair Williams, Angie Saltar, and the enigmatic Barnes. The story is essentially a prequel, taking place in a timeline in the future (after Terminator 3) but before the events depicted in the movie. It follows a mission that sets Connor on his path to the upper echelons of the resistance. The storyline involves a situation where Connor is faced with a choice: follow orders (and let people die), or disobey orders (and attempt to rescue a group in trouble). Naturally, our hero eschews his orders in an effort to save his fellow freedom fighters. In so doing, he sets himself on a trajectory that will have him rebuking his commanders and showing a level of leadership that had previously eluded him. Now let’s see how it plays.

As I mentioned, Terminator Salvation is a cover-based third person shooter. The cover mechanic is very simple. You press a button when you’re close to a wall or some other barrier, such as an abandoned vehicle or upturned table. This causes your character to “hug” the barrier and protects you from incoming projectiles. While behind cover, you can’t effectively shoot, but you can still move, sliding along a wall or whatever you’re up against. In order to shoot, you have to pop up, exposing yourself to enemy fire. It works well and isn’t too cumbersome and it’s a mechanic that has increased lately due to the popularity of games like Gears of War which uses a similar mechanic. In many of these other cover-based shooters, I’ve found myself grabbing cover when I didn’t really want to, usually because the button that grabs cover is also assigned to other contextual activities. It’s a giant pain, but fortunately not a problem in this game.

Each level is basically an exercise in using cover and returning fire. As you progress through each mission, you’ll come upon, or be ambushed by, the futuristic robots and terminators we’ve been introduced to through the course of the movies, with a heavy dependence on those that were shown in Salvation. Each machine has an area of increased vulnerability, that will allow you to take it down in fewer shots. I’ve read reviews complaining that some of the machines take an eternity to bring down, or that you have to use all your ammunition on a single enemy. This is only true if you are not targeting their weaker areas, which are shown by a pulsing red outline when your aiming reticule is on them. Most of the weaker areas are on the backside of the machines (naturally). This necessitates frequent flanking maneuvers, which most levels are well designed for if you look around. The gameplay model is fun and works well, but it goes somewhat unexplored as the level design maintains a similarity and simplicity from the start of the game to its finish.

You’ll progress along the storyline, both in traditional cutscenes and semi-controlled events where other characters talk to you and to each other. During these events you can look and move around, but can’t do much else. For example, I was unable to shoot anything during these scenes. It’s at these times that we get to see John Connor begin to develop his leadership qualities. And it’s in large part due to the urging he gets from Blair, who seems to be the personification of John's moral ambitions. The story is very basic, but it’s nice to get some lead up to the movie. The entire game follows John and his small but growing team as he works to save a group of people who are trapped in an area heavily populated with machines. His commander tells him it’s a suicide mission but John goes anyway. Blair follows and they are eventually joined by Angie and Barnes. They also make some good friends along the way who help them along with their mission. It’s a very linear design that is driven by the story. Each mission is an effort to overcome obstacles on the way to the ultimate goal: fulfill your commitment to rescue your endangered cohorts.

Terminator Salvation John Connor

What was awesome: I really liked the cover system and the on-screen cues for moving from cover to cover. When you’re in cover and move to the edge of it, a diagram appears on screen. It’s generally a small half circle in the center of the screen and is divided into pie shaped segments that represent other nearby cover. There is a small dot showing where you currently are and you can move that dot to another pie segment (with the right analog stick) to indicate which cover you’d like to move to. When you hit the cover button, your character will dash from one cover to another. The animations for switching cover locations are very good. Your character will do a variety of running, sliding, and body rolls depending on where the cover is in relation to your current position and how far away it is. This mechanic worked so well that I found myself jumping and sliding from cover to cover just for fun as an onslaught of terminators pounded our position with gunfire.

What I liked: The Terminator franchise is really strong and despite the weaknesses of this particular game, it’s an interesting place to interact with. It evokes emotions and thoughts of humans place on earth and how our rush for modernization can be an insidious and lurking danger. It makes us question things we thought we knew and perhaps scares us in the process. It’s a future I hope never to see, but it’s intriguing to visit, both in movie and game form.

What I didn't like: The game is short (6-7 hours), repetitive, and not very well fleshed out. With such a well-designed cover mechanic, it saddens me that most of the levels are designed so similarly. There is also an unfortunate lack of enemy variety. You will find yourself fighting the same terminator models from the first level to the last. Apparently a theme is forming here as there is also an obvious shortage of weapon variety. It would have been nice to see something besides your standard machinegun/shotgun/rocket launcher loadout, although the weapons they give you do feel good. Much like most modern games, you can carry only 2 weapons simultaneously. You also have access to grenades and pipe-bombs. Strangely, in later levels, I was unable to pickup the pipe-bombs even though I had none and was also out of grenades. I’m not sure if I was doing something wrong or if the game was glitching.

Terminator Salvation John Connor Rocket Launcher


Gameplay: 7
The gameplay is actually pretty good. The flanking feels good, particularly when it involves several slick cover changes as I mentioned earlier. Taking down a T-600 with a well placed grenade or two works as you’d hope it would. The mix of flying enemies interspersed throughout the levels will keep you on your toes. It just needed more variety in level design and more variety in the enemy department. One fun level is great. One fun level repeated for 4 hours? Not as much. To be fair, there were a couple of your typical “variety” levels where you fire from the back of a moving subway car, man a turret on a fleeing dune buggy, and where you drive some large tank thing with infrared scopes. But these levels were very short and there weren’t enough of them.

Fun Factor: 8
This category is going to show some bias on my part, since I’m probably more interested in the Terminator universe than the average gamer. I’ve really enjoyed all the movies and I’ve been excited about the prospect of a modern game that takes advantage of the storyline. Despite this game's many shortcomings, I had fun playing it.

Graphics and Sound: 7
This is a combined score of graphics: 6 and sound: 8. The character models are pretty average but do the trick. In-engine cutscenes are pretty weak as it’s clear the character models were designed for a shooting posture rather than walking upright making conversation. The terminators look good but don’t do much besides shoot at you and the environments are also pretty repetitive. I suppose you can’t expect much of a variety in a bombed-out, dystopian Los Angeles, but still, some scenery changes would have been nice. The sound and soundtrack, on the other hand, was a joy if you’re a fan of the franchise. The intense drum beats and synth sounds that are a staple of the series are used well and they really help make battles in the midst of the unimaginative level design more interesting.

Story: 6
The story is a simple rescue mission. It’s nothing spectacular at all. I will say though, it’s nice to have a storyline that’s more quaint. It gets old constantly saving the universe in games like this. Can’t we just rescue a friend now and then? Why does every game have to be so epic? Perhaps to get more points in the Story category.

Overall: 7
This game ended up being very average. It had a lot going for it, but clearly the effort to release it with the movie short changed gamers. With better variety of enemies and weapons and some expanded concepts in level design it could have really shined brightly amidst a backdrop of subpar licensed properties.

Final Thoughts: Your enjoyment of this game will depend heavily on your interest and enjoyment of the franchise. If you’re the kind of person who bought a soundtrack to one of the Terminator movies, you’ll probably enjoy it, while simultaneously being a bit let down that a great franchise wasn’t treated with more respect and was instead churned out to release alongside a movie. If you don’t care about the Terminator universe, this game will likely be a repetitive bore and the short repetitive campaign will strain your interest even further.

Terminator Salvation Art