Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: GRIN/Halcyon Games
Release Date: May 19, 2009
As a franchise, Terminator has always been about the future war. An artificial intelligence named Skynet took over the world's computer systems and ushered in a nuclear apocalypse that left humanity on the brink of destruction. The savior of humanity is an unassuming man named John Connor, who leads the rebellion and defeats Skynet. This causes Skynet to send one of its own robots, a human-disguised terminator, back in time to kill Connor's mother. As the series progressed, new twists and turns were introduced, but one thing was always certain: There will be a war in the future, and Connor will defeat Skynet.
However, with the exception of flashbacks in the first movie and the occasional video game, we've never gotten to see what this war is like. The upcoming "Terminator: Salvation" movie is the first in the series to be set in the postapocalyptic world. The video game adaptation, also named Terminator: Salvation, may not be the first game to be set in the postapocalyptic future, but it's the first time that players will get to control John Connor.
Terminator: Salvation is set between the events of the third movie and the upcoming one. Terminator 3 ended with the nuclear apocalypse, and Connor is now forced into the role for which he has been preparing all his life. Our brief time with the game didn't give us much in the way of plot. We joined the story midway through, with Connor trying to rescue a few of his allies from Skynet forces. What we know is that this story doesn't cover anything from any movies, but instead acts as a bridge, explaining how Connor got to where he is in the upcoming film.
On the surface, Terminator: Salvation is a fairly average Gears of War clone. The controls are your standard third-person shooter controls, with the analog sticks controlling movement, the right trigger firing, and the left trigger aiming for greater accuracy. As with many Gears of War-inspired games, Salvation includes a cover system. Move up to an object and press the A button, and Connor will duck behind it. One neat feature is that you can easily move from cover to cover. When you approach the edge of the piece of terrain you're hiding behind, a small indicator will pop up allowing you to pick the direction of other nearby pieces of cover. Choose one, and Connor will automatically move over toward it, so he moves from place to place without exposing himself to fire.
Connor has a regenerating health bar, as do so many characters nowadays, although his is a bit more restrictive. Health only regenerates once combat is over, so there is no use hiding behind objects and waiting for your wounds to heal; the only way to survive is to take out the terminators attacking you. The game also has a co-op feature, which lets players take control of one of Connor's allies as the heroes work together to take down Skynet.
Terminator: Salvation makes ammo conservation a much bigger deal than in most third-person shooters. Connor has access to two weapons at a time: a light submachine gun and a weapon of your choice. In the preview build, we saw a shotgun, a machine gun and a grenade launcher available, but in order to use these weapons, we had to find them scattered in Resistance hideouts or on the bodies of our fallen comrades. (After all, Skynet didn't need to use human weapons.) The system felt quite similar to the mechanics in GRIN's other upcoming title, Bionic Commando, and the weapons also felt a little similar. The difference is that ammunition is scarce for your secondary weapon in Bionic Commando, but in this title, the ammo is light for all weapons. Even wasting shots on your default gun can hurt you later, as Terminator: Salvation uses a "realistic" clip system. If you choose to reload a gun with only five shots left, you'll have the same number of clips afterward, but one of those clips will only have five shots left, and you can only see the total number of clips, not bullets, that you have available. If you run out of ammo, you can run to your fellow soldiers and get a few clips from them, but that involves breaking cover and exposing you and your allies to enemy fire.
Since Skynet rules the war-torn world, Terminator: Salvation doesn't have the same need for subtlety as the first three films did. The result is that the generated terminator units tend to be more inhuman and built for combat. We got to see a few different types in our preview build, but the most obvious was the T-600 model. An ancestor of the T-800 that Arnold played in the films, it's what the Resistance refers to as an "Endo," or endoskeleton. It looks like a tremendous mechanical skeleton, although the ones in the game were called "skinjobs," artificial fakes covered with rubber skin in a failed disguise attempt. They were exceptionally durable but could be killed with sustained fire or a few grenades.
The other common enemy we encountered was a lot nastier. The T-7T is obviously a Skynet creature, since it's a man-sized mechanical spider armed with machine guns. It's nearly invincible from the front, and while it could be killed by sustained gunfire, it would take an obscene amount of clips to do so. Instead, the proper way to kill the T-7Ts is to get behind it and unload a few shots into the weak point on its back while your allies distract it. Supporting the T-7Ts are small wasp-like robots armed with weak machine guns. They die quickly and can't do a lot of damage, but they're hard to hit and can easily whittle down Connor's health while he's distracted.
Midway through the preview build, Terminator: Salvation switched over from on-foot segments to a few Resistance-controlled vehicles. The first of these was a train that was carrying refugees out of terminator-infested subway tunnels. Connor and his sidekick both have rocket-propelled grenade launchers and must defend the train in a rail-shooter segment against the Skynet forces. In addition to the Endos and the spiders, Skynet has also sent the new motorcycle terminators against the subway train. These guys provide the greatest threat of all, since they're fast and agile, and their machine guns and pulse lasers can do ridiculous amounts of damage.
Since Connor is armed with an RPG, you can't just hold down the button and shoot. After each shot, there's a lengthy reload, so making each shot count is essential. After our train ride, Connor was thrust into the gunnery seat of a heavily armored ATV and asked to defend a school bus full of refugees from attack. This played out very similarly, although in this case, John had to use a mounted gun. It was the only weapon I encountered with infinite ammo, but it overheated amazingly quickly, and each missed shot caused us to pay heavily. These segments are a bit more punishing than most TPS rail-shooter segments, and trying to play them like the ones found in other games is a good way to get the school bus or train blown up. Instead, you have to make every single shot count, which is harder than it sounds with the vehicles bumping around.
Unfortunately, that's where our preview build of Terminator: Salvation ends, after two levels of rail shooter and two levels of on-foot action. What I saw was interesting, although quite clearly unpolished. The on-foot mechanics are interesting, as is the fact that terminators require tactics and not just firepower to defeat, but the lackluster ally AI felt like it was holding us back. The gameplay seems solid, if unremarkable, and once you figure out how to kill the spiders, it didn't offer anything particularly of note. The rail-shooter segments were exceptional only in their unusual difficulty. Most games tend to use rail-shooter segments as a period when players can hold down the fire button and cause a lot of explosions, but Terminator: Salvation wants you to aim carefully. With some more polish, Terminator: Salvation could have ended up being a fairly interesting movie tie-in title, but so far, it doesn't do much to make itself stand out from the other third-person shooters on the market.
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