Publisher: Equity Games/Evolved Games
Release Date: May 19, 2009
Terminator Salvation is completely average in every sense of the word. You can almost tell that Grin (developers of Bionic Commando and Wanted) had planned to put more content in the game, but for whatever reason, we're stuck with a very basic third-person shooter based on a film that ended up being critically panned. Not everyone can be a winner when it comes to movie-licensed games, and I have a strong feeling that both the players and developers lost out here.
The plot seems to take place prior to the movie events, since you never see the Marcus Wright and Kyle Reese characters through the entire game. Instead, it focuses on the character of John Connor, who is still in his early days of being a resistance fighter. He's not the leader yet, but the game plot heavily foreshadows his upcoming role as mankind's savior, as he slowly but surely builds up a squad of loyal followers over the course of a rescue mission to find three soldiers who are holed up in Skynet territory. The story is actually pretty good, and I liked it a bit more than I did the film plot. Connor still seems pretty one-dimensional, but in the game, he's at least headstrong, sure of himself, and able to inspire others to fight and die for his cause — unlike the slightly whiny version we got in the movie. He even hacks a Terminator in the game, as a simple nod to the idea of reprogramming Arnold Schwarzenegger in the "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" film.
Unfortunately, while I found the story aspects to be pretty positive, the gameplay is incredibly dull and simple. Grin introduced a very useful cover mechanic in Wanted that allowed you to easily slide in and out of cover and hide behind just about everything in the environment, but Terminator Salvation's seems to make use of a less responsive version of cover than Wanted, which Grin had developed before this title. The comparisons between the two games don't stop there, though. Not only does the game make use of 3-D models that are pretty close to what we saw in Wanted, but it also uses the same third-person view and gameplay mechanic of tossing you into a large room and streaming bad guys into it, allowing you to advance once you take them all out. The problem with Terminator Salvation's approach is that there aren't a lot of actual enemies to fight, with most waves consisting of three to four bigger enemies, like the T-600 Endoskeletons or the T-7-T models, and a few of the smaller "wasp" flying robots. Almost every fight feels the same across every level, and you'll grow bored in a couple of hours before you even reach the halfway point.
The game tries to make use of flanking as a maneuver pretty often, and I think the idea is solid even if the execution isn't particularly great. If you've ever played an MMO before, you'll understand what threat is. Basically, attacking an enemy generates so much threat that it's going to maintain a focus on you even if other people are attacking the same foe. It's a stat that's never really shown, but there's some number-crunching going on under the hood that takes into account damage output, proximity, and a few other things to determine how much attention from an enemy you currently have, and what amount of damage from other players will be required to break their concentration. Terminator Salvation pretty much runs with this concept for the majority of the fights you get into. The T-7-T robots all have weak spots on their backs, and their front ends are basically impervious to damage except from grenades or rockets. There's a lot of cover in the environment, and you can dodge between cover by holding over and pressing the appropriate button. The idea is that you want to keep moving behind cover until you can come behind the enemy and shoot away at its weak spot while the other characters keep the enemy's focus elsewhere. There is a co-op mode that makes this work out a little better, but the AI can get the job done (it's just a little slower). Battling against the T-600s is a little more challenging, as its weak spot is directly on its chest plate, but if it focuses to fire on you while you're trying to take it out, your health will whittle away to nothing in seconds, so you need to constantly duck in and out of cover to shoot and avoid taking direct hits.
Still, while each fight requires a little strategy, you just end up doing the same exact thing over and over again in every single fight, so any sense of, "Hey, this is pretty cool!" goes away after a few firefights. Also, there's not a lot variation in the enemy types, with only a handful of different battles, no boss fights, and only a couple of driving sequences with turret-style mechanics to break up the monotony. The lack of "boss" fights in particular was surprising, and I think that's more a case of the developers being locked into sticking with the movie more so than an actual design decision. That's how I hope it went, anyway.
Likewise, the levels in which you get to fight it out feel really open, and they offer a lot of room for free movement, but there's absolutely no incentive to explore. There are no hidden items to collect or secrets to find, and outside of weapon pick-ups to replace ammo, I can't figure out why the stages seem designed to encourage the player to look around, when there's really no reason to do so. You can't run around in the open against multiple enemies or you'll be shot to death, but there are a lot of sections where you'd easily be free to just roam around a bit. With nothing to check out or collect, the incentive to revisit levels is completely gone, and there's no real reason to replay the game once you've finished it.
That brings me to my final complaint, in that this game is ridiculously short for a full-priced title. While Wanted was also on the short side, it allowed you to replay with some different skins and offered up some Achievement/Trophies for timed runs and whatnot. Terminator Salvation has none of that, with 11 Achievements spread out by completing each level and finishing the game on the hard or normal difficulty level. There are no unlockables, no secrets and no extra content of any kind. Once you finish the game in about four hours, that's all there is to it. It's a budget experience at full price, and one that I can't suggest anyone pick up. It's probably an ideal rental, but keep in mind that it's an extremely repetitive action experience, and there's nothing noteworthy about the entire game.
More articles about Terminator Salvation: The Videogame