A funny thing happened about a week ago as I was looking for the next game title to review. My editor offered Terminator 3 to me and I, having played the demo for about three minutes, replied “It sucks too much to write a review about.” Now, that’s a funny thing to say, isn’t it? I mean, the sucky games are exactly the ones we should be writing reviews about quickly. What good am I doing for all of humanity if not keeping copies of games like Terminator 3 on the shelves? If you go out and buy a copy of, say, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time without reading the GO review first, what’s the harm? It’s a good game. But if just one copy of Terminator 3 gets bought anywhere in the world, then I have failed as both a game reviewer and a member of the human race. Mind you, I don’t plan to spend a lot of time reviewing it, my duty to humankind aside, so if I haven’t already persuaded you to spend your hard-earned gaming dollars elsewhere, read on.
What is T3: War of the Machines? Going in, I had been hoping for some kind of strategic FPS or maybe an arcade game with an advanced plotline. It’s neither of those things. What it is is simply a team combat game in which each side is fighting to control certain points on the map. The single player menu gives access to twelve maps, locations such as the city and the military base, and I’m given the choice of playing as either the humans (called Tech-Com) or the machines (Skynet). Let’s begin with the joys of the human side.
I can select different soldier types like a sniper or machine gunner. Can such weapons even damage a Terminator? Not according to the movies, but I’ll give it a go as a sniper. I appear with the rest of my team in a bombed out building, and we quickly fan out and move to the closest control point. There’s a jeep there, and I can climb in and drive, but have no way to tell my computerized teammates to get in. Just as well as I hang it up almost immediately on a pile of garbage -- can’t seem to drive loose no matter what I do -- and get back out. I continue to the control point on foot. It turns out to be almost like a bunker made of garbage, a symbol floating overhead and on the minimap indicates who owns it. With the mounds of trash all around, it looks pretty defendable. No sooner have we settled in than the Terminators are coming! There are several varieties – the cyborg from the movie, the small flying critter, and a sort of cyborg-tank. With the sniper rifle, I take out three of them before they even get a shot off, and by ‘take out’ I mean that I shoot three of them in the head, and they stop walking, fall over, and vanish. Woo, special effects! The little flying creatures explode and disappear in a puff of smoke. I’m no great deathmatch killer normally, but here I’m racking up kills five or six to one. One of the Terminators is an infiltrator, appearing as a human. This would be a significant advantage, except for the fact that when I look at him through my sniper rifle scope, a label identifies him as a Terminator. So much for infiltration. The graphics for the game aren’t bad, but are extremely poorly animated. People and machines move woodenly and weapons effects are nearly non-existent. The sounds would have been right at home in Castle Wolfenstein, the first one, from nineteen eighty whatever.
I’d like to tell my teammates to hold this position while I take a few forward and assault another location, but I can’t control them at all, so I move out alone. I kill literally dozens of terminators, who all fall over in the same stiff way and vanish, and I single handedly take two other control points. Somehow my teammates have managed to lose the first one at the same time. As I recover the first control point and my teammates lose the other two I conclude that the AI is next to useless. The maps are a pretty good size, but they are so badly arranged, with large dead ends and pointless open spaces, that there are actually very few key strategic locations. When I manage to run my sniper rifle dry, I can’t figure out a way to get more ammunition, and have never seen anything that looks like an ammunition dump. It seems that I have to get myself killed to reappear with a full weapon, but that’s probably not true – it’s simply the only way that I figured out. At one point, I’m given the option of respawning as the Terminator from the movies, but I’m not sure what advantage if any it gives me – maybe more hit points, and Schwarzeneggar says (any guesses?) “I’m back” when you respawn. After about 15 minutes of this (did I have an option to set the game time somewhere that I missed?), the game is over and the humans have won, like 100 kills for me and a dozen or so for everyone else.
The Skynet side is much more interesting, if by interesting you mean eye searing. All the terminators see through eyes filmed red, which is not only really irritating but actually makes it difficult to see anything. The little flying critter is fun to fly, but can’t take control points. When a human is shot, he likewise falls over stiff as a board without blood – perhaps we’re all robots and just don’t know it. I’m the same super-killer as a terminator that I was as a human, scoring many, many kills. With my help, the machines are the clear winners.
Maybe, I think, online play will be better with some real humans filling in the lackluster AI. If only I could find any games. The servers I locate are sparsely populated at best and seem to support ridiculously low ping rates, probably on private machines in Remote, Nebraska or Backwoods, Iowa. Isn’t Atari running any dedicated servers? Not that I could find.
I can’t believe that Atari was just given the license for Terminator 3 for nothing. It’s a major movie, and Schwarzeneggar has a governorship to support; they must have played something. So what possesses them to even bother releasing such hollow lifeless dreck? Surely there was a small software house somewhere that would have really tried to do better and make a name for themselves. Maybe not. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Atari gave someone a really swell rub and tug, and the license for T3 just fell into their laps. Whatever. This is the game they made, and stay as far away from it as you possibly can.