As a kid, I always had a fascination for the Terminator series. Watching Terminator: Judgment Day in the movie theatres was a total blast. Then came the so-so Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Bits from the past that gave us that nostalgia, mixed with new elements like female Terminators (a.k.a Terminatrix). A lot of movies coming out of Hollywood now are pre-labeled with the term “reboot”. Yes, I agree the Terminator franchise needed a well-deserved reboot in order to drop the shackles of being an Arnold-only franchise; let’s see how Judgment Day would really look like. However with movies easily getting a reboot, games based on summer blockbusters turn out to be the same. Overpriced titles rushed out by publishers, full of glitches, lacking creativity, with a slapped on branding name. Case in point: Terminator: Salvation.
With Terminator: Salvation, the game takes place before the actual movie, so it uses some of the characters that you’ll be introduced to, such as our hero John Connor. Here you will get to play out his rise in the ranks of the resistant army. The main objective to the story is to get to a small pocket of resistant soldiers that are caught deep in battlegrounds around Skynet. As most of his comrades see it as a lost cause/suicide mission to go save them, John steps up to track them through ten of the most boring levels of game play you’ll ever play in any game. There’s no motivation to actually save these other band of soldiers. It’s not like you’ll gain any power ups or additional troops to join your party, or start a big campaign. It’s more like a never-ending checkpoint; Reach point A to point B via ten levels. Now granted the idea of a Terminator game gives you access to the movie license to be creative and show off some cool set pieces in terms of character design, level design, and possibly some nice movie cut scenes. It was such a disappointment to see that developer Grin wasn’t able to utilize any of that. Thus the end result on the visuals turn out to be a complete rush job. I really thought the future during Judgment Day would be dark and depressing. Instead we are given nice sunny days. In terms of environments, its not so much trashed cityscapes buried in rubble, as you would expect, more like an industrial warehouse where someone forgot to cut the grass for the past six months. It just lacked effort in establishing the surrounding environments that you’re going to be playing through for the majority of the game.
Enemy character design was a big letdown as well. It was so repetitive. I really thought I was going to fight Skynet, but apparently Skynet only consisted of four Terminator prototypes. Big boss battles were interesting with large towering robots in the background. However with games like the God of War series, you were able to fight large towering bosses up close. In Salvation, everything seems to be kept at a distance. You get to see these cool Harvesters firing energy cannons at you from a distance. In return, you run away from it and are told via a text overlay you either escaped or the enemy was destroyed in some kind of explosion. It’s also a letdown to know this game is a prequel to the actual events in the movie. I was expecting more variety of Skynet enemies, but it was also annoying you don’t get to battle with a horde of T-600s or HKs, or drone cycles, or spider robots. Another pet peeve was the character animation of the resistant troops. Everyone looked primarily the same, with the exemption of John Connor with his black biker jacket. Another issue with John Connor is he doesn’t resemble or sound like Christian Bale. His inclusion in the game would put every other voice actor’s performance in the game to shame.
With the music of Terminator: Salvation, it has some of those iconic rifts from the Terminator movie series. However taking a segment of less than 15 seconds and looping it over and over throughout the level just droned on. There was some good points where the music ramps up nicely with the action, but then it would die off to an abrupt stop, a glitch in the game causing it to mute and start up after the game’s climatic action had passed; it really hampers the pacing of the overall action. Another issue with sound effects was the mixing of voice over tracks with ongoing action. I felt at times I was missing important dialogue, because music or sound effects would make things distorted.
Gameplay is a mix bag of tricks and recycled versions of what’s on the market right now. You play primarily in third person perspective behind the character’s shoulder. Think of it as Gears of War or Resident Evil lite. You have the ability to carry two weapons, ranging from assault rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers. Add also some throwing grenades and you have your basic arsenal to get through the game. Probably enough to get you through on easy and medium difficulty setting; hard mode it's ridiculous. One of the things I liked about the game was the intuitive radial cover system. It works by taking selective cover (certain objects apply) such as cars, pillars, and concrete barriers. From there, holding your cover button and pushing up on the angle stick, you're given options within a 180 degree area on which way to proceed to your next cover. This is fun when you're giving off blind fire to distract enemy AI to get around them. However the flaw in this system is backtracking your character via cover. It doesn't work and you're forced to get out of cover mode and leave yourself prone to enemy fire. You would think your friendly AI allies would give you some support. It's mostly non-existent when they really want to step in and help. Some blocks of game play you’re not allowed to regenerate health and gain ammo refills. Nobody drops anything for you, and visual cues are nowhere to give you a heads up on what's to come.
Another option that's given to play the game is via split screen co-operative mode. There's some limited enjoyment in that feature, but it would have been great to be able to swap inventory between the two players. Also, being able to use your extra AI allies as mules to carry stuff would have been nice as well. What would really make it nicer was to offer online co-op, so you're not forced to play local split screen. Not to mention there is no other online component to this game is really sad. A match of Skynet vs. Resistance via simple Team Deathmatch or Capture the Flag would have been great extra value. The only value you're truly getting from this game is the mostly easily obtainable gold trophies and achievements to add to your gamer ID score. In the end, Terminator: Salvation won't have you screaming for salvation, but rather wishing you were terminated from playing this game. Wait for the next reboot if you're hoping for that perfect, all around Terminator game.