IGN Review of Terminator Salvation
Terminator Salvation is a relaunch of the film franchise featuring Christian Bale's gravitas, amazing set pieces and slick camera work. The videogame version has none of these things. Christian Bale has been replaced by a non-descript actor, the action is fairly tame throughout and the cutscenes are stunningly ordinary. And yet despite the poor presentation, there are some clever gameplay elements that make Terminator enjoyable. Too bad that joy only lasts a handful of hours before the credits roll.
Taking place two years prior to the upcoming film, Terminator Salvation follows one day in the life of would-be savior of mankind John Connor. Los Angeles has been lost to the machines and the resistance is pulling back to regroup, but some of Connor's men have gotten themselves captured by Skynet. While the leaders of the resistance (Connor is still an up-and-coming punk) are willing to sacrifice the few for the good of the many, Connor goes rogue to save his buddies. And that is the entire plot of Terminator Salvation. There are no unexpected twists or insight into John Connor or the formation of the resistance. It's just an excuse to go from point A to B and fight many machines along the way. Not exactly the worst idea for a game, but it's certainly not very deep.
Terminator Salvation seems, ironically enough, a victim of time. There just wasn't enough to create a full game. There are a few moments that lack any cinematic punch. For example, early on you battle an HK (big flying ship) from inside the ruins of a building. When you finally shoot it down, you're told it's crashing into the building. But there's no cutscene that shows this awesome moment and nothing visually spectacular happens in-game. It's a dud, and many more moments like this fall flat throughout the four-hour adventure.
Simply put, the presentation is shockingly poor. Bad acting, ugly cut-scenes, no Christian Bale, and a few story elements that are outright hilarious. The best and worst moments in Terminator Salvation are intertwined. The one shining cutscene (and coolest gameplay segment) is when the massive Harvester machine comes around scooping up humans. As I ran from this metal beast, I thought, "Damn, I can't wait to fight that thing later on." That leads to the worst moment in Terminator Salvation. Towards the end, one of your teammates warns, "The Harvester is still out there." Connor says not to worry, he'll handle it. The next scene shows Connor underneath a snoozing Harvester. With a few turns of a monkey wrench the Harvester is now yours to command. Wha??
Though there are definitely some rough elements to Terminator Salvation, the future isn't completely bleak. The gameplay is smartly crafted and often quite engaging. Salvation is a third-person cover shooter with skirmishes taking place in impromptu arenas throughout the ruins of L.A. Instead of worrying about progressing from cover to cover, moving from the back to the front, fights take place in 360 degrees. The machines are heavily armored and for most, you need to flank them to get at their weak spots. That's only possible by creating combat zones "in the round." Aiding this cover system is a radial menu that highlights a half-dozen angles you can take for cover. It's a great system and the one standout in an otherwise ho-hum movie-licensed game.
The enemy AI is tough and, I have to say, follows a logical attack pattern. The T-600s (humanoid terminators) go straight at you. They don't care about cover or flanking or protecting themselves -- they just walk forward and fire. The Spider is the most cautious, constantly realigning itself to keep its near-impervious frontside towards its attackers. Sometimes the Spider is too good (and too defensive), making it difficult to pull off flanking maneuvers. It seems more focused on you than your AI partners. This often turns you into the bait, leading the Spider to turn its back on your AI allies so they can destroy it. But your AI pals are sometimes total idiots and won't always take advantage of these moments.
Things are much better if you play cooperatively with a friend (best if both of you use Xbox 360 controllers). As long as your friend isn't an idiot, you'll have an easier time getting to the weak side of the machines. The bad news is that there is no online co-op. It's split-screen only. Like I said, this is a game that just didn't have enough time to be fully fleshed out.
If you're on the fence about Terminator Salvation (and I think it's decent enough to be so), know that this is a very short game. I beat it in under four hours. There is no exploration, no items to collect, no Achievements on PC. That should pretty much push you over to one side of that fence.
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