Despite the fact that it's one of the most beloved and successful movie franchises in the past two decades, The Terminator's
videogame reputation has all but fallen off the map in the last couple of generations. As not since Bethesda Softworks' excellent 1996 first-person shooter Future Shock
, has the Terminator
license managed to capture the same spirit and entertainment that the motion pictures brought us all those years ago. Last season's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
, for example, was terribly bad -- and considered by many longtime fans to be another harsh disappointment in a long line of unrealized potential. It was obvious that something had to be done.
With that in mind, the decision makers at Atari decided to go back to the drawing board and start all over again. As not only would it release another Terminator title less than 10 months removed from the debut of its last game, but it would also reuse the same materials, backgrounds, and characters that inspired it. And though some would say that it's a bit odd to essentially remake a game that you have just released, Atari was eerily confident that it could really have something interesting here -- and have something it did. Yes friends, for the first time in eight years, we have ourselves a Terminator title that's actually fun.
No longer the half-hearted Fugitive Hunter clone that Rise of the Machines was, Terminator 3: The Redemption is a surprisingly addicting mixture of shooting, driving, and hand-to-hand combat that's immediately reminiscent of the old PSOne classic, Die Hard Trilogy. But instead of breaking up the gameplay into three distinct experiences, The Redemption throws all of these dissimilar mechanical variations at you all at one tme.
If there were a single primary element that players should expect to partake in most, however, it would have to be third person shooting with some slight hand-to-hand combat. Similar in execution to EA's Everything or Nothing or Red Entertainment's Gungrave, Terminator 3's gunning sequences do a great job of capturing the chaos and energy of an all-out war. The earlier stages specifically, throw out all kinds of Endoskeletons, Hover-Killers, and tank-like enemies with few reservations. While explosions, obstacles, and several other surprises continually impede your progress with little hints of mercy.
The hand-to-hand mechanic itself is pretty weak, though, and honestly doesn't serve much purpose except to steal the other Terminator's weapons for duel-fisted blasting. Granted, you can always pick up the surrounding objects and use those as impaling weapons instead, but when comparing that method of attack to the speed and efficiency of your gun, it's almost completely unnecessary. Besides, manipulating your free roaming target and taking out the surrounding invaders can be a whole lot more fun and will seriously test your reflexes.
Terminator 3's driving-based missions also take a rather prominent role in the action as well; and include a pleasantly fantasized physics engine that provides a strong sense of speed in addition to some truly killer jumping opportunities. Even better, is the sheer number of vehicles that players can take control of: be it a machinegun-converted pickup truck, a chopper style motorbike, a robot-controlled police car, or a state of the art laser tank, the choices at hand are pretty satisfying. And should players ever grow bored of the ride that they're in, they can always press a button when another vehicle is near to take control of that one instead. And usually, it's complete with its own speed limits, weight variations, and weapon types to differentiate it from the other transportation.
Interspersed between the traditional third person shooting and driving sequences, is another familiar gameplay type -- the rail shooter. Placing users on a preset path with identical objectives and dangers each time through, the rail shooting aspect of the game is usually the most hectic of all of them. Helicopters, hovercraft, tanks, and other nasty enemies are literally everywhere while shooting your way through hordes of oncoming obstacles. The whole purpose of which, is merely to survive the experience. Of all the available perspective types, this is probably the most entertaining; with the ability to change which rail path you advance through by pulling off successful shots to the proper object flags, or by moving the analog stick in different directions when approaching various branches.
When taken together, the 14 different missions prove to be a lot of fun and push the storyline of the film much farther than what was shown on screen (there are plenty of creative liberties taken here that were made intentionally in an effort to make the game last longer). But what I really enjoyed in Terminator 3, however, is just how hard it can be. From the moment the action first begins, myT-800 war machine was taking some major enemy fire -- and it killed me more often than not. Much like another one of Atari's products, Stuntman, the game forces you to be close to perfect in order to complete most of its stages -- which not only stings the pride a little bit when losing on a regular basis, but also helps promote that addicting quality I mentioned earlier.
But I don't want to convince you that Terminator 3 is an instant classic just because it's fun and addicting. As there are still a lot of issues with it that keep it from reaching a must-own status -- with the most significant of which, being its obvious linearity. As no matter how many times you'll play through The Redemption, there's really very little that will change from what it was before; and other than a possible cheat code or upgrades that you may have activated through the game's basic experience point system, the rewards for meeting time challenges or killing everything on the screen is a bit shallow. Granted, it was a very cool idea to include the ability to make your Terminator even more badass than he is already, but with only four categories to choose from and not a lot of gradation between them, there's almost no need to upgrade other than to unlock secrets.
This disappointment comes because of the nature of the T-800s upgrades. Since they're all centered on improving his scan vision, the only benefits you'll receive worth mentioning are slightly longer period of time in which you can use the scan power and a double-max bonus for shooting damage. The problem is, regardless of whether your upgrade is at its lowest level or highest level; it's still not good enough to make a powerful long-term difference. It would have been a lot more efficient if players could also upgrade their hit points, improve their hand-to-skills, or earn the ability to utilize other physical bonuses. At the very least, the scan vision should provide us with a better shot of finding hidden paths and secrets so it could put some of that onscreen text to use, but we have yet to find any real indicators that say that it can.
Terminator 3's presentational aspects do a lot to make up for its lack of depth to a certain degree, though, as it's probably the most faithful Terminator game we've seen in terms of its accuracy to the source material. Much like Rise of the Machines, the game intercuts live action footage with rendered CG sequences to help tell its slightly different story. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself provides both his likeness and voice to the character of the T-800 as well (though at times, it sounds like a vocal double was brought in during some sequences -- weird), while other significant actors like Claire Daines, Nick Stahl, and Kristanna Loken all lend their faces to the same characters they portrayed on the silver screen.
But even with those personalities present in the production, it's the world of Terminator 3 that stands out most in terms of staging; as the futuristic streets of Los Angeles and the modern-day settings of the present all look exactly as they did in the movie. Of course, being a videogame interpretation of the film, The Redemption also does a wonderful job of expanding upon these areas to help bring them even closer to our mind's eye. And though we definitely would have liked to have seen a more explorable and less-linear type of environment, the destructible objects and areas that we're are forced to tread are still pretty cool; with robots, cyborgs, humans, and the elements all working together to create a realistic laser-ridden battlefield.
This is all thanks in part to an excellent graphical engine that rarely suffers from any slowdown or stutter at all. An impressive technical achievement to be sure, The Redemption's visuals support dozens of fires, explosions, bullets, and animations all at the same time; with a healthy dose of damage mapping to Arnold's face and body when he's injured as well. Throw in a movie-precise soundtrack and dozens of familiar situations, and it truly feels like you're playing the movie -- albeit a limited one.
©2004, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved