Play or Eject? This column takes a look back through some of the rarer titles from the Xbox 360 and PS3 era and determines why these games were overlooked. Were they just plain terrible, or do we have hidden gems out there that should be given another chance?
Today we look at Terminator Salvation and attempt to help you decide whether to Play or Eject?
If I wasn’t aware that there is a franchise, the latest of which stars Christian Bale, I would have to assume ‘Terminator Salvation’ is aptly named……because this is a game in need of saving.
Whenever I see on the box cover that a game is made by a small company I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, a tiny studio will not receive the same budget as one of the powerhouse studios renowned for churning out triple A titles. With that in mind I expect any small studio, such as Evolved Games (Raven Squad, B-Boy & Brave), to have to compromise on graphics or even the game’s length, which in fairness is exactly what happened. Those details are forgivable. So, one would hope Evolved Games could make you forget all transgressions by installing some stellar gameplay, yes?
Terminator Salvation is woeful in just about every area. There are so many mediocre 3rd person shooters out there that you would be hard pressed to find one that can’t get the basics right. Varying weapons used to tackle particular enemies – check. Basic cover mechanics – check. Simple gameplay mixed with engaging storyline – check. Sadly Evolved Games must have misplaced this list.
Firstly, any third person cover shooter that consistently prevents you from getting into cover, has made a gross mistake. Believe it or not there were multiple times when I couldn’t get into cover because the game simply wouldn’t let me. All I had to do was press X (PS3) and John Connor, our hero, should’ve snapped into cover. Nope. It would appear that you can’t always dive into cover from an angle, but in fact have to be facing head on with the blockade that you wish to hide behind, and as you have a health bar that doesn’t regenerate once behind cover, you can imagine how infuriating this can be. Still, I must have confused the Terminators with my “I don’t want to get into cover” technique, right!? Sadly I didn’t, and I would often get riddled with bullets losing precious health that would only regenerate once the skirmish was over.
Even more puzzling is the ability to get into cover on one side of the blockade, but not always being able to do the same on the other side. This didn’t always happen, suggesting there are severe holes in the game, but on occasion I would be hidden behind a crate. I would then proceed to veer around the other side of the crate so I could flank my enemy, only to find that certain sides of the crate couldn’t be latched onto, meaning I was a much bigger target, and that peeking around corners whilst maintaining safety was almost impossible. Skynet clearly infected this game.
We’ve all seen the Terminator movies and some of the awesome futuristic weaponry involved, and whilst this game is set during the early stages of the war, you would expect to at least see something new. Sadly, once again, no. A majority of the guns offer little diversity and the only weapons you’ll actually want are a shotgun, grenade launcher or RPG, because all other weapons are useless. Now, part of this is very much in keeping with the fact that Terminator’s are quite hardy individuals and even Arnie’s Uzi 9mm wouldn’t cut it against such a foe, but that isn’t the real reason you’ll want to stick to these weapons.
The real reason is due to the aiming reticule.
With the exception of the grenade launcher, every weapon has the same wide circular aiming reticule. So rifles that rely on precision have to be treated like a shotgun. Only that doesn’t work either. If you use a rifle of any kind you can just about make out the precise line of fire you are administering from this oversize reticule, and what that usually means in practice is, you’ll miss – by a mile. And, rather bizarrely, aiming doesn’t seem to help either. Yes, that basic shooting mechanic – aiming – is also thrown out of the window. This is especially noticeable when fighting Wasps (a small flying Terminator that looks like a……er……wasp). They move swiftly at the best of times, although in fairness this is countered by the fact that they don’t take much damage to dispatch. However, if you have to aim to either the left or right hand side of the Wasp, and not directly at it, just so you can hit your intended target, you might begin to question whether the sights on your weapon are broken. But no, this bizarre trigonometry and trajectory applies to almost every weapon, hence why I often switched to a shotgun, as at least the wide burst would guarantee a hit.
The power of certain weapons is also undermined as you even have to be precise with Grenade Launchers or RPG’s, because in Terminator Salvation a blast radius counts for nothing. If you fire in the general vicinity of a Terminator with an RPG you’ll be lucky if he even notices.
The aiming encounters further problems, as several levels see you on the back of a fast moving vehicle armed with a turret. This is one of my least favourite game modes in any campaign but Terminator Salvation may have made it almost unplayable. Granted I had the game set to ‘hard’ difficulty so I was unable to take much damage, but due to the poor aiming reticule this rail shooting segment of the game just became a chore.
So, can the story line or characters save this game? The fact that Evolved Games chose to only keep the movie’s name was actually a good choice (no, I’m not a fan of the movie) as this gave the studio a chance to come up with something original. John Connor reluctantly attempts to assume the role of the inspiring leader he is destined to be and embarks on a mission to save the lives of several soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. Everyone said it was a suicide mission but John Connor and his cynical female sidekick, Blair, set out to prove everybody wrong by risking the lives of everyone they encounter to save a couple of guys who, for some strange reason that isn’t really explained, are hiding in a Terminator stronghold. The narrative resembles a Terminator film but lacks key components such as 3 dimensional characters, a plot that actually makes sense, and tension created at the sheer sight of a Terminator. So, in a nutshell, the plot doesn’t really help the game either.
Even though I said I would give Evolved Games the benefit of the doubt when it came to graphics, I still intend to make a note of it. The face and body animation is reminiscent of a PS1 or PS2 game. Characters lips are barely in synch with the tolerable voice acting and the movement of our chief set of heroes, particularly in video sequences, is laughable. I thought the days were gone when you had to watch characters run around in a complete circle before setting off in the desired direction. Hell, the humans look more robotic than the Terminators themselves. If you want to see an example of ‘Retro’ animation, Terminator Salvation unintentionally pays homage.
The game is also rife with bugs. Terminators effectively lagging on screen was a first for me, and I’ve never really seen that in a campaign before. I’ll chalk it up to a ‘unique’ feature. Terminators would inexplicably die, grenades wouldn’t always explode and the team A.I. meant they would often shout out random commands even when nothing was happening. The inclusion of a team also seemed ultimately pointless as I don’t recall them killing one Terminator between them. Oddly the enemy A.I. meant that they often appeared to enjoy shooting walls more than the enemy – quite how the humans struggle in this war was beyond me.
So does Terminator Salvation get anything right? Well in fairness, even though the game isn’t particularly difficult – even with all the bugs set against you – The Terminators do take a lot of damage before eventually dying so this is in keeping with the film franchise. However, they aren’t the scary monsters from the film. They needed to be more relentless and the tone of the whole game kept suggesting that we were ‘going to lose this war’, yet I hardly felt under threat from this adversary.
Playing split screen with a friend makes the game slightly more enjoyable, as flanking enemies who have a vulnerable spot on their back feels like an achievement in itself , but only a small one. The only other positive aspect is that the game is short, meaning you can blast through it in 4-6 hours (depending on the difficulty setting) and if you are an achievement/trophy hunter, then this is one of the easiest 1000g/platinums you’ll ever get. Just play the game on hard from start to finish and you are done.
And with that, I am also done with my rather despairing view of Terminator Salvation. If you are still in any doubt at this stage whether to play or eject?, here is my final verdict: