Monday, December 14, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation CoverTerminator Salvation
Developer: GRIN
Publisher: Evolved Games
Platform: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Released: May 19, 2009
Test Freaks' Freak Score: 5.4/10
Wikipedia tells me that Terminator Salvation is an interquel, which is a good term for a movie tie-in which takes place two years before the actual movie. The game follows John Connor (not Christian Bale), a foot soldier in the war against machines. Terminator fans know that Connor has a destiny, but it's one that seems more remote every day. Skynet has inexhaustible resources and each battle takes irreplaceable human lives. In the ruins of Los Angeles, is there still a future worth fighting for?

Re-reading the above paragraph, I realize that I've described a compelling story. I'm sorry to say that it isn't present in this game. Sure there is an introductory voiceover which introduces us to the pathos of the Terminator universe and there are scattered cutscenes which extol humanity, but this doesn't come across in the gameplay. Compared with Terminator Salvation, Gears of War seems like a meditation on violence, which is too bad since the beginning of Salvation promises a Gears of War-like experience.

After all, Terminator Salvation is a third-person shooter set in urban decay. John Connor is accompanied by Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), the Dom to his Marcus, and together they fight against an enemy which overwhelms. Combat is largely cover-based and you even press Y to focus in on points of interest.

Armed with an assault rifle, Connor is immediately up against swarms of flying Aerostats and, soon after, Spiders — heavily shielded crab-like machines. You won't survive out in the open, but the game has a deep cover system. Almost every structure on the battlefield offers some form of protection from which Connor can pop up and take out enemies or lay down some blind fire. Once you've clung to a wall or overturned car, you can use the thumbstick to open a radial menu and dive to another location. Using this method to move around the battlefield, you can flank enemies and fire on their unshielded areas.
Using Cover
Countering the cover system is a strong enemy AI. Spiders won't let you fire on their backs for too long before swiveling and counter-attacking. Later, the menacing T600 endoskeletons will be unleashed and they seem designed for the sole purpose of hunting you down. Fortunately Connor's weapon choices grow to include shotguns, grenade launchers and devastating pipe bombs.

Get a few chapters into the game and you'll realize that Salvation has a typical war movie setup — our men are trapped behind enemy lines and it would be suicidal to rescue them, but isn't this what makes us better than the enemy?

Connor assembles a group of like-minded troops who have heeded his “come with me if you want to die” call, and plunges in. It would make sense for them to occasionally do some flanking of their own, but they are engaged in battle theater — shooting without aiming and dying dramatically.

If there’s anything you want in a movie tie-in, it’s the feeling that you’re the star of an action movie. There are no wow moments in Terminator Salvation. No great set pieces. No thrills or chills. Just a steady march through post-apocalyptic L.A.
Watch out for endos!
Terminator Salvation is actually a good looking game, but level design is linear and repetitious. Skynet keeps throwing the same three models against you, no matter how deep into enemy territory you creep. Any half hour of Salvation resembles any other half hour – save for a few rail shooter sequences which break up the monotony if nothing else.

Looking at everything I said above, I would still probably recommend this game if it didn’t clock in at under four hours. It is utterly reprehensible that shovelware like this is being presented as a triple-A title. While Salvation does have offline two-player co-op, there is no online multiplayer component. There are no secret areas, easter eggs, collectibles, or unlocks. In short, Terminator Salvation has no replay value whatsoever.