Games that get rushed out to tie in with movie releases are of a notoriously low quality, and often represent soul-crushing missed opportunities. While Terminator Salvation is a decent game, it could have been much better, and should be much, much longer.
It’s a third-person shooter with a few on-rails shooter bits in vehicles. Based two years before the movie you play John Connor who is leading a squad through the ruins of Los Angeles to save members of the resistance, all the while fighting off the machines. The action is pretty good – it has flaws, but for the most part is fun, surprisingly so for a movie tie-in game. The remixes of the film franchise’s iconic theme music also help keep it exciting for any fan.
The enemies you fight include the classic T-600 series Terminator in endoskeleton mode (without any flesh over the metal), as well as a rubber skinned version. This is the first time we’ve seen these – they were mentioned in the 1987 movie, but have never featured in a film or game until now. The most frequent enemies are Aerostats or ‘Wasps’ which are annoying little flying machines alongside pretty cool spider-bots. The motorbike Terminators that were in the freeway chase scene of the movie Terminator Salvation feature in a couple of the on-rails sections. Then there’s HKs (Hunter Killers) which are tough, large aircraft and have been in all the films (I’m pretty sure).
The combat is pretty good. There’s a great cover system which you have to use to survive. Moving from cover to cover in order to flank machines, then popping up and shooting over your cover, is basically how you carry out battles. The cover mechanic itself is a simple yet ingenious system which I’m betting many titles will emulate. There are a couple of problems with combat. When you’re behind cover, a T-600 can perform a one hit kill with a punch which clearly doesn’t connect with you, from the other side of what you’re crouching behind. The Aerostats also occasionally get stuck in walls. The enemies have very little AI (ironically) and generally stand in the open waiting for you to outwit them. Your teammates are generally pretty useless too, despite being invincible.
One of the best things about the game is the cool load screen. During each load (of which there are countless during the game’s short running time), you have a close-up shot of a Terminator’s face, which you can rotate around as subtle, ominous theme music plays.
The environments are generally samey and boring. There is some beautiful imagery throughout the game, mainly the very nice post-apocalyptic panoramas in the distance. But the levels are too often extremely repetitive, however, indicating laziness on the part of the developers.
The biggest problem with the game is that it’s criminally short. I clocked the single-player campaign on ‘Medium’ in around five hours over three sessions. I reckon you could fly through it in a single three hour session if you wanted to. This is ridiculous – it’s a full-price game, which means if you buy it you’ll be paying about $30 – $40 per hour to play it through. Not only is it crazy short, it’s completely linear, so there’s very little replay value. There’s no online modes although there is a local split screen co-op mode. This adds a little fun, but actually makes the game quicker and easier as in every battle you simply go to opposite sides and when the machine is facing one way, its weak spot is exposed to the opposing player.
The long and short of it is: this game is worth a rent for anyone who enjoys action games, especially if you’re into the Terminator movies. It’s not as bad as lot of movie tie-in games that get released, but is flawed, and insanely short.