How long have we been waiting for a decent Terminator game? How many times have we been disappointed? When we first heard that GRIN – the guys behind the PC versions of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter – were on board for the movie spin-off game, we had extremely high hopes of commanding a rag-tag bunch of resistance fighters through a post apocalyptic Los Angeles. Sadly, the result is enough to prompt a Christian Bale-sized hissy fit (who incidentally, refused his voice and likeness to appear in the game).
True enough, you do control John Connor. And yes, you do fight through the crumbling streets of LA with the assistance (but not direct control of) human mercenaries. But the execution doesn’t quite live up to the expectation.
Devs GRIN have a close relationship with the film production team so Salvation has the looks and sounds of the movie. They even helped design potential new Skynet baddies for upcoming Terminator films. So it’s disappointing when the best thing Salvation does is to remind us how good Gears of War 2 is. Beyond the initial buzz of trying to slow a relentless T-600 with pipe bombs and well-placed assault rifle fire, Salvation feels like an uninspired and repetitive collection of set-piece shoot-outs.
The action normally unfolds as follows; walk into a conveniently-arranged arena of burnt-out cars and concrete barriers. Shoot a wave of Aerostats (or ‘Wasps’ as the resistance know them as) out of the sky with your shotgun, then out-flank the proceeding T-70s (known as ‘Spiders’), before hopping onto a train or jeep for an on-rails, fixed-gun section. You’ll confront the occasional T-600 or Hunter Killer for the purpose of mini-boss battles but few moments will leave your jaw on the floor.
Part of the appeal from the Terminator films was the feeling of being constantly stalked by an unstoppable machine, with only human ingenuity giving the pursued the upper hand. The nature of Salvation and the prevalence of so many machines is that Skynet’s forces are essentially just genero-bots that can easily be taken out with the right weaponry. In turn, this makes Salvation feel like countless other third-person shooters.
The action could have been more interesting if there was a greater emphasis on the squad-based gameplay. Sure, playing in two-player co-op can compensate for the occasionally unenthusiastic AI but it would have added that extra layer of strategy and control. If Freedom Fighters could do it, we don’t see why we couldn’t have it here. Risking your neck to draw fire from three or four T-70s by jumping from cover to cover (a system that works well), only to have all your buddies stare blankly at the weak point on the machines’ backs without firing only highlights how useful order-issuing controls would have been.
To say that Salvation is a total disappointment would be harsh. Like all Terminator games before it, there’s some satisfaction to be had from moments like unloading whole clips of ammo into an unflinching endoskeleton in the hope of distracting it long enough to find cover. With a little more fear and a lot more intensity, Salvation could have lived up to its name and rescued the series from gaming mediocrity. As it stands, those iconic glowing-eyed machines just aren’t enough to match the prowess of the best in the genre. Now, if someone could just make a Terminator along the lines of Left 4 Dead…
May 19, 2009