Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Game Review: Terminator Salvation (Playstation 3)

It's well known that "Terminator Salvation" was not a great movie. To its credit, it had some good action and good performances from Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin. Now, just because a movie sucks doesn't mean a game will suck too. If anything, it can be the exact opposite. Anyone who's played "Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay" will know this. I'm not ragging on the Riddick films. The critics were divided over the first and less than kind on the second. I still found them both entertaining. Now that I've said this, I want to assure you... this is not the case for this game. If anything, it made the movie seem better in comparison. I never thought I'd say that...


The game takes place two years before the Terminator Salvation movie. It's been some years since Skynet, the mechanical army, has all but destroyed the world through nuclear annihilation. Groups of humans are scattered about, with some of them fighting back. These humans act as a military power, known as The Resistance. Part of this resistance is recurring protagonist John Conner. Through this game we see how John rises from being a foot soldier to a commander, starting him on his path to become the leader of the human resistance he was destined to be. We also get an introduction to other film characters, including Blair (who is a fellow soldier) and Barnes. Anyway, while on a mission gone bad and awaiting evacuation, John Conner receives a distress call from several soldiers at a Skynet base area, and John decides to go try and rescue them (due in part to his believe that "no one gets left behind"), despite orders not to go. The whole way through, he must face adversities, including the various terminators, traps, and falling morale.

The story feels somewhat typical. Good guy goes on a suicidal mission, meets people, kills the enemies, and encounters deaths of team mates, all before accomplishing his goal and dealing a fatal blow to the target enemy. I will say though that this game does a good job at setting up the story for the movie, as well as showing how John Conner got to where he was. The impact of his actions show how capable of a person he is. If anything, I would have preferred this storyline to the movie's. Also important is the whole belief of fighting for humanity is actually made important in the game more so than the movie. There is constant chatter about morality, perseverance, and what is important. Sure it might seem a little cliche, but Terminator is all about overshadowing these problems with humanity, and the story in this game does manage to do so, albeit barely. Then again, I could say that the movie might have lowered my standards. Still, it passes in my opinion.



I will say right off the bat that this felt like a poorly executed version of "Gears of War." You're given a third person perspective with an over the shoulder aiming reticule to kill enemies with. The shooting is probably the only thing in the game that really works in the game without any problems. The accuracy is generally consistent and it's easy to get your reticule where you want it. Also similar to "Gears of War" are the cover mechanics. When you take cover against a wall, you can aim from over the wall or along the side of it. When you move, you'll generally transition fairly easily between varying heights. You also have the ability to make a quick cover change, by moving the left analog stick over to the direction of nearby cover and press X to slide or dart over to it. Unfortunately, this didn't work as well as I hoped.

There were several moments in which I tried to take cover behind something that should have been easy to hide behind. For some reason, I wasn't able to, and I was left in the open to be shot at by various Terminators. There were other moments in which I tried to transition from one spot to another, but in many instances, I either couldn't do so (even though it was EXTREMELY close by and easy to get to) or I went to the wrong spot, despite the given direction of the spot. Even more annoying was that there were moments that when I tried to get off of a cover spot due to crowding from my AI teammates, and the moment I get off, the AI slides over and takes my spot, once again leaving me out in the open. This leads me to another gripe: the AI.

The AI ranges from fair to extremely stupid. In many instances, when surrounded by enemies, I have to rely on my teammates to distract them so I can flank them (which you will have to do all the time). Some of the times, they'll do a decent job in distracting the enemy. Other times, they'll just hide and let the enemy just shoot at you as long as they like, even when your teammates are safe. In terms of consistency, this is the same for the enemy. They'll either be diverse in trying to take you and your teammates out or they'll make some of the stupidest mistakes possible (and leave me wonder how in the HELL did they destroy humanity). They can also be extremely unfair. Despite the fact that T-600s should have been distracted by my team, there are various instances in which they walk towards me for no apparent reason and just punch me out in one blow. Unfair, I know.

"Gunner segments," in which the AI drives and you shoot, are short and annoying to deal with at times. It's easy to aim, but some of the targets are difficult to hit, due to the fact that they either move quickly or come at you in swarms (and generally it's both). The moment where you're given the chance to drive a harvester terminator unit is the one moment that it really works: you're given multiple weapons, fair levels of enemy activity, and multiple weapons to choose from. Unfortunately, this one, like all the other gunner moments, are too short, lasting only a few minutes at a time.

Controls were simple but unintuitive. You were given the typical set-up of the the analog sticks for looking and moving, one shoulder button to aim and another to fire with another shoulder button to toss grenades. Like I said, simple, but unintuitive. At least the controls worked well enough.

In terms of available weaponry in the game, you're given five weapons to pick from: an M4 machine gun, SAW machine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher, and grenade launcher. In terms of explosives, you can use either a frag grenade or a pipe bomb. The weapon selection is extremely limited, but each weapon is at least given their own strengths and weaknesses. As for the explosives though, I had trouble with them. My main gripe is that for some reason, I could never switch between grenades and pipe bombs (be it through picking them up or trying to switch to them through controls). I was forced to use grenades all the time. If there weren't any nearby when I ran out, I was SOL.

The sad thing is that this game is still relatively easy despite these problems. I played this game on the Hard difficulty setting, and I still found it relatively simple to blow through the game's story. In a matter of six hours, I beat the story mode (and in doing so, earned all the trophies). The game offers very little challenge despite the annoyances that are present. The fact the story mode was as short and linear as it was seriously hampered the experience about as much as the technical problems. Had they found a way to if these problems and expand the story mode, this would have been a solid experience. Alas, it's simply poor.



Game was displayed at max res. of 720p

The graphics were a mixed bag. A lot of the environments looked solid enough. They had good texture work and really resembled a ruined LA (from what I could see). There wasn't too much latency in texture pop up either (if any at all). With this environment came a cold, bleak color palette. Obviously, this was meant to match the ruined landscape, and it worked very well. The machines themselves looked decent, although not quite as good as the environments. Despite decent textures, there weren't many polygons used to build them up. Still, seeing the diversity in some of them intrigued me. In terms of conceptual appearances they were great. As for in game, they were slightly above average. Admittedly, the T-800 terminator head that is used in the loading screen looked astounding. While you wait for the game to load, you have the ability to look at the terminator head with 180 degrees horizontal camera movement and top-bottom scaling. Despite the constant loading, I never grew tired at looking at it. The characters, on the other hand, looked very poor. The character models looked bland, sometimes disfigured, and for the film characters (with the exception of Barnes), they looked nothing like their counter-parts. Particle effects also felt somewhat underwhelming. The cinematics were also mixed bags. The opening and ending cinematics weren't anything spectacular, but the detail was good, the overall quality was clean, and overall did the game justice. The rest, however, were barely a step above the in-game graphics, looking bland and making me feel like there was some compression. In short, certainly not the worst graphics, but definitely not the best.



Sound was tested in 5.1 Dolby Digital

Probably the best part of the game. The sound felt consistently good, both in quality and design. First off, the effects. I can assure you that it does what the Terminator Saga always does: take advantage of it. There is always something going, be it explosions, dialogue, or machines moving about. The effects are always used in ways that it makes you feel something is going on. Because of the frantic activity, you will feel like you're surrounded by war-time activity. The fact that the audio is nice and crisp helps as well. Also helpful was the fact that the weapons are given their own sound effects, each one sounding different. However, the weapons still sound generic over all.

In terms of voice acting, it did its job, although some things bothered me. I will say that Moon Bloodgood, who reprised her role as Blair, was actually decent as a voice actor. Certainly not the greatest, but she didn't over or underact. John Conner on the other hand, always bothered me. It wasn't that he was bad, but it was the fact that it was obviously not Christian Bale. Some games do a good job finding replacements, like in "Matrix: Path of Neo" and "Wanted." For some reason, Conner sounded like a deeper voice version of Cam Clarke at times, but never like Bale. As for rapper turned actor Common, who reprised his role as Barnes, he was simply average. While he wasn't emotionless, his lines felt like there they were underacted. Despite this, the VA's did a good job overall.

The music was less than thrilling however. The music definitely had the terminator feel. However, it also felt repetitive. It seemed like they repeated the same bits and instruments within the music every two seconds, which just got on my nerves after a short while. Also somewhat annoying was how they transition at times. When encountering enemies, the music was loud and exciting. If you retreated, the score changed with a simple fade; sometimes, the music would just go silent. If you went back in, the battle score would start up somewhere in the middle. It threw off the pacing and ruined the mood of whatever situation was occurring.



This game has basically no replayability whatsoever. As I stated earlier, this is a very linear game that I beat on Hard in approximately six hours, earning all the trophies. For the sake of mercy though, I will say that not everyone will play this in on the hardest difficulty. For those who don't, there's still replayability in attempted to earn trophies for beating the game on various difficulties, but by the time you beat the game, I doubt one would find them worth it. On the plus side though, there is a co-op mode (which I didn't get a chance to try out). It would really hurt (you) to bring a friend in. As the saying goes, "misery loves company."



This is another failure in the "movie-game" genre. Although the story itself wasn't bad and boasting a good sound design, the game is marred by the most important thing a game needs: gameplay. It's average and, even worse, dysfunctional. The lack of replayability doesn't help either. Even the graphics, despite being decidedly average, were better made than the gameplay itself. I'd only recommend this game for a very quick set of 12 trophies (11 gold and 1 platinum). But I even have a hard time recommending renting this game. Best to just stay away unless you were as bored with nothing to do as I was.


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