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Review: Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation is a truly terrible game.

My reviews might occasionally sacrifice a touch of clarity in exchange for glibness or sesquipedalianism, so I find it important to write this review with its ultimate conclusion as its preface. The game is supremely awful, and you shouldn't buy it, rent it or play it. If that stern recommendation was all you were looking for, feel free to move on without reading the remainder after the jump.

If you want a lesson in how not to make a game, read on. Especially if your name appears anywhere in the Terminator Salvation credits. (Yes, even you, Rose McGowan -- IF THAT IS EVEN YOUR REAL NAME.)

Let's get the big thing -- and by big thing, of course, I mean inexcusable, preposterous offense -- out the way: The game is four hours long, maybe five if played at the hardest difficulty, which you probably won't feel compelled to do. This fact wouldn't be nearly as inexcusable or preposterous if the game didn't have the $60 price tag of a satisfyingly-lengthened title. Perhaps as a $15 - $20 XBLA or PSN download, I could suggest it to diehard fans of the franchise. But Sixty American Dollars? No, no, a thousand times no.

Your four hours in post-apocalyptic L.A. will be spent repeatedly fighting the same three enemies over and over again:

  1. Wasps -- flying, strafing nuisances that can be killed with one shot.
  2. Spiders -- walking mini-tanks that have a weak point on their back. They can instantly kill you if you get too close while trying to flank them.
  3. Endos/Skinjobs -- the traditional metalboned killing machines, which are all but invulnerable to everything but pipe bombs. Oh, they can also instantly kill you if you get too close.
After your thirtieth tedious encounter with some combination of these three metallic menaces, you'll probably feel like hanging up the ol' controller, or pulling your hair out, or both.

A few other elements try to break up the monotony of the linear, repetitive combat-fest described above, including on-rails vehicular shooting sections (one of which features no checkpoints and a near impossible feat of marksmanship at the end which caused me to repeat the segment a dozen times), a few encounters with a "Hunter Killer," (basically a giant Wasp that can only be killed with rockets), and cutscenes that would have been considered hideous by the previous console generation's graphical standards.

Fortunately, the entire production is padded by delightful 10 second load times. These frequent intermissions appear before and after a level, after cutscenes, and after deaths. As each chapter is peppered with brief cutscenes (and occasionally, peppered with frustrating deaths), you'll be spending a great deal of time watching the loading screen, which features the grinning face of the robotic bastard that likely just shuffled you off this mortal coil.

You hide behind things! You shoot robots! You die instantly. A lot.

The third-person shooter, cover-centric gameplay is functional -- in fact, the game's radial interface for quickly maneuvering between cover spots is actually pretty neat -- but hardly anything new or exciting. You hide behind things! You shoot robots! You die instantly. A lot.

Terminator Salvation's story is perhaps the game's weakest link. Here it is, in a nutshell: Two years before the events of the film, you play as John Connor, who must travel through Skynet territory to rescue three guys.

Oh, wait, that's not the plot in a nutshell. That's the entire plot. Though the game attempts to introduce nuanced characters and powerful, moving themes about the triumph of the human spirit (WOO HUMANITY!), it just can't pull it off. The writing is too weak, the pacing is too erratic, and the whole thing ends before any semblance of storytelling can get off the ground.

Video game adaptations of movies -- even films that have been getting slaughtered by critics -- don't have to be this bad. Look at X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the totally radical black sheep of the movie-game flock. Terminator Salvation can't use that defense. The industry has reached a point where every video game, even the ones based off of mindless summer blockbusters, must all be judged through the same critical lens.

No matter which way you slice it, Terminator Salvation is really, really bad.

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