4.3
Games  |  Reviews

Terminator Salvation (Xbox 360)

June 25, 2009  |  12:55pm
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Developer: GRIN
Publishers: Equity Games, Evolved Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Of bad machines and even worse videogames

How is it possible to make a game that offers players the tantalizing fantasy of a 100% traffic-free downtown Los Angeles and have the experience fall this miserably flat? Granted, it’s year 2013 and the apocalyptic war between sentient machines and a human resistance movement has demolished the City of Angels—cars, roads, signal lights, not to mention the poor human populace now glaringly absent.

Terminator Salvation’s plot is positioned as an interquel bridging the events that transpire in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and this game’s recently released silver-screen counterpart starring Christian Bale (the only principal cast member who refused to lend voice acting talent to the game). The entire Terminator Salvation experience can be summarized in a single ten-letter word: uninspired.

The combat is mind-numbingly repetitive. You move through one tediously cookie-cutter, post-apocalyptic urban location after another, encountering the same boring enemies over and over and over. I started wondering how my in-game sidekick Blair managed to convincingly feign surprise each time we'd turn a corner and find more of the same robotic menace—“Aerostats incoming! Look out!” she'd yell, as if startled and confused by their clockwork arrival. Don't expect to employ any creativity in your physical progression through each chapter. The unimaginative maps funnel you in painfully unsubtle ways through a linear path to your destination. A rat in a maze probably finds its journey more titillating.

Anybody who’s played the Gears of War series knows what gameplay approach the developers at GRIN were shooting for. But the third-person cover mechanic here feels clunky and slow-paced. There’s precious little fluidity to the experience and awkward protagonist animations only accentuate the problem. Characters on the screen look like they have roughly five joints in their entire body as they herk and jerk from one piece of cover to the next. Oh, while we’re on the subject of momentum-leeching, be prepared for a lengthy wait each time you die and choose to retry a stage. The experience felt like going to see a halfway decent—if slightly out of tune—cover band that insists on spending 10 minutes tuning guitars between each song, only to launch into the next song partially out of tune.

Part of me felt inclined to give Terminator Salvation at least a partial pass because it’s a movie tie-in—and movie games are supposed to be terrible, right?—but then I spent a few thrilling hours with Activision’s viscerally charged X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the bar was raised once again. As far as enemies go, the Terminator T-600s these developers had at their disposal are absolutely badass-looking baddies. Sadly, in the game they just march sluggishly around waiting to be blown to bits with your pipe bombs. And Bethesda’s Fallout 3 proved just how much fun it can be to run around fighting for your life in a post-apocalyptic U.S. metropolis. So I guess there’s no excuse.

The only reason I didn’t slap Terminator Salvation with a lower numerical rating is because there are penniless teenaged boys and girls all across America who will be overjoyed to find a semi-competent third-person shooter for sale on half.com a couple months from now, priced somewhere between $5 and $10. And imagining the flash of joy on those kids’ pimply, sun-starved faces thawed my frosty heart to the point where I could actually feel it beating again. Also, it's horribly difficult and labor-intensive to make a video game, even one as relentlessly un-fun as Terminator Salvation.


***

Watch the trailer for Terminator Salvation:


[This game was reviewed on a gamer-certified AOC 2230fH hi-def display.]

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