Let me be clear from the start: the only reason why I played through this poor excuse for a game is because it generously handed out gold trophies at the end of every level. If not for the poorly designed trophy system (which gives you a platinum if you simply beat the game on hard mode), I wouldn't have played past level 1.
Does that make me a trophy whore? Perhaps. But, I've played a lot of great games recently: Mass Effect 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Splinter Cell: Conviction. They all have one thing in common. These games are so good that they make you think it's normal to experience games of such artistic polish, scale, and overall quality. I found myself losing perspective on what "average" games are.
Terminator Salvation gave me a much needed kick in the teeth. It reset my notion of what a bad game is in this current generation and helped me appreciate true quality even more. Thanks Terminator! You're such a bad game that you made me appreciate other games.
I mean, Salvation does everything poorly. I already stated the lack of thought put into the trophy/achievement system, which effectively makes this game the best rental deal for achievement whores since The Last Airbender.
But it goes deeper than that. The cover system (a staple of the third-person shooter genre these days) is supposed to regenerate your health. Only, it didn't do it predictably. I think -- and I can't be sure about this because I never really saw any consistency here -- that it regenerated my health either at key scripted points, or when enemy AI wasn't shooting at me. Now, bear in mind, I would be in cover in both cases. Sometimes, I would be in cover and Machines would be shooting at my cover point, not doing damage . . . but not allowing me to heal. Other times, I would heal for no apparent reason. It never really made sense, which meant I couldn't reliably build a strategy around it.
Not that you need a lot of strategy to fight Skynet's machines. Seriously, if the machines rise up and they're this stupid, humanity's ultimate survival is a forgone conclusion. We'll win with or without John Connor. Salvation has three basic enemies: the obligatory Terminator, the Wasps (a flying enemy), and some kind of bug-like walkers. You'll also run across those motorcyle machines seen in the movie, but they only appear in one level. In every case, the machines are all too easy to kill, even when you're playing on the highest difficulty.
Granted, they're bullet sponges, so it may seem like they're tough enemies, but once you realize that they won't leave a pre-defined path, you're free to maneuver around them and make the kill.
Only, look out for the Terminator's melee attack. The developers wisely decided that a Terminator's punch would instantly kill you. Fair enough. But when a punch has the range of roughly 10 yards, that's taking things a little far. I was killed by a Terminator's air punch a few times, much to my frustration. I was clearly far enough away that he couldn't touch me, but apparently close enough to trigger his punch response. And, if he punches, you're dead, even if you're nowhere near the machine's fist. Even if there's a stone block between you and the Terminator.
So, you learn to stay away from the Terminators. That is, assuming the enemies actually spawn into the level correctly. Early in the second level, I had killed all the enemies in a given area, but my AI human partners were still in battle mode and the game wouldn't let me continue on without them. It turns out, one of the bug walkers had spawned in behind a wall that I couldn't get to. The machine couldn't get to me and I couldn't kill it, resulting in a forced restart back at the checkpoint.
Which leads to the next frustrating point: long load times. Terminator Salvation, you'll have me stuck in loading screens until Judgement Day.
Then there's the nonsense story. The developers had a perfect opportunity to show who John Connor is and why he's seen as mankind's savior. The recent movies haven't done this very well, but the video game had enough time to explore the subject. They blew that opportunity, instead making him a cookie-cutter hero on a suicide mission. He doesn't inspire and he's certainly not a bad-ass. There's only one quick scene where he talks about how the resistance can expect to see upgraded Terminators. His colleagues wonder how he knows this stuff . . . but it's a passing curiosity that never comes up again.
All of this might have been forgiven if Salvation got one key feature right: the gunplay. They got the basics right, populating the levels with increasingly powerful munitions starting with your standard assault rifle and ultimately leading up to a Terminator-killing RPG. But, aiming is a pain. They built a kind of acceleration into the aiming mechanism that effectively makes it more difficult to zero in on your targets. You'll find yourself fighting against your reticule more often than you fight against Skynet.
Oh, and there was a bug with one of the weapons. After the first time you're introduced to pipe bombs (an upgraded grenade, effective against Terminators), you're never allowed to pick them up again in the following levels. They're scattered all over the environment, but I wasn't able to pick them up.
Anyway, enough about all the things Terminator Salvation screwed up. It did get a couple things right. First, though it's a short game (about 4 hours), it manages some variety. The level where I'm escaping through a subway and fighting off the motorcycle machines was a fun linear diversion from the standard monotony. And the level where I piloted a tank through LA's wasteland, taking out AA turrets and generally making a mess of things . . . that was pretty fun. Second, Terminator Salvation supports couch co-op. A second player can pick up the controller, split the screen, and take on the role of Moon Bloodgood's "Blair."
Only, this game is so bad, I wouldn't want to wish a co-op experience on anyone. Often, playing a game cooperatively will make bad games better. That's not the case here. It just means one other person is playing a bad game. And really, what kind of person subjects his friend to this kind of torture?
Game Title: Terminator Salvation
Platform: PlayStation 3
Genre: Third-person shooter
Developer: GRIN/Halcyon Games
Publisher: Equity Games
Release Date: 19th May 2009