Review: Terminator Salvation

Graeme Virtue | 2 Sep 2009 09:00
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This is gonna sound crazy, but ... I've come from the future. Yes, that's why I'm typing this naked. Listen carefully: Do not - I repeat, do not - purchase the Terminator Salvation videogame when it's released worldwide. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves, and to commit such an act would doom future generations to decades of ignominy and ... what's that? The game's been out for months already? Aw, fudgesticks. Stupid time machine was supposed to resubstantiate me on May 4, 2009, not September 2. Curse your metal body, Skynet!

OK, so I'm not really from the future. And in a world that doesn't lack licensed videogames hurriedly cobbled together to turn a quick buck, it might seem unfair to specifically target Terminator Salvation. The Christian Bale metalfest underperformed at the U.S. box office, so it's unlikely that a legion of fresh-faced franchise acolytes were clamoring to experience the companion game; copies are probably already landing in bargain bins with a dejected clang. And with its Swedish developer, Grin, shutting up shop, isn't it just being vindictive, kicking them when they're down? Perhaps. But this stuff is important. In a rare non-action scene in the movie, we're told a vital difference between us humans and the machines is that "we bury our dead." So consider this an autopsy.

Perhaps the most irritating thing about Terminator Salvation is that there's actually nothing inherently wrong with it from a corporate point of view. If you're hired to produce a licensed game in a pressurized timeframe, it makes sense not to get too ambitious. Sketch out a modest design document using familiar gaming tropes. Set tight development milestone markers. Above all: manage expectations. With these directives in mind, the Terminator Salvation to-do list could be sketched on the back of a napkin. Third-person duck-and-cover gameplay cribbed from Gears Of War. A self-contained nine-chapter story set before the events of the movie. Limited enemy types. Some inevitable on-rails shooting sections. A nominally climactic assault piloting a giant Hunter-Killer tank. The game never feels like it's over-reaching, which presumably allowed it to be completed, approved and shipped in good time. It's just all so ... soulless. The main menu screen even features a picture of the automated T-800 production line that, as you mechanically progress, starts to feel increasingly like a curdled in-joke.

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