Game Review: Terminator Salvation

May 19, 2009

Based on the fourth film in the franchise, Terminator Salvation puts players in the shoes of John Connor, waging war against the machines that dominate the Los Angeles wasteland in 2016. With its mix of third-person gunplay and on-rails vehicle sections, is Salvation a showcase of terrifying new technology or is it harmlessly obsolete?

Terminator Salvation follows Connor as a young soldier who has yet to become the inspiring commander in the war against Skynet. Defying orders to return to base, Connor sets out to rescue a group of comrades stranded behind enemy lines, amassing a large army of followers along the way. Taking place before the events of the film, there are no references to the flick's lead Terminator character. In fact, none of the game's Terminators come remotely close to evoking a sense of human connection, and there seems to be little that Connor can't solve with a handful of soldiers and a laptop. Overall, Salvation's plot is a bit too simple and straightforward, failing to bring any meaningful insights into the Terminator world.

Taking less than four hours to complete, Terminator Salvation is one of the shortest games ever to be released at $60. But it's not just the overall length that's an issue. Several of the game's chapters can be completed in less than ten minutes, and the whole game is split into small segments. You rarely get a chance to really dive into gameplay without being interrupted by a cinema or the drawn-out red-eyed stare of the loading screen. One particularly brief section clocks in at a mere 38 seconds.


Source: Warner Bros. Interactive

The game lacks online play, but it does include a split-screen co-op mode. Having a friend on-board helps when flanking enemies, and if you get taken down, your partner can revive you. Ultimately though, playing the game in co-op just makes the already short experience go by even faster. And in a weird twist, whenever player two blasts an enemy, the NPC soldiers yell their congratulations to Connor.

While trophies and achievements aren't usually a factor in our reviews, Salvation's list of rewards is too anemic to ignore. Nine trophies are given for completing each chapter of the game and there are two for beating it on higher difficulty settings. That's it.

PS3 owners may be happy to net a quick platinum trophy with a one-day rental, but Terminator Salvation fails to provide enough content to justify a full-priced purchase.

Terminator Salvation focuses on third-person shooting, while breaking up the pace with several on-rails action sequences. The cover system is well-designed, allowing you to easily stay secure while navigating the battlefield. While there's no option to vault over bits of cover like in Gears of War, you can safely move to adjacent cover simply by nudging the stick in the right direction. The tactical importance of this sort of smart movement is heavily underscored by some of the enemies you encounter. For example, spider machines can only be taken out from the rear.

Salvation limits you to carrying two guns at a time, but there are plenty of weapons scattered about if you find yourself ill-equipped. The selection is pretty standard, with shotguns, assault rifles, and rocket launchers. Unfortunately, you aren't able to scavenge any lasers or miniguns from the machines. You also have grenades and pipe bombs at your disposal, but using them can be a pain; there's no grenade swap function mapped to any of the several unused buttons on the controller, so you have to bring up the weapons menu to switch between the two.


Source: Warner Bros. Interactive

Standard combat doesn't offer much variety, with most encounters featuring the same two or three enemies over and over again. And outside of a few early chase sequences, Salvation's terminators really don't exhibit the same fear-inducing invulnerability of their big screen counterparts. They are somewhat impervious, but they'll go down easy with a pair of pipe bombs. And explosives are in no short supply whenever the endoskeletons are present.

In addition to the cover-based combat, you'll frequently hop on vehicles to blast waves of enemies in several on-rails sections. You defend a subway car from motorcycles, ride turret-equipped buggies to escort a school bus, and even pilot a massive robot tank to take out anti-air towers through the classic red Terminator vision filter.

Salvation's core mechanics are sound, but the short, repetitive bursts of gameplay and wimpy Terminators keep the game from feeling like the dark, desperate struggle that would truly do the franchise justice.


Source: Warner Bros. Interactive

's presentation looks somewhat dated, with flat textures, compressed cinemas, and an inconsistent framerate--particularly when you're playing in co-op. The voice acting isn't too bad, but stiff character animations don't complement the performances. Since the game is based on the first PG-13 Terminator film, there's a noticeable lack of blood whenever people get shot.

With its lean plot, unimposing terminators, and stilted replay value, Terminator Salvation doesn't have a whole lot going for it. It's also so unbelievably short that the price of entry simply can't be justified.

Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3.