Terminator Salvation game review

Terminator Salvation box artwork (Xbox 360)
Terminator: Salvation is a videogame for the Xbox 360 and PS3 (as well as mobile platforms) and was released on May 19th alongside the film of the same name, for which the game serves as a prequel to the film.

Developed by GRIN and published by Equity Games and Evolved Games, Terminator Salvation is a third-person shooter in the vein of Gears of War. It follows several of the characters from the film including John Conner (who is NOT modeled after actor Christian Bale, nor voiced by him, as he refused to give his likeness to the game. Veteran videogame voice actor Gideon Emery voices the character instead), Angie Salter (Rose McGowan), Barnes (Common) and Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood).

So does Terminator Salvation successfully convey the pulse-pounding thrill of fighting off deadly metallic Terminators like in the film it’s based on?

Terminator Salvation logo

System: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3, PC, Mobile (iPhone/iPod Touch)
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Release dates: May 19, 2009 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC), May 7, 2009 (Mobile)
Players: 1 or 2 (Offline co-op)
Online Support?: No.
Save: 1MB. Only one profile. Progress is hard-saved only after the completion of each chapter. You cannot save mid-chapter.
Developer: GRIN
Publisher: Evolved Games
Origin: Stockholm, Sweden
Rating: T for Teen (Violence)

Terminator Salvation is an average third-person shooter that plays similarly to Gears of War, except without all the cool parts.

In the game you play as John Conner and you fight alongside a squad of various characters which differ from chapter to chapter. The focus of Terminator Salvation is on fighting off the machines using a few different standard weapons (shotguns, rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and grenades) and hiding behind cover to avoid their fire while trying to maneuver into a position where you can flank them and shoot them from behind.

Once you are behind cover you can press the control stick in any direction which causes a display to pop up if you point at another cover spot. If it’s white then that tells you that you can slide into that cover spot with a point of the stick and a press of the A Button. This allows you to quickly slide from one cover point to the next as you try and get to a better vantage point to see and shoot the enemy. In most firefights you will see areas of the environment that allow you to better fight the enemies and cover that you can slide to that allows you to get around them while avoiding their fire. A lot of firefights will have a few areas above the enemies that you can get to, some of which are not immediately obvious at first glance.

Terminator Salvation Aerostat battle screenshot

The A Button is used to hide behind cover. The X Button reloads your gun while the B Button switches guns (You can hold down B to see a display that allows you to quickly select weapons by pressing one of four directions. Which is only useful for switching grenades since simply pressing B will switch to your other weapon. You can only carry two weapons at once). The Y Button is used to pick up guns that you will find lying on the ground as well as to get behind mounted weapons. Press Y again to disengage.

You use the left stick to move and the right stick to aim while the L Shoulder is used to point your weapon and the R Shoulder Button shoots it. Finally, the Right Bumper can be used to throw grenades at any time.

Your health is displayed on the upper-left corner of the screen as a bar; it will glow red and deplete as you take damage. If it empties entirely you will die. On the bottom left is your current ammo and how many clips you have with the number of grenades you have displayed above it. There are no health packs in this game, instead you have a set amount of health for each battle. Although sometimes your health will automatically recover, the process is something I could not figure out and more often than not you will need to destroy all the enemies before your health fills back up. Which generally means you will die a lot and have to repeat sequences until you can pass them by taking less damage.

There are only a few types of enemies in the game, and you will fight these same enemies from the beginning of Chapter 1 to the end of the game at Chapter 9.

The most common enemy are “Spider” robots (T7T’s) who have chain guns on each arm and spider legs. These machines can only be taken out by shooting them in the back, which is their weak point. Weak points on enemies will be highlighted in red. The only other way to kill a Spider is to toss a grenade at it, which can take it out in one shot if you aim it right. You can also shoot them in their front Red Visor which will cause them to shut down for a few seconds.

Terminator Salvation Spider robot screenshot. Shoot it in the back to kill it

The second most common enemy is a flying type known as “Flyers”, “Wasps” or “Aerostats”. These nuisances can be taken out with a few shots (or one well placed shotgun blast) and will fly around and shoot at you and your buddies like annoying pests. They are rarely a problem.

Finally, you will come across the Terminators themselves in two flavors. “The Walker”, or the T600, is the endoskeleton (sometimes called simply “Endo’s”) metallic machine you know and love from the films. These babies are pretty tough. You can take them out with gunfire but it will take a lot of bullets. Thankfully bullets aren’t in too short of supply generally, and if you run out of bullets with your main gun your squad mates will give you some more.

The best strategy to destroy the Endos is to use a Rocket Launcher or Grenade Launcher and shoot them until their chest cavity is exposed in glowing blue. You can then generally take them out with one well placed grenade or multiple gunshots to their chest. These guys can be very hard to kill and will take you down fast with their guns if you are out in the open. They can also kill you in one hit if they get close to you. Though this happens with Spiders as well who will run you over. Key tip is to simply NEVER stay out in the open for long. Always remain behind cover.

Finally, you will come across the above enemies but with skin. Aptly called “Skinjobs”. These Terminators though are about as tough as the regular Terminators and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between them other than the fact that they are covered in human skin.

Where's Waldo. Can you spot the Endo in this Terminator Salvation screenshot?

And that’s all she wrote. Seriously, these four enemies are the only enemies you will encounter in the game. The lack of enemy variety is equally met with a lack of interesting environments. The levels themselves aren’t necessarily ugly but they are empty. Nothing in the game can be interacted with (which means if you shoot that bottle on the table its not going anywhere . . . correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t even Perfect Dark way back on the N64 have bottles that could be shot off tables?). This makes the environments feel completely static.

In addition, there is absolutely no reason to explore because in addition to secrets being non-existent, there is also nothing to find. And ammo will never be too far away from where you are fighting (though to be fair, it can sometimes be beneficial to backtrack for extra ammo. As you WILL run out if you aren’t careful. And your main gun won’t always be able to save you). To top it all off, the environments are all pretty standard and don’t look that great. Gears of War this is not.

The storyline in the game is also throw-away, as the whole game is essentially your characters rendezvousing from point A to point B. It’s literally as by-the-numbers as you can get. “I know, let’s head for that tower! Alright let’s go!” The characters are also uninteresting and never get a chance to really develop despite a few lines where they try to bring out some personality. Which often times has horrible results like with this great line:

“Don’t sweat it darling, my boys are on it.” “I ain’t your darlin’, Peters” “Armed, dangerous and drop dead gorgeous – Whoo, I love it!”

Sigh . . . *shakes head*

The plot is also very nonsensical. There is one part where the team goes out of their way to save a group of people and get them onboard the train you are riding (having to fight off several machines in the process). But then the train ends up crashing . . . And what happens afterward? NOTHING. Your team simply walks away as if they didn’t just take extra pains to save a bunch of people. Adding insult to injury, the people-saving is never mentioned again. Not even right after the crash.

In other words, the storytelling is simply sloppy. In a lot of ways this game reminds me of Enter the Matrix . . . even graphically. As the game is not a looker and features some pretty horrible character graphics and lip-synching.

This screenshot reveals the fun environments in Terminator Salvation.

However it is certainly more solid than that title was and the game is fun to play simply because it is a solid third-person shooter.

And like Enter the Matrix, Terminator Salvation also has several “on-rails” shooting segments. These stages are pretty fun although they can be a bit drawn out and frustrating when you die and have to keep repeating it over and over again. That is also a major problem. You will die A LOT in this game, and while you can skip the CG cut-scenes (press start & back together), you cannot skip the in-game dialogue scenes which can get very annoying.

The on-rails sections though are some of the funner parts of the game and they do a good job of breaking up the action. There is also quite a bit of variety in the scenes. One of them has you shooting at oncoming enemies from the back of a train as you go through a tunnel. While another has you defending a school bus by taking out the enemies in the front and back with a canon. There is even one on-rails scene in which you are defending the school bus from the high-speed motorcyle Terminators seen from the film. In this scene the road is very bumpy and shakes around a lot, making it even tougher than normal to hit the enemies. This scene actually reminds me of the “roller-coaster” style of the movie and is one of the cooler parts of the game.

Unlike this Terminator Salvation game screenshot suggests, you do not actually fight that thing

And the game does a good job of thrusting some big action on you, particularly in the first chapter which will have you facing off against the giant flying Hunter-Killer aircraft which must be shot down with accurate blasts from your Rocket Launcher. There is also a mech scene in which you ride a giant Terminator and see through its crimson visor, shooting enemies with your side chain guns (R & L) and your Rocket Launchers (Right and Left Bumpers). However this scene is also pretty standard, nothing you haven’t seen before. It can also be frustrating cause you will die quickly if you don’t take out the small enemies. And YES those Hunter-Killer craft CAN be destroyed. Do so as soon as you can to avoid much frustration. And shoot them with your Chain Guns not your Rockets, cause they are hard to hit.

All in all, the scenes above are definitely high points in this short adventure. But sadly most of the game is not made of these scenes but instead of standard third-person shooter fair that has you sliding from one cover point to the next, fighting the aforementioned machines on foot.

I again stress that in the moment these shooting sections can be fun. But in retrospect they are only fun because the game rips-off Gears of War and does it solidly. However the game lacks a Roadie Run (or run of any kind) and does not feature cool characters or cool enemies like the game it is ripping off. So it is impossible to truly give this game any kind of high marks.

And there are problems beyond the standard, formulaic nature of the game as well. Sometimes when hiding behind cover the cover will actually get IN YOUR WAY, and block your shot. Meaning that sometimes NOT hiding behind cover is the best option.

The back of the game box also lies to your face by saying you will… “Take cover using the destructible environment to shield you during land-based warfare with Terminators like the T-600 or an aerial assault from the lethal Aerostat.” The game does NOT feature destructible environments. To the contrary, as I said before, everything in the environment is static and cannot be destroyed or even shot. Shots simply hit objects and do nothing. They don’t even make GoldenEye 007 (N64) style holes when you shoot them . . .

The Terminator-fighting scenes can also be very drawn out. And a lot of the game is spent simply waiting for the machines to stop shooting at you and turn around so that you can attack them from the backside. Although you can always slide into other cover, you risk being shot mid-slid (thankfully your characters doesn’t stop but will keep going) so sometimes it is just more annoying to move and you’ll rather just sit there and wait until they turn around. Which may or may not happen.

Thankfully the Terminators themselves can often times be easier to take out because more often than not they will simply stand in place. Or keep turning around as if confused. Threatening? Only cause they can kill you in one hit if they get close. Thankfully, even though the enemy AI isn’t so good, your buddies will at least be able to take out enemies pretty well. Particularly if you shut down the Spiders by shooting their visor, this will often leave them open to attack from behind from your squadmates.

The saddest thing to me is the fact that the game does not even feature any cool movie scenes . . . the CG cut-scenes are simply average, with the opening scene probably being the coolest. You’d think a game based on the Terminator movies would feature some pretty awesome cut-scenes. But that is not the case. Adding insult to injury, the game is rated T for Teen, which means you will not even see a drop of blood in the game. At least that would have made the scenes of guys being shot by Terminators A BIT cooler.

In addition to the single-player mode the game also features local co-op, allowing you to play through the game with a friend. Why the game doesn’t feature online co-op is beyond me. You can also replay any previous chapter in the game by selecting “Replay Scenario” from the main menu. Once you do so the game will keep continuing (meaning you won’t go back to the “Replay Scenario” screen when you beat the chapter). You can also select what difficulty you want to play when replaying a scenario.

Terminator Salvation video game screenshot. Excitement abounds!

If you are an Achievement whore like I am, then you may want to rent the game as you can get all 10 of the game’s 11 Achievements by simply playing through the campaign on Normal. Once you do that you can get the final Achievement by playing through the chapters using the Replay Scenario option in the main menu and select hard. Beat it and you will get the final Achievement thus increasing your GamerScore by 1000 points.

Sadly, that is the main reason to recommend this short, fairly easy, extremely formulaic, run-of-the-mill third-person shooter. The game does not do the movie justice nor does it really do the Terminator license justice. Instead it seems to have been created as if the developers really didn’t care about the license, using it to create a standard third-person shooter in which you fight the same four enemies throughout. This means that fans of Terminator and fans of the movie will both be disappointed by this title. If you’ve played Gears of War, then there is nothing new to see here. In fact there is no Roadie Run, so immediately you will feel cheated as you slowly slog from one point to the next. The game doesn’t even contain any cool or original weapons! The voice acting isn’t bad . . . but it’s not very good either.

And I think that is the best way to describe Terminator Salvation. Is it bad? Well . . . it’s not very good. Therefore, “average” is about the best way to describe this experience. With maybe a dash of frustration, repetition and long annoying loading screens (which look cool the FIRST time you see it. Not the 100th) sprinkled on top.
Do not be deceived . . . by this Terminator Salvation the video game screenshot

Terminator Salvation is about as run-of-the-mill as you can get. The game is a third-person shooter. Making it fun in the same way that most platformers are also fun . . . even if they are offering you nothing that Mario and a million other games haven’t already done way better. The game also has absolutely no unique points about it. Having said that, it isn’t completely devoid of fun. But you could find better games to rent. Unless you want a quick 1,000 GamerPoints.

Blah. The environments are pretty bland and the character animation is pretty terrible (though particularly in in-game cutscenes). The game only looks good because it is HD-quality, but there is not a single environment that makes you say “wow” or even where you want to stop and take in the scene. i.e., Halo 1 for the original Xbox has more awe-inspiring environments than this game. Which is standard and mostly industrial/junk-yard like from beginning to end.

Music & Sound: 5.5
The voice acting is okay. The music is okay. The Terminator theme is overplayed. Pretty unexceptional.

Ingenuity: 4.0
Gears of War Lite without the parts that made that game so cool. The game is a run-of-the-mill third-person shooter that does nothing new.

Replay Value: 3.0
A lot of people probably will not even finish the game, much less play through it again. The only exception being those Achievement whores who simply MUST get the final Achievement by beating the game on hard. Like me. Even outside of THAT fact, the game contains no multiplayer, no online co-op, and 9 chapters. It’s over with fairly quickly and there is not even a single secret in the game. So there is no reason to replay it.