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Let's get the cold, hard economics out of the way: Terminator Salvation is not worth $60. I don't know who decided that a 4-5 hour game with no multiplayer would be worth that price but I imagine that same person makes a fair amount of money on weekends showing his massive balls to country folk. I'm not convinced the game's worth a rent, either.
Salvation is a prequel to the film of the same name. The game begins with the robotic army of Skynet crushing an assault force sent by the Human Resistance. The human commanders order a hasty retreat but John Connor, a foot soldier, decides to stay behind to rescue a few Resistance members stranded behind enemy lines. This mission turns out to be the entire game. The mission itself isn't as important as Connor's personal development; the story shows him become a leader and regain hope in humanity's future.
I appreciate the attempt to flesh out Connor's character (an effort lacking in the film, frankly) but the character development begins and ends in the scene where he decides to launch the rescue mission. It's a bad scene, too. His friend Blair tells him (for no apparent reason) that he needs to accept responsibility and two minutes later, he decides to answer the distress call. "What are you doing?" Blair asks. "Accepting responsibility." he replies. Once he's made that decision to rescue the men, he's completely committed to it and never shows any sort of doubt. The writing just isn't equal to the task.
Christian Bale, who played Connor in the film, did not lend his voice to the game but Moon Bloodgood and Common reprise their roles as his companions Blair and Barnes, respectively. Rose McGowan pitches in, too, playing another soldier who doesn't appear in the film. Blair and Barnes didn't have much screentime in the movie so this was an opportunity to develop these characters more and have the game complement the film, but the game never gives them or McGowan (or anyone) interesting things to say. Why bother bringing in Hollywood voice talent (particularly someone like McGowan, who wasn't even in the film) just to say lines like "Look out, machines!" or "Hang on, I'm reloading"? The writing is, again, crappy and the few attempts at characterization fall flat. Barnes calls Skynet's forces "robots" instead of "machines" and another character finds this remarkable. Speaking of Barnes, it takes two lines of dialogue for Connor to recruit him for the Resistance:
CONNOR: Hey, you're handy with explosives. The Resistance can use a guy like you.
Granted, many games (particularly in the shooter genre) have bad storylines or characters but the developers are usually savvy enough to pace the gameplay experience well. They know how to avoid overusing a certain gameplay elements and how to give a game build-up by providing progressively harder challenges over time. Salvation, however, has you fighting the same three enemies - spider robots, wasp robots, and Terminators (human-sized robots) - from beginning to end. Save for a couple underwhelming battles with Hunter Killer airplanes, there are no "boss" fights. The final battle in the game, if I'm not mistaken, took place in a hallway. My squad pulverized two random Terminators, we moved forward and suddenly the last cutscene began. Really, guys? If you're not going to throw a boss character at me, could you at least offer up a horde of henchman for a finale? C'mon, give me something.
Those three enemies you'll fight over and over aren't very interesting, either. Though they don't look terrible (nor do any of the character models, really), they're just not fun to fight. Apparently robots don't understand the value of taking cover in a firefight and will stand out in the open while you and your friends (hiding behind walls or sandbags) shoot them to pieces. The Terminators and spider robots are both heavily armored in the front but weak in the back so flanking them is key but your A.I. companions generally don't do a good job of either A) distracting the robots long enough so you can shoot them in the back or B) shooting them in the back while you distract them. It's an annoying situation to find yourself in, considering how easy it must be in comparison for someone playing with a friend (the game supports local co-op).
Close to a third of the game is made up of rail shooter segments in which you're manning a turret of a moving vehicle and need to fend off approaching enemies. They're nothing special but at least they show a little more cinematic flair than the on-foot missions. In one rail shooter sequence, you're riding an old subway car and shooting the motorcycles in pursuit. Later in the game, you get to man one of the massive Skynet tanks you may have seen in the films; it may have been the highlight of the game if the tank's gatling gun and rocket launchers didn't have such half-assed special effects and you weren't treated to the same old enemies again.
Every negative review has at least one "But that's not to say it's completely terrible"-themed paragraph so let's talk about the good. There's only 11 Achievements total: nine of them are awarded for completing each chapter of the game and the last two are doled out for beating the game on Medium or Hard difficulty. The chapter completion Achievements are 80G apiece so you can get 720G in four hours with a minimum of effort. The Trophies for the PS3 version have the same requirements so console gamers looking to pad their stats can do a lot worse.
I'm not sure I can recommend this game to any other conceivable demographic of gamers, though. Shooter fans have so many better alternatives to play, many of which cost a lot less than $60. Terminator fans looking for an expansion on the latest film won't be satisfied, either, because the limp story just doesn't bring anything exciting to the table. Do you expect anything better from an adaptation of a movie, though?
Platform(s):Xbox 360 (review), PS3, PC
Developer:Halcyon Games, GRIN
ESRB:T for Teen