For some people, the Terminator film series is the pinnacle of science fiction action that paints a grim picture of humanity’s impending fate. For others, the movies are an excuse to enjoy Arnold Schwarzenegger’s phenomenal accent. The Terminator video game history is much easier to read, as nearly every title in the series to hit consoles and PC has been embarrassingly awful. Based on the recent eyes-on demo that I got of Terminator Salvation, the upcoming third-person action shooter that bridges the gap between Terminator’s 3 and 4, the future is looking a whole lot brighter.
Picking up two years before the new movie begins, Salvation drops you into the busy shoes of John Conner, as he continues his transformation from punkass kid to defender of mankind. You must help John lead his fellow soldiers into battle and inspire them to keep fighting despite the overwhelming odds. The constantly evolving cybernetic menace known as Skynet will be deploying a large number of destructive robots in your direction, and you will have to use some advanced military tactics if you hope to escape the scuffle with your life intact. While Arnold’s T-800 series has yet to be invented at this point of the mythology, you will get to battle its predecessor, the T-600. These rubber-skinned Terminators are easier to spot than the more advanced models, but just as hard to kill and as powerful as a dozen men. In addition, a fleet of large-scale war machines will be constantly nipping at your heels, trying to crush the resistance and siphon the last breath out of humanity.
The level that we were shown had John sneaking through a dark outdoor area with his men, constantly on the lookout for the small Skynet defense machines that were patrolling the area. The gameplay of Salvation focuses heavily on the use of cover, as attacking a Terminator head-on would be disastrous for your squad. The game employs a Gears-like cover system, which lets you stick to certain surfaces that provide a bit of protection. Salvation further evolves this mechanic by improving the way that you move from one piece of cover to the next, using a flowing transfer system that is far more fluid than many other titles. The cover in this game is destructible, forcing you to be constantly aware of your environment to prevent being exposed to fire. Your team is very important in this war, as John Conner cannot take down a Terminator by himself. Your fellow survivors will branch out to find vantage points for flanking an enemy that you have engaged, allowing you to blindfire at a target while the resistance provides some useful assistance from all sides.
Because Los Angeles is kinda huge, Terminator Salvation will occasionally let you hop into the gunner seat of a vehicle for some on-rails shooting action. Building-sized robots will be after you in these segments, and you will have to use everything from a chaingun to an RPG to protect your convoy. In addition to visiting several decimated regions of LA, you will also get to venture into a number of Skynet facilities that offer an exclusive look at some of the unexplored locations of Terminator mythology. The best part about all of this is that the entire Salvation campaign can be played cooperatively with a friend via split screen, ensuring that John will never be alone.
The graphics of Terminator aim to recreate the gritty look of the series’ Judgment Day segments with charred ash covering every surface, skeletons of buildings standing in the background and highways overrun with crushed vehicles. Longtime fans will appreciate the return of the iconic Terminator theme, which can be heard integrated into the game’s fully orchestrated soundtrack. While Christian Bale does not reprise his role as Conner here, Rose McGowen, Common and Moon Bloodgood will all be lending their talents to the game, as the story establishes some relationships that will be essential during the Salvation movie. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a button that makes John scream obscenities at the lighting guy. DLC perhaps?
Terminator Salvation ships on May 19th for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, with the movie opening later that week on May 21st.