Note: It's impossible for me to focus on Terminator Salvation: The Videogame for more than two minutes without thinking of Christian Bale's awesome freak-out. Moving on, I checked out a fairly complete Xbox 360 version of the game at GDC 2009. A prequel to the Terminator Salvation movie, the game takes place two years before the film. Most of the world has been wiped out by Skynet, leaving a smattering of humans to fight for their lives. The good news is that Skynet has taken some damage as well and has to rebuild itself. John Connor is not yet the leader of the human resistance. In fact, he's pretty close to losing all faith and abandoning the cause. The game's plot reveals how Connor's steely resolve formed.
Let's get the Hollywood stuff out of the way. Sadly, Christian Bale is not in the game nor is there a video-game version of his infamous screaming session (that would have been a brilliant unlockable feature!). Common and Moon Bloodgood voice their characters from the movie. Rose McGowan plays a character that was made for the game, but does not appear in the movie (could her death play a part in Connor's development? Drama!). The game's plot was written by Secret Agent in conjunction the film's team and the developers at GRIN.
To set the tone of the game, the first mission in Terminator Salvation is an evacuation. The resistance is getting slaughtered and the gang has to find a safe haven. As the crew is ready to retreat in helicopters, a distress call is received. The leader or the unit decides to ignore it and save the soldiers he still has. This doesn't sit well with Connor, who believes that abandoning other humans makes them no better than the machines. Connor defies his orders and sets out to save the other humans. I swear, I haven't seen this level of martyrdom since Obi-Wan Kenobi allowed himself to be cleaved in half by Darth Vader.
Combat is of the strategic action variety, featuring heavy cover play. Gamers control Connor, but have to rely heavily on his team. Since terminators are armored death machines with advanced technology, it takes a little more than straight-up gunfire to take them down. In many situations, flanking maneuvers are required. For example, Connor's teammates can draw a terminator's fire, while he sneaks around the environment to set up a shot to the robot's weak spot. In the early portions of the game, Connor's teammates are more proactive. As the story progresses and he becomes more of a leader, his teammates look for him to take charge. It's nice to see a plot device lend itself so well to advancing difficulty in a game.
The action uses some interesting quirks, including a health meter that resets after every encounter. Instead of relying on power-ups or hitting the next check point, players are required to manage their health from skirmish to skirmish.
In addition to the tactical combat, there are five rail sequences that mix things up. I saw one that involved Connor manning a turret on a combat vehicle. The object was to fend off (evil) robot motorcycles that were attacking a school bus filled with humans. The gun builds up heat if it's fired too frequently, so Connor has to dole out the ordnance with care. If the gun overheats then a few seconds must pass before it can be fired again. Aiming is tricky since the vehicle is being driven over uneven terrain that's filled with nasty bumps. It wasn't the most mind-blowing rail-sequence I've ever seen, but it appeared to be fun and certainly was a change from the tactical-action portions.
The game features a cooperative mode that can only be experienced split screen. I was a bit surprised that online wasn't included...you know, since It's 2009 and all. The omission of online cooperative play seems a bit weak to me.
Despite that last misgiving, Terminator Salvation looks like it will be a serviceable game that fans of the Terminator world will enjoy. It looks like it will do a good job at flushing out the world and story of Terminator, while giving gamers a chance to blow up a lot of stuff and throw down against cool robots. Do I think it will be one of the best shooters of the year? No. Do I think it'll be fun for fans of the Terminator world and movies? Most likely.