Oh Terminator, what dark fate befell this once great franchise now relegated to that sad depressing territory of the majority of entries being in a word, shit. And of course that’s just the films, in terms of video games it’s been a long slog of bargain basement dreck since day one. So what a surprise that there was recently another game released last year and as a £20 game on Steam it’s actually rather good.
Obviously this sounds like backhanded praise but it isn’t with this middle-market game from Teyek, a studio with a hardly praise-worthy track record, that does what it wants to do and then leaves. Set in the Future War of the first two films this game follows Private Jacob Rivers, a resistance fighter trying to survive after his resistance outfit are wiped out by “something that looked human” and find out why the AI SkyNet has marked him for termination as one of its key targets. In a rather by the numbers but good enough story you’ll along the way meet the typical cast of characters who you help and converse with in this wasteland, from the grizzled vet, the still naïve child, the girl next door love interest etc and can decide the fate thereof, with some surprisingly morally grey results for a game of this level, but it’s really not the characters who take the spotlight but the world, or rather the fanservice.
Given this is set in the largely unseen but memorable Future War of the first two films you’d expect there to be fanservice but this game is pretty much nothing but fanservice once you get down to brass tacks, with all your favourite emotionless metal machines wanting to eradicate humanity present here and then some. T-800 endoskeletons wander the streets in packs armed with plasma-weapons, HK Aerials scan the night with powerful searchlights as they hunt scavengers, and colossal HK Tanks crush long decomposed human remains beneath their tracks as they battle resistance units. The portrayal of the world of the films is where the game really stands out with this incredibly authentic depiction of a destroyed LA, with some key moments of the films now playable in action and plenty of nods to be found all over the place. Don’t expect graphical quality that breaks new ground however as the game looks like a more polished version of Fallout 4 in terms of age but that doesn’t hold it back.
Speaking of Bethesda’s own post-apocalyptic franchise you’ll notice many similarities in its RPG-lite design, straight down to copy-pasting the lockpicking minigame from that (if slightly more annoying in usage), as well as other games in what does feel a lot like a Fallout skin but unlike some critics I don’t really see the problem with this. People play games like Fallout because they like that gameplay loop and there’s really no point in reinventing the wheel (something that’s a must these days apparently) if you know the current system works, plus given the game’s rather brief playtime it doesn’t get the chance to get old. Deploying a “hub and spoke” system of mission management every mission starts off at the central hub where you can talk to characters, buy supplies, and generally just look for little easter eggs before heading out onto missions in various locales from destroyed surburbia, to destroyed downtown LA, to destroyed… well you get the idea in either an action packed set of set-pieces or in more of a Metro Exodus style of exploring a mini-sandbox for items and side activities sneakily or guns blazing.
Despite the game’s short length it was notable how often maps are reused. In some cases such as downtown this is done well with a former set-piece section in the day during a frontline battle later returning to be explored at night days later now overrun with machines however other areas are just reused like for like but with a different time of day and different enemies.
When it comes to enemies as previously mentioned you’ll mostly find those featured in the films along with a couple of newer ones such as a hulking bipedal walker named the T-47, flying scout drones, and spider-like walking turrets but all of them seem to suffer from two-setting AI where it’s either scarily prescient as it hunts you down or so stupid it makes you see why SkyNet lost the war. Using the now bog-standard detection meter system they’ll lose interest rather quickly after Line-of-Sight is broken, apart from what seem to be some sections where they seem to have been given bespoke reactions, and can be manipulated accordingly. To counter this the developers appear to have made them stupidly accurate compared to yourself, easily able to blow you away if you show your face for the length of time it takes to see their cold-dead eyes. This doesn’t typically matter too much as again they can be easily manipulated and most firefights are over, especially once you gain access to high-end weaponry, within the first few shots.
Less effort seems to have gone into balancing in general which is a shame as the early game menace of the machines disappears all too quickly to instead see the player become extremely overpowered, with resources flowing in despite the setting, and little to get in your way apart from a couple of sudden difficulty spikes that are more irritating than challenging with the T-47s in particular becoming little more than annoying bullet sponges in late-game set-pieces. Still it’s not enough to damage the experience overall as the sound design is top-notch as ever round of the plasma weapons sounds movie-quality perfect so remain fun to fire regardless.
Terminator: Resistance is probably the best piece of Terminator content to grace pop-culture since the second film all the way back in 1991, though that’s a low bar to clear these days. If you want to enjoy a capable 8-12 hour experience that is filled with enjoyable moments for fans of the original two films to enjoy then it’s an easy recommend (especially at ~£20) but if you come in expecting a well-polished high-end experience prepare have your expectations terminated.