Targeted for Termination

James Matson is out there. He can’t be bargained with.  He can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.  He does however enjoy a jolly good write up of retro Terminator games….

Take one Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Add leather jacket, sunglasses and pump action shotgun. Divide into equal parts man and machine, then send on a rampage of unmitigated death and destruction in the 1984 classic The Terminator.

You know what we call that? A recipe for success.

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Terminator (and arguably Terminator 2: Judgement Day) were two of the finest pieces of Sci-Fi action ever to grace the big screen. Spawning countless lesser films and a sadly short lived television series, the Terminator universe with its death wielding cyborgs and bleak painting of the future also proved fertile ground for a slew of game releases, many of them falling into the retro category.

Like Kyle Reese, we’ve been tossed back in time, arriving inside a ball of lightning – totally nude – to bring you the details on some of the best and worst Terminator games.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Ocean Software, 1991, Amiga)

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The Amiga take on the Terminator 2 film had so much potential. A platform that had the graphical prowess of the Amiga could have brought James Cameron’s apocalyptic future to life in stunning fashion. Unfortunately, what Amiga owners got treated to was a title that was plagued with ‘movie tie-in syndrome’ right from the outset. In a format that was typical of the era, Terminator 2 Judgement Day featured a string of sub-games, each designed to represent certain key sequences from the film. The first few minutes are spent in a banal beat em-up where the player – as Arnie – face off against the liquid metal T1000.  There isn’t a lot to the sequence, except to kick, punch and headbutt your way to success.

Next up is a vertically scrolling driving sequence meant to mimic the famous truck versus motorcycle chase from the film. You feature as John Connor trying your best to outmaneuver a truck being driven by the T1000. This mini-game isn’t actually all that awful, but there’s just nothing particularly exciting or frightening about it. There’s none of that Terminator ‘tension’ that the films managed to create.  The sequences get worse from there, with a puzzle game, a freakishly awful side scroller and variations of the earlier mini-games. A poor showing on a gaming platform capable of making masterpieces.

Terminator 2 Judgement Day Arcade (Midway, 1991, Arcade Cabinet)

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Considering how many shooting games got stuffed into arcade cabinets over the years, it took something special to stand out. Thankfully Midway crafted a pretty fine cab when they put out Terminator 2 Judgement Day, managing to capture the excitement and frantic action that one should feel when being pursued by endoskeletons of destruction.

Loaded with digitised voices of Arnie and others as well as digitised imagery from the film, the T2 arcade cab put you straight into the feel of the film. It’s the future man, and it’s bleak as all Hell.  As soon as you grabbed onto one of the 2 mounted UZI 9mm guns and began facing the first waves of Terminators, the action never let up.  Great sound, great visuals and a cabinet that oozed Terminator appeal, what’s not to love?

Terminator 3: Redemption (Atari, 2004, Nintendo Gamecube) 

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Some people didn’t mind T3 on the Gamecube. Some people thought that for a 3D FPS with vehicle elements, the game didn’t do a half bad job of rendering the doomed future of the Terminator infested year of 2029.  We however, were not some of those people. The problem with T3 Redemption stems from that constant feeling that you’re playing a game on rails. Once again you’re cast as a Terminator battling against the omnipotent Skynet, but you’re never allowed any real freedom to shoot whatever you feel like shooting, or explore where you want to explore.

While the game environment gives the appearance of being vast, you’re kept on a very narrow path and spoon fed directions every step of the way. It’s a shame really, because visually T3 does a fine job of re-creating the look of the films. The ruined cityscapes, Terminators and laser effects are all spot on. Just such a pity they’re wasted on an on-rails shooter with very little to pull the player in.

The Terminator (Virgin, 1992, Sega Megadrive)

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Everything about Terminator on the Megadrive is quality. For a start, the opening music rendition is quite probably one of the best adaptations of the Terminator theme ever produced on a console. Considering the Megadrives modest 6 channel sound compared to more advanced consoles that came after, that’s no small feat.  The same can be said of the intro animation. While a direct copy of the opening sequence of the film (think big blue tinged translucent letters sliding past each other to form the words “The Terminator”) it’s done so well, so flawlessly that you’re totally in the grasp of Terminator-heaven before you’ve even fired up the first level.

Playing as Kyle Reese, you make your way through several side scrolling levels, starting in the year 2029 and ending in the factory plant from the film, being chased by the torso of the Terminator itself.  There’s plenty of action, some neat parallax and good detail on the player and enemy sprites although the colour palette is a little samey between levels.  The Terminator is a game that shows just what was capable with a movie tie-in when you don’t try to make silly mini-games or deviate too far from what makes the films so freaking awesome (action and killer robots).