Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Terminator Salvation (Arcade)

Platform: Arcade
Genre: Light Gun (shooter)
Players: 1-2
Rating: Not Rated by ESRB (unofficial rating: Life-Like Violence: Strong)

Ever since that annoying dog graced the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1986, the light gun genre has been as strong as ever.  Arcades across the country sported games like The House of the Dead, Time Crisis, CarnEvil, and others.  The light gun genre is a staple of the arcade experience, especially when it feels right.  There's something about teaming up with a friend and launching round after round into a seemingly unstoppable foe.  After most of the arcades dried up at the turn of the millennium, few companies have produced new games specifically for that arcade experience.  That said, Terminator Salvation was a total surprise when it came out in 2010, right alongside the movie.  Better whip out that machismo, boys! It's time to raise some hell!

One thing that many light gun games will do to stand out from the competition is use a custom gun controller.  Play Mechanix, the developers of Terminator Salvation spared no expense and pulled out all the stops with their cabinets.  The rifle looks very similar to an M4, but with its own nuances.  The attached "grenade launcher" sports a button for lobbing a frag into the thick of things.  When picking up the rifle for the first time, the heft of it feels like a real rifle.  This is a welcome surprise, as it definitely sucks the player into the atmosphere of the game.  When reloading, the standard aim off screen works like every game out there.  However, "slapping" the butt of the magazine will reload the clip, as well.  This was a welcome addition to the light gun genre, and definitely needs to be considered more often.  Play Mechanix also put a "recoil mechanism" into the controller, so firing the gun accurately requires a bit of a steady hand.  It's a slick addition, and should be considered much more often.

The actual game play in Terminator Salvation involves two missions loosely related to the movie.  One mission involves delving into an underground Skynet lab to free the trapped humans and blow the place sky high.  There's a section in that mission that has you riding a helicopter, while hundreds of T-600 units and a handful of Hunter-Killers stand on the ground taking shots at you.  Thankfully, the game lets the player take advantage of the helicopter's mounted chain guns, so reloading is a non-issue.  When the player finally reaches the lab, it's completely dark.  Thankfully, that grenade launcher doubles as a flashlight.  Humans in cages become shields and cover for Skynet robots, but their glowing eyes still show in the darkness.  The ambiance of the lab is creepy, especially when hundreds of  T-600s suddenly charge on the players, forcing a mad dash for the exit.

The second mission involves tracking one of the giant harvester machines that played such a big role in the movie.  Players are tasked with chasing down, and destroying, one of these harvesters.  Along the way, players encounter eel-like swimming robots, suicide spiders, and flying sentries.  Rescuing captives along the way, the level climaxes with a "fight" against the Harvester.  This involves hitting specific targets within as specific time frame.  After planting C4 explosives on the harvester, you have a mad dash to escape.  Make it out, and revel in your virtual bad-assery.
Kickin' a** and takin' names.  Any takers?
Terminator Salvation has a lot going for it.  There really aren't many games made specifically for arcades anymore, much less games based off of movie franchises.  Atmosphere and entertainment value are key factors in determining the success of an arcade game, amongst others.  When playing Terminator Salvation, it's easy to capture the hopelessness that the resistance feels.  It's a challenging game.  Many enemies can take multiple bullets before finally going down, even when you aim for the head.  Most of the time, bullets are more likely to slow down an enemy than actually kill them.  Thankfully, it's not an impossible game.  Challenging, yes.  But not impossible.  It's also really short.  There's only two acts, each with two parts.  For a time when most arcade games cost a dollar or more, blowing through $10 or more for a game that might last 30 minutes is a bit of a letdown.  It would be nice for this game to have a bit more to it than what is already there.

Arcades are a dying breed.  When consoles can do everything that an arcade can do, it's difficult to get new games of this caliber.  When weighing the positive and the negative in Terminator Salvation, it's difficult to simply write off this game as boring or unimaginative.  If you find a cabinet, give it a go.  Spend a few credits on it.  There's plenty of machismo to go around, and you'll walk away feeling like you could take on Xerxes, a la "300."

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