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Terminator: Survival

The Best Game Never Played

Terminator: Survival (Action Survival / PC, PS3)

 

Introducing the Genre

Like all great games, this one combines genres in a new and interesting way. There are survival elements with shooter gameplay, a dash of stealth, and RPG character design, having victory dependent on some very tricky problem solving . Some elements seem taken from the old NES Jaws, the indie hit Spy Party, The Sims, The Ship, and the standard 3rd person shooter’s navigation and combat.

 

Introducing the Game

In the battle of genre vs franchise, I usually compare both. There’s never been a mix of genres to create a game like this, and all the games in the franchise never quite reached this level of emotional investment and recreating the feel of the movie as this one. This is a game that could only have come out now, with the high level of detail for cities, the city’s square mileage, store and building interiors, object physics, high polycount of models, destructible environments, and dense crowd AI. There’s never been a game that perfectly captures the terror of being against the world with the paranoia level of Slender, like this one, Terminator: Survival.

 

Gameplay

For a long time, I couldn’t imagine how to properly design or play a real Terminator game. What would make it a real Terminator game compared to any other shooter with a robot in them? How would you recreate the feeling and struggle of the characters in the movies?

The game is a mix between open world, sim, role-playing, shooter, and a unique cat & mouse mechanic, like a reverse-Assassin’s Creed. The city is yours to roam like a GTA clone, complete with bystanders and police. All the time, someone is hunting you.

Once you’ve made contact with a soldier from the future, you two are joined at the hip. When you’re on the run, you cannot just camp somewhere in a corner. Remember, being thrown in a hole somewhere for the rest of your natural life is just as good as being dead. You will never be able to do whatever it is that you do to help or threaten Skynet.

Both characters have basic survival needs such as sleep, money, food, water, sanitation, and entertainment. These are reminiscent of the gauges on each Sim from The Sims or for characters in the game, The Ship. The “needs” prevent you from just camping in one spot. Venturing out when you know you’re being hunted adds a certain level of tension.

There is a rich character creator capable of generating unique faces for you, your companion, the Terminator, and the random faces in the crowd. Just because you remember what each one looked like in the last game, it doesn’t mean they’ll have the same face in this game. Since some Terminators are based on real people, your protector from one game might be your nemesis in the next.

Besides cosmetic features, the character creation screen for your character has a skill set that reminds me of some pencil and paper RPGs. You pick skills to have some ranks already developed, the more you use your skills, the more they level up, but only marginally. You cannot max everything out, and there’s a point to that. Your character in this run through will be different from your last, your next, and the one from the player down the street.

Your companion, if you’re able to find them, are generally your opposite. If you created yourself to be some kind of soldier, then your partner is more of an intel/tech specialist. If you have absolutely no knowledge of first-aid, it’s a good bet that your protector will. This fosters a sense of cooperation, reliance, and ensuring that they are always valuable. A word of warning, if your bodyguard dies, then they are dead, that’s it. You should protect them while they are protecting you.

Like Kyle Reese said, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse, it will not stop until you are dead. This can actually work in your favor since a gun wielding maniac attracts it’s own wanted level. Once a T-888 has you in its sights, you can fight or flee. In the opening of the game, fleeing is usually the best option.

Terminating a Terminator is never a straightforward task. Like the movies, Terminators can soak up a ridiculous amount of small arms fire. All that really does is slow it down, force it into hiding to repair itself, or bring the police to bear on the both of you. Having a Terminator on your tail is like having a wanted level in GTA.

An infiltrator robot is of no use if large swaths of skin are torn off, revealing the metal underneath. Once you shake the terminator, it will be in hiding longer based on the amount of damage you’ve dealt. Enjoy the downtime.

In your downtime trying to collect money, food, weapons, and the necessities of life, try not to commit too many crimes. The police can chase after you just as easily as the T-888. If you get arrested, you’ll have to break out. Your resistance partner might be able to help. There’s a good chance that the terminator will hear of your arrest and come to shoot up the police station, just like in the first movie.

Well now you’re an escaped criminal. This is where you’ll be forced to change your appearance, just like the terminator if it had taken severe damage. Fleeing can be on foot can only work for so long. Unless the terminator is severely damaged and limping, a vehicle is usually the best chance of evading.

There could be frequent car chases, or you could use the car as an offensive weapon against the T-888, assuming you don’t have a swarm of police bearing down on you.

Killing it will involve recreating scenes from the movies, as in some kind of industrial equipment, high explosives, thermite, electrocution, crushing, acid, smelting, radiation, or freezing. Those are just some of the more obvious ways. Desperation and creativity may reveal some others. People who watched the TV series might be at an advantage.

 

Story

“… making this the third victim with the same name in as many weeks.” You hear on a news broadcast that three people with your exact first and last name have been murdered. In the future, the character you create is very important in some way. The specifics aren’t important. What’s important is that Skynet deems you valuable enough to target for termination.

Terminator: Survival expands upon the universe created in the television series and the first two movies. We’ve seen from The Sarah Connor Chronicles that John and Sarah were not the only targets of Skynet.

One terminator, or more, models determined by difficulty level between T-800, T-888, T-1000, or T-X, are sent back to terminate your character. There is also a human resistance member sent back in time to help you. How the game plays out, life or death for you or your companion, is up to you.

This game recreates the story conditions of the first movie. One terminator is sent back in time to terminate a very influential person in the future. Additionally, a resistance member, a very mortal one, has been sent back in time as a bodyguard. You’re outmatched, outgunned, and forced to flee. There are no offensive missions where you can really take the fight to Skynet and attack future Terminator assets like Cyberdine in Terminator 2, or several sites in the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Perhaps if there’s ever a sequel, the developers will shoot for a T-2 vibe and allow you to plan attacks against Skynet, maybe meet up with famous characters like John & Sarah Connor, perhaps have your very own Terminator at your command.

 

Graphics

The developers had a grand vision that they were able to achieve with today’s technology. They were able to render a very destructible sandbox world in incredible detail. I think it’s fair to say that the Grand Theft Auto series set the bar in regards to sandbox cities. This raises the bar just a little more with the addition of the “flavors” of the city, industrial districts, commercial districts, residential districts, a port district, an airport, a stadium, destructible elements like storefronts, malls, gun stores, a military base, a police station, warehouses, construction sites, highways, insides of buildings, and more. There is a slight loading time in between some of the different zones, but that’s the trade off for the graphics detail.

 

Music

Bear McCreary, my favorite robot musician, delivers his signature style and emulation of the original Terminator themes. If you liked what you heard on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you’ll like what you hear here. The music sets the appropriate mood for when you’re running, hiding, evading, or involved in an all out firefight.

 

Sound

This almost mixes with music, considering who was doing the score. Lots of drums, metal banging on metal. I think the soundfont from the series was used for most of the climactic battles. Voice acting is solid, especially the signature line, “Come with me if you want to live.” Gives me chills every time, no matter who says it.

 

Controls

I was surprised that this game was available for both PC and consoles. Navigating the menus reminded me of how Mass Effect dealt with interaction, weapons, AI commands, and such.

The combat easily shifts between vehicular combat and cover based shooting. When not drawing a weapon, interacting with the rest of the environment is fluid.

 

Multiplayer

This is one of the highlights of the game. It could have been a solid game without multiplayer, but developers went the extra mile. There is a multiplayer battle mode that allows you to play asymmetrically with up to two players as humans, and more as terminators. Or, another game type with terminator on terminator action. Depending on what team you’re on, you have a photograph of your target and must protect it, or terminate. The different models are available for play, T-800, 888, 1000, or T-X.

Single player pauses the game while you choose some options, but in multiplayer, it doesn’t. So you have to be quick. Also, the need for sleep is removed in multiplayer, it’s mostly played in near real-time.

There are a few default skins for your characters, just in case you want to be obvious, like Arnold, Robert Patrick, Kristanna Loken, Linda Hamilton, Lena Heady, and more.

It all takes place, single and multi-player, in the not too distant present/past. There’s no future or post-Judgement Day maps to play on, no bleached skulls and hunter killers(except in Mods). Maybe that’s being saved for a sequel.

 

Depth/Replayability

With the ever randomizing of character skins, every game begins unpredictably. There might be some games where you never meet your bodyguard. Some games might end quickly, one way or another.

The depth of the skill system gives you challenges and gameplay styles different each time, depending on your mood. One game might make you a perfect burglar, in another game you’re a wealthy philanthropist, in one you’re a hard boiled soldier with a computer hacker sidekick.

Then there’s difficulty levels which determine what model of Terminator is sent at you and how many. In one game you might try to destroy it or them in new and different ways.

Multiplayer gives the game a great party value to play with friends cooperatively or competitively.

Lastly, MOD support, at least for the PC, means this game can have unlimited depth.

 

Personal

The PC version is obviously superior, if only for the MOD support.

Bear McCreary may or may not be an actual robot. I suspect he is, since his career seems to have been tied to robots for a very long time. Bear composed the music for the re-imagined Battlestar: Galactica, with humans at war with the robotic Cylons. He scored Dark Void where humans are at war with a mysterious robotic race. Mr. McCreary accepted the gig since he was inspired by Capcom’s robot war epic Mega Man 2 when he was younger. Lastly, he did the music for The Sarah Conner Chronicles. So, robot? To be determined.

Creating my character’s skills and adding points into things like my finances reminds me of picking my job in Oregon Trail.

 

Boiling it Down

Recreating the terror of the Terminator movie in a game, perfectly.

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Dark Void

Originally written on 1/10/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introduce the genre

This time, the genre is 3rd person shooter. The likes of which might include Vanquish, Bloodrayne, and Max Payne. I like those three, but they won’t be the focus of this review. Amazingly,  they get overlooked when compared to Gears of War, Army of Two, and Kayne & Lynch.

Introduce the game

This game was a long time in the making. Its history goes all the way back to the NES. Capcom had started development for the NES, and then delayed it. Tried again, it was tabled,  shelved, put away, brought out, put back in, and eventually came out in 2009 across multiple platforms. The game I’m talking about is, Dark Void.

Game play

Jet pack! You have a jet pack! … and a helmet, which you will need. The game controls like any other “cover based 3rd person shooter” with regenerative health. It’s not very original in that respect, but it isn’t long before you get a jet pack At that point the game dynamic radically changes. For example, you’re on the bottom of a narrow and long, but not very wide valley. There are two one-man turrets at the end of the valley. What do you do? Well, you can duck and weave  and dodge your way up the valley. Or, you can fly above and take them out from a better angle with a long range weapon, or rocket yourself forward and fly the deck across the valley in between the turrets and have them shoot each other, or hijack one and shoot the other. You can play it safe like any 3rd person cover based action shooter, or try crazy jet pack stunts. (Guess which one I chose?)

There is a hangar you need to advance through. You can hide behind crates, peek and fire and slowly advance. Or swoop in and fly by, fly over, dropping grenades, strafing runs, or aiming for a corridor to get out of the firefight.

There are some parts of the game where you may prefer ground based combat, others where you’ll mostly be flying and dogfighting, but it doesn’t prevent you from trying either approach.

Story

You play a 1940s pilot lost in the Bermuda Triangle and wind up in another dimension with Nikola Tesla and a ragtag bunch of human resistance fighters battling an alien extra-dimensional force. The story is as corny as an old adventure serial with monsters made of rubber hose and spare tires. And that’s what makes it great 😉

Too many games, especially in the cover based 3rd person shooters that are character driven instead of the modern anonymous character 1st person shooters, try to take themselves too seriously. While Dark Void doesn’t have blatant tongue-in-cheek humor, it ought to make you laugh just a bit from the ridiculousness of what you have to do(wait, you want me to kill THAT?). It’s not too heavy or too light on story.

Graphics

The graphics are fine by today’s standards. My computer isn’t the best anymore, so I play it on low settings. As I said in my previous review, a game has to stand on its own by game play. Graphics are just the icing on the donut, it’s the cream filling that matters. I should add, the graphics are good enough to give me the willies when something wiggly squirms up out of the fog and goes squish.

Modern shooters, or most games, work graphics into their games to stay competitive. And that’s not a point of fault. But when graphics become more important selling point than the game play, then it is a fault.

Music

The music is what sold me on the game. In fact the music was advertised with the game. I haven’t had a favorite new musician for a long time. Most of my iPod is filled with 1980s, and some OC Remix. I had just recently finished watching the new Battlestar Galactica and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, so I was familiar with the work of Bear McCreary. He sure loves those drums and pipes. The concept art had a man in a 1940s leather flight jacket wearing a Rocketeer helmet wearing a jet pack. I would have been sold just on that, but once you add Bear McCreary. into the mix, I couldn’t resist. The game involves fighting some robots in the Bermuda Triangle. When the music kicks up, it’s like you’re fighting Cylons in the 40s. And I’m quite happy with that. The game is made by Capcom and they typically have a great music team, such as Mega Man. There’s just something about Capcom that makes the music very identifiable as “Capcom.”

After watching Gears of War, Army of Two, and playing through Bloodrayne, Vanquish, and the Max Paynes, I cannot remember much music standing out except from Max Payne 2. But Dark Void, I remember all of it. Bear McCreary. is always welcome on my iPod.(he sure loves scoring tracks that involve fighting robots? Once again, I’m a sucker for anything involving zombies, aliens, or robots. This one has both aliens AND robots!)

When you beat the game, there is a delightful easter egg of the original NES chip tune that plays during a portion of the credits.

Sound

The sound is practically perfect in every way. I cannot think of anything that stands out as out of place. There’s some very satisfying rocket pack sounds, as well as bone cracking smacks when you launch into a wall, or smack a robot with the but of your rifle. The voice acting is a smidgen off from the lip syncing, but that doesn’t bother me.

Controls

Another set of reviews that I read faulted the game on its controls. I had no problem adapting. It was one of those games that I just “clicked” with. I never had any adjustment problems. I honestly have no idea what the problem the reviewer had.

The game allows you to turn on the jet pack at any moment, even when it is not wise. And I like having that amount of control. You can even cannonball yourself into enemies to deal(and take) some damage.

It takes a while to get used to the controls. I floundered around for a while in the air, as I imagine I really would if given a real jet pack to play with. It takes a while to get the hang of pitch, yaw, roll, and hovering. I’ve never had a game that gives me that amount of control outside of a space fighter sim. But once you learn how to play and how to fly, it’s a beautiful thing.

The melee attacks were particularly satisfying, getting up close and personal with the robots and smacking them upside the head felt good, and squishing the little worm bug things was great.

There are a few Quick Time Events(QTEs) where you have to ride or hijack an alien ship. And I have a strong dislike for QTEs as a concept. It reduces a fight to a lame guitar hero solo. You can’t even look at the spectacular animation(which you can’t control) because you’re looking for a button to appear. QTEs also take control away from you. The character typically performs actions he or she could not normally do. It not only takes control away from you, it takes away the fight and the struggle and the tension.

Multiplayer

Sadly none. 😥 There aren’t many 3rd person cover based shooters with multiplayer, anyway. This would be great with co-op. But that’s just me. There’s a distinct lack of co-op games out there. Maybe death match. The multiplayer category is here in this article so I consider it. It may be more important in another article where multiplayer stands out. While music is here and is exceptional, music may not have much weight in another title. Regardless, it’s here. Let me know if there are any other aspects you believe I should consider in future or back articles, such as the amount of virtual fishing included in a game.

Depth/Replayability

The game is good for a few play throughs if you’re into collectibles and upgrades. You collect points from every monster and enemy and upgrade one of 7 items. There are standard tropes here of assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotgun-ish alien weapon, and upgrading the jet pack I didn’t manage to acquire enough points to upgrade everything the first time through. But I was given the opportunity for a New Game + and start with my upgraded weapons again. It’s good for a play through every now and then.

Personal

I think I’ve been waiting for this game for a long time. There just aren’t enough games with jet packs in them. Who didn’t want one growing up? Heck, who doesn’t want one now? I had a blast doing bat-crazy flight acrobatics. Some worked, some didn’t, but it was fun either way. The overall game ended too soon and I wish there were more, a sequel or an expansion pack perhaps. Though I read from the poor sales figures of Vanquish and Dark Void that Capcom will not make another original IP venture for a long time. Perhaps a sequel is off the table for a decade or so, but we can hope for a spiritual successor.

Boiling it Down

Great action fun with a retro art look that doesn’t indulge itself in the rampant profanity and gore most others do.

Other Resources

Trailer

Bear McCreary Interview

Dark Void Homepage

Steam Page