Review by Ryan Harrison
"You'll be saying anything but 'I'll be back' when you're through with this game!"
As we all know, if it's a multi-million-dollar blockbuster at the box office, a video game adaptation is going to soon follow. The Terminator is a movie that will certainly need no introduction; it is considered to be one of the all-time greatest action sci-fi thriller films ever made, and served to launch the careers of its main stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton. Gripping scenes, a brilliant storyline, classic quotes and moments, The Terminator had it all. Its follow-up, T2, would inspire massive lines of merchandise and video games for just about every major home console that was going at this time. Roll round to late 1992, and the original Terminator begins to have its own line of video games for all the major home consoles. They all ranged in gameplay style and quality, but the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive version of The Terminator is one that kind of floats in the middle. While a reasonably well-made game with solid controls and gameplay, it is so overwhelmingly short and simple that it really does not do the movie much justice.
Released in Europe in 1992, this game came a good eight years after the 1984 movie of the same name that it is based upon. Rather than assuming control of the title character, you play the hero of the story Kyle Reese, a human resistance soldier sent back in time from the year 2029 to 1984 in order to protect the life of Sarah Connor, mother of mankind's then-unborn saviour John Connor, from The Terminator. As Reese, you navigate your way through the apocalyptic future before reaching the past and wandering through the streets and police station of Los Angeles, blasting through enemies and hindering The Terminator before reaching Sarah, before finally confronting and altogether defeating your robotic enemy.
The story of this game is identical to that of said film, being stripped down specifically to make this game more of an A to Z story while you play through it. Still, it was stripped down so much that certain parts that could very well have been included in the game, such as car chases and shootouts, were pretty much ignored. The story to The Terminator goes that technology eventually becomes self-aware and wages war against humankind, launching an all-out nuclear war in the year 1997 that almost wipes out all of the human population of the earth. A human resistance force, led by John Connor, son of the aforementioned Sarah, fights back and eventually wins the battle against the machines. However, Skynet (the main computer that controls the machines) decides to change history by sending a T-800 model Terminator (the kind played by Schwarzenegger) back through time to 1984, before John Connor is conceived. With the single mission of finding and assassinating Sarah, John can therefore not be born, and without him to lead the resistance in the future, humankind loses and the machines win. The T-800 has a near-indestructible metallic endo-skeleton chassis, but is coated with human-like skin and organs to make it blend in with other humans. The human resistance therefore sends Kyle Reese back through time to go after The Terminator and protect Sarah to ensure the human race will still survive in the future.
Now, I am a huge fan of the Terminator franchise and an absolute buff with the storylines, and I really could spend all day explaining the whole story but for fear of spoilers and going too far off-topic, but all in all, that's the skinny to set the stage for when you begin the game. Overall, the storyline to this game is an excellent one, and through the use of movie images, captions and story text, more of it is explained to the player as you play through the game. The flow of the story in this game differs a little to the film at the beginning; rather than starting out in present-day L.A., you begin in the futuristic battlefield, which was only seen in minor flashbacks and stories Reese tells after he has travelled back in time.
The graphics of this game aren't bad, but nothing truly remarkable either. While stage designs are overall quite nicely done with some good visuals and colours, some parts do look rather generic and plain. The Los Angeles 2029 stage looks very much like it did in the movie, and overall the graphics retain a mostly dark tone to go with the game, which is suitable for a game like The Terminator. Character and enemy designs, however, do look a bit basic, with only Reese and The Terminator's models bearing any kind of resemblance to the characters whatsoever. Even so, they do look quite small and don't have a great amount of detail to them. The animation and sprites are good, though. The giant robotic tanks have some nice looking designs, but other generic enemies such as cops, thugs and grunt terminator robots have rather basic looks. One good touch that was thrown in was the Terminator-styled opening credits and movie scene images which look pretty nice in 16-bit rendition, so altogether I think the graphics for this game do their job pretty well.
Musically, the game has a pretty great soundtrack with different background themes for each of the game's four levels. The opening credits have a nice rendition of the classic Terminator theme, and the stage music suits each level. It is rather high and fast-paced, as well as tense, especially when you come closer to taking on Arnie himself. The soundtrack isn't anything classic, but all the themes are actually quite memorable and recognisable. There are also a range of sound effects thrown in, mostly explosions, gunshots and grunts when Reese takes damage. The game even also has some brief voice sampling, and altogether I think the music and sound effects of the game are crisp, clear, and very well-done.
The control of the game is okay, and there isn't a whole lot to get used to. The usual D-Pad buttons control Reese's movement, and the movements respond quite well to the pressing of the buttons. With the A, B and C buttons Reese can use his weapons and perform a rather unusual-looking forward jump. Again, these controls work alright, with my only main issue being the use of the shotgun weapon; while you first must press the button to make Reese actually whip out the weapon before being able to shoot it, it does sometimes become slightly delayed when tapping the button frantically to shoot several times in quick succession.
The actual gameplay is pretty solid, too. The Terminator is pretty much your standard side-scrolling run-and-gun game, with the objective of each stage being to plough through, shoot down enemies, and reach the end. There isn't really anything memorable or different between each of the levels, but at some points you may reach points where you have to take the correct route in order to get through, so a bit of level memorisation will occasionally come into play, but once you've gotten this down, the game is a breeze to play through every time afterwards. There are four different difficulty settings to test your skills out with, and another snag is that you only have one life to play through the entire game with. No matter how far in you get or how well you do, if Reese takes too much damage and his four-bar health meter is drained, you'll have to start all over again from the very beginning. This sounds a bit daunting, but for the sheer length of this game and its very short lifespan, in all likelihood you're not that likely to find it to be a major issue.
So, despite a good deal of positive things to say about this game, two things really seem to let it down: its linearity, and its length. While pretty common with 16-bit side-scrollers, even for Sega Genesis standards, The Terminator really could have done with more or longer stages, and more to explore and encourage the player to come back. While the game can have a reasonable challenge for first-time players, and you may lose a few lives and have to keep trying, the game is only four levels long from start to finish, and each level is very straightforward for the most part. Like I said, once you've played through, you'll find it so easy you could almost do it with your eyes closed every time after. Even the NES version of this game had six levels, some of them even more expansive and challenging than this version. It would have also been nice to include some driving stages to represent the car chases from the movie and would have given the game some more variety and length. The game is very disappointingly short and can easily be beaten in a quarter of an hour; and once you do so, you'll have also pretty much seen everything there is to offer.
Is this game worth owning? If you're a diehard collector or big Terminator fan, then go for it. It isn't the hardest task in the world to hunt a copy of this game down, and you'll probably get a mild degree of enjoyment out of the brief time you'll spend playing it. There are different difficulties to try out if you want more challenge and incentive to come back too, but if you're looking for more to get out of a Terminator game, a more recent game based on the franchise would be a better bet. The best version of The Terminator in video game format would probably go to the Sega CD version, so if you're prepared to hunt a copy of that game down instead, that would be a better choice.
Overall, The Terminator on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive is a solid and well-made game, but very disappointingly short and easy. If you don't mind the major drawbacks then pick it up, but if you want something with more substance, it's best to skip this one. Had there been more to get out of this game I'd have definitely given it a much higher score, but in all honesty, after a once-over it's pretty much one to throw onto the pile to gather dust afterwards.
"I'LL BE BACK"...hmmm, maybe not.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 02/13/13, Updated 04/10/13
Game Release: The Terminator (EU, 12/31/92)
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