Sent from the future to track down and destroy one retro gamer in the 21st Century, The Terminator requires just your tea, your slippers and your Master System. Prepare for the rise of the 8-bit machine.
Publisher: Virgin Games
Played Before: Yes (Game Gear)
Also on: Game Gear, Mega Drive
The Terminator is one of those rare games which is simultaneously both easy and difficult depending on how you approach it. Try to play by traditional run-and-gun game rules and Kyle Reese’s single life will soon be dispensed with under a hail of gunfire that’s near unavoidable. Adjusting to the way it wants you to play is key. Standing around waiting for opportunities will bring no progress against the infinitely respawning enemy operatives and the only reliable way to get through The Terminator is to edge forward, firing constantly so that enemies can’t even get on the screen. Sure, you’ll take the odd hit here and there, but there is a life meter so we aren’t facing a game over screen after one small mistake. This all sounds very exciting and full-bore action but ends up being a bit of a chore to play.
Stage 1 tasks you with destroying a reactor and then escaping to a fairly generous time limit. The game opens with Kyle running to the right and being dive-bombed by a flying drone thing dropping explosives via parachute. It initially seems difficult to dodge these projectiles and they hurt you when falling but you can run through the explosions without damage. In fact, running is key here as you can get through almost the entire section just by holding right on the d-pad. Down the ladder and into the facility itself and you’re immediately under assault from guards with guns. In response to this, you’re given some rather crappy bouncing grenades. The rate of fire on these is not the best, hence the need to creep forward while firing constantly, at least until you get hold of the machine gun. The game’s only real puzzle is presented here and requires first collecting a machine gun then backtracking to detonate some dynamite in front of a reactor. This disables the laser turret at the end of the stage and allows you to pass without being beamed to death. Thankfully, once this first stage is completed, you retain the machine gun for the rest of the game and won’t be made to use the terrible grenade weapon again. This stage features lots of slowdown for no discernible reason. Only two enemies feature at any one time and you can exploit this to get them both behind you then keep running forwards so as not to have to deal with them.
On stage 2, we have to make our way through streets and rooftops crawling with thugs and police to find the location of the Tech Noir nightclub. This is a more linear task than in the first stage and involves the same process of creeping to the right while hammering the fire button. Cops take multiple hits but that doesn’t have much bearing on success and, as with the first stage, if you can get two thugs following behind, you can run to the end of the first area quite easily. The start of the second half of the stage opens with a leap of faith from a rooftop. The sensible option here would be to jump to the right in order to clear any gap lurking off-screen, but the fall from that kills you. Walking off of the ledge drops you safely down and it’s a simple case of progressing rightwards using the established method. Inside Tech Noir on stage 3, Kyle is confronted with a large cyborg. The obvious approach here would be to stay down the stairs, out of reach of the cyborg’s gunfire, but this has no effect as the cyborg doesn’t actually have a life meter. The goal here is to creep forward, ducking under the cyborg’s bullets and gradually pushing it back to an arbitrary point at which the stage is completed. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in gameplay terms, but that isn’t much of a surprise by this point.
After the cyborg is defeated, Kyle and an apparently invisible Sarah Connor are taken to a police station with no real explanation why, so stage 4 charges you with escaping. Security here appears to be quite lax as cyborgs and street thugs are running free along with the police. The thugs have ditched their Molotov cocktails from stage 2 and instead now throw horizontal fireballs in a style very similar to that of Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat. The police station is a bit of a maze and there is a time limit, so losing your solitary life here is likely. On the final stage, Kyle heads to the factory to complete the job and finish the Terminator off. This is a maze in the same style as the police station and features more cyborgs. The plot here strays from the film in that Kyle shoots the Terminator into the metal press, with the odd post-script that Kyle is dead, making no sense given the action that takes place.
Presentation throughout the game is fairly strong with narrative text and large, distinct graphics explaining the story, but it bears mentioning that the majority of this is hand-drawn in a cartoonish style where digitising stills from the movie could have probably worked better. Graphics generally are of very good quality, especially the backgrounds. The Mega Drive version of The Terminator looks better in stills but plays badly and the 8-bit version is slightly superior, for what it’s worth. The promising presentation is let down by poor design of the bits the player is involved in and the somewhat unfriendly design of the status bar, which cycles between time limit, remaining player health and score instead of displaying these all at the same time. Progress is difficult for the less skilled or perseverant player, given that Kyle only has one life, and when the game has been mastered there is little on offer to encourage further play. Once the Terminator gets pressed, there’s nothing else to do except wait for…
Developer: Arc Developments
Publisher: Flying Edge
Played Before: No
Also on: NES
Progress: Stage 4
Terminator 2: Judgment Day has you take on the role of a T-101 Terminator this time, your job being to track down the T-1000 through various locales and destroy it. Instead of planting a bomb in a facility, we start out in the more mundane environs of a truck stop. Run all the way to the right and you’ll be artificially stopped from progressing. The task here is to kill all of the roaming, incredibly violent bad guys to progress, this time using your fists, and hand-to-hand combat is more suited to the job than the prequel’s slightly unwieldy grenades. You can only punch one enemy at a time and any others sharing the same space will merrily beat you up, but there is another, rather odd, method to dispatching these goons. It’s possible to jump down from the scenery onto their heads to land a hit and this works perfectly on a group. There’s no end of level boss to beat here. Instead, the first two stages run into each other, with the second repeating the formula in a bar but with the addition of a boss fight. Failure to correctly time nipping in, attacking and getting out again will see your life drain away in a few hits. After the big guy’s put down, Arnie finally acquires clothes, boots and a motorcycle. And, more importantly, a gun.
The third stage is where the game really begins and the challenge ramps up as we get away from monotonous side scrolling and are given a proper task; to find Sarah Connor. This is a more involving stage design and much more enjoyable than anything that’s come so far in both games. Played out on two layers in a building with six floors, finding Sarah involves going through the numerous doors and checking for her presence in the rooms beyond. There’s not a lot to look at or do on the front layer, just the obstacle of not getting shot while you make your way to the next door. Rooms on the back layer contain key cards, ammunition and energy, but you don’t need these to finish the level as far as I could tell. There’s a fairly regular stream of enemies getting in the way, and you’ll have to fire almost constantly to eradicate them. It’s here that a fairly obvious bug rears its ugly head. You can only fire one bullet at a time and pressing the fire button again while moving makes Arnie stop in his tracks. This is a real pain when you’re being chased as you lose ground and are more at risk of having valuable energy drained away. Energy is not replenished between stages, so this bug can lead to a fair amount of frustration. Bullets can also travel through walls, which is a pointer to slightly deficient development and should not happen in a game related to a licence of this magnitude.
Stage four features similar presentation, which is a slight let down, but this time there’s more to do. There are barrels hidden on both layers which need to be taken to the depositing area at the top left of the stage. You can only carry three barrels at once, so there’s a bit of backtracking required. The only major addition to obstacles from the previous stage are ceiling mounted lasers, which are fairly simple to avoid, and systematic progression is again the recommended method. Once ten barrels have been deposited, you’ll need to set them as explosive charges along the length of the top floor and then escape to the central lift against a very strict time limit. It’s not explained why you can now only carry barrels two at a time instead of three. This is an uninteresting task and brings into question why the barrels had to be deposited initially instead of setting them as charges as they were found. The final stage is the most visually appealing, with animation livening up the dark environs and obstacles such as steam and bubbling lava to avoid. This is the only stage where platforming skills are required as there are long gaps and moving platforms to deal with. Three T-1000s must be defeated in the climb up the stage to destroy the remaining evidence of the Terminators, with the final battle requiring you to dump the last one off of the edge of a platform into a pit of molten steel.
The biggest difference in the controls of Terminator 2 is that the Terminator is a more agile character than Kyle Reese of the first game. It’s possible to easily jump over bullets this time around, whereas taking damage from projectiles was virtually guaranteed previously. Arc Developments also decided to grace the player with three lives, so frustration is somewhat alleviated yet the poor status bar arrangement persists. You can only see how much ammunition you have remaining when you fire your gun and that gauge appears very briefly before changing back to the energy meter. This is hardly an ideal situation in a game where weaponry is limited. The joyless experience of being shot at by enemies who aren’t even on the screen, but that you can’t hit in return, highlights another questionable design decision. The presentation falls below that of the NES version, both in terms of animation and audio. Admittedly, it is extremely difficult to compete with Tim Follin in the background music stakes even without the disadvantage of the Master System’s sound channel inadequacy. The graphics are better, but there is far less story exposition and the whole motorcycle chase level is missing. These numerous deficiencies mean Terminator 2 can’t be greatly recommended. Even though this is a more engaging experience than the first game, both titles suffer from a low likelihood of extended replays due to their rigid linearity.
Exciting SEGA ratings:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day