Review: Terminator: Salvation for iPhone

Chris Holt
18 May, 2009
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It’s summer movie season. The usual explosion of new blockbuster films brings inevitable collateral damage in the form of inevitable tie-in merchandising, including video games. Thankfully for Terminator: Salvation, oft-reliable development house Gameloft is behind the development of their iPhone adaptation.

Terminator: Salvation is a third-person shooter for the iPhone that depicts the leader of the human resistance, John Connor, played with a remarkable lack of f-bombs by Christian Bale. Though there is no voice acting in the game, the game does a good job of portraying Bale’s chiseled visage. The game also depicts a new character, Marcus, who has an unknown connection to Skynet and various plot twists in the film I can’t reveal here.

The spot-on likeness of the game’s Connor character to Christian Bale notwithstanding, the pixelated graphics and languid environments leave much to be desired. The bombed out environments are varied, but all appear grainy and there is so little interaction with said environment (save scripted cutscenes) that they could just as easily be painted on 2-D screens.

You’ll guide John Connor and the mysterious Marcus character through post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, suburban wasteland, and deep inside Skynet’s headquarters. The game throws a slew of baddies at you to deal with, including the iconic T-600 terminators. Other common enemies include T-1 Tanks, little robotic spider mites, and terminator attack motorcycles.

To kick some major rusty metal butt, you’ll have an arsenal consisting of a shotgun, assault rifle, grenade launcher, surge cannon and several others. Switching through your guns is an easy tap on the touchscreen, though there is no reload button. After defeating baddies, you’ll be able to pick up dropped microchips to unlock additional content. You’ll also be able to use the iPhone’s motion-sensor controls to play hacking minigames periodically. This latter feature adds a fun nuance to the game, but more such challenges would greatly flush out the depth of the game.

The enemy AI is so stupid it’s a wonder humanity was ever threatened to begin with. Clever hamsters could defeat the ambling AI robots. The enemy terminators simply walk towards you and shoot, but on certain levels with platforms and decent cover, they’ll literally walk into walls as you fire at them. The more advanced setting means they’re tougher, but booby-traps and land mines are bigger threats usually than enemy robots. If you do die, checkpoints are frequent and ensure you won’t have to repeat long stretches of a stage.

The problem with the game’s story is that it feels like Warner Bros. went through the game’s script and took out anything that might be a spoiler to the movie. The result is a poorly edited mess that only offers a two part-mission for Marcus (who we get no introduction to) who must somehow meet up with another character (who we don’t know) and escape (because of why?) and it’s somehow significant to the overall story. As it stands, it’s a two-stage intermission from the Connor story and you’re left scratching your head at why it was here to begin with.

The game is meant to promote the movie, without actually giving anything away in the movie. Thus, the ending is hopefully not canon. After Connor defeats the advanced T-700 (apparently after single handedly infiltrating Skynet’s base) you’re treated to a campy explosion sequence and then text informing you that Connor badly injured himself after blowing up the entirety of Skynet’s base. This scene’s potential for coolness and its omission speaks to the quick-turnaround and half-hazard nature of movie tie-in games.

Taking a page from Gears of War, Terminator Salvation offers third-person shooting action, and the ability to take cover by pressing the character’s back against walls and rubble. This works great in theory and is cool the first few times you do it. The walls usually degrade after taking damage, which is a nice detail that other titles can’t claim. However, since only the d-pad will guide you to take cover, it’s also really easy to get stuck behind cover. You’ll signal for Connor to move away from the cover and instead he’ll just shimmy along the wall to the left or right. In combat, this kind of limitation can be disastrous.

The ability to play as a T-600 is a cool unlockable feature, but hardly constitutes a deeper level of gameplay. The game will take you about 90 minutes to play through and maybe another hour or so to try again at a harder level before you get bored. While the game possesses some major breakthroughs in iPhone gaming— namely competent third-person shooting action and the ability to find cover— the game is marred by short gamelength, shoddy graphics, and a butchered script.

[Chris holt is an assistant editor at Macworld.]

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